Improved Titans defense a team effort
There were points in time last year when various parts of the Titans defense were ranked the worst in the league or very near to it. The Titans gave up far too many points, far too many TD passes, and far too many yards rushing.
The combination of poor tackling, poor coverage and a poor pass rush yielded rankings for total defense in the league's cellar for most of the year. Titans fans, myself included, screamed the sky was about to fall and implored new GM Mike Reinfeldt to sign some quality vets in free agency and select some defensive studs in the draft.
After Week Five, the league stats show remarkable improvement for Jim Schwartz's crew. They're now third in the league in rush defense (72 ypg), tied for first in passing TDs allowed (2), tied for fifth in scoring defense (14.8 ppg), fifth in total defense (276 ypg), fourth in first downs allowed (15.8 pg) and fourth in plays from scrimmage (241).
A remarkable stat from the Atlanta game reveals the Falcons' starting field position was in positive (Tennessee) territory six times, which yielded them only three points. The Dirty Birds' other field goal came after a 62-yard drive which included the 49-yard run on the fake field goal.
Those 49 yards ended up being charged against the Titans defense, although they weren't on the field for that play. They should have been charged with allowing only 50 rushing yards, not 99, which is pretty darn acceptable.
So what's to account for the turnaround in the Tennessee defense? No one thing I can point a finger at, but plenty of people who are all contributing factors.
Albert "Bullfrog" Haynesworth has been a destructive force on the line of scrimmage. We've all seen him have his moments, flashing his potential for portions of games before, but nothing like the four games this year. I've never seen a defensive tackle leapfrog the line to hit the quarterback like he did on first down in the goal line stand. Keith Bulluck said he looked like a giant bullfrog, hence his new nickname.
Kyle Vanden Bosch is having great success on the right side. The combination with Albert is a prime example of synergy, where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. There's no way a team can double both KVB and Albert.
Antwan Odom has been a pleasant surprise and has played well against both the pass and run. He and Travis LaBoy are both still healthy, which is a good sign.
Tony Brown has proved he can be more than just an occasional starter.
Ryan Fowler is an upgrade over the Sirmon/Tulloch combo in the middle last year.
David Thornton is healthy and is quietly leading the team in tackles, with 30.
Keith Bulluck is surprisingly fourth in tackles, mainly because he has Albert and KVB playing in front of him. He's joked that they've kept his uniform pretty clean this year, which also shows why teams are running more to Thornton's side.
Nick Harper has laid to rest the myth he's strictly a zone corner. He's done very well in man coverage and is second on the team in tackles (26).
Cortland Finnegan has also been stout in run defense, third on the team with 25 tackles. He and Harper are a better tandem against both the run and the pass than last year's corners. After a good job at nickel last year, Finnegan has shown he can do the job outside.
Vince Fuller has justified the coaches' confidence in him at nickelback and rewarded them with two pick-six returns.
Calvin Lowry has proven to be an upgrade over Thompson, especially in run support.
Among all the upgrades noted above, Chris Hope is quietly and steadily playing his game and providing leadership in the secondary.
Most Titans fans would have been thrilled if they were told two months ago that just half of these improvements would transpire.