The first four games of the Titans' 2010 season are now history and the defense has been a little bit of a pleasant surprise. They've performed better than expected in several areas. Going into the season, I had concerns at each of the three major position groups and each of them has turned out OK.
Here's a quick run-through by position group, after the break.
Defensive line: Dave Ball and Jason Babin are off to a pretty good start at the defensive end positions. Each were slated to be backups and there was even some question about them making the team. They've combined for 8 sacks already while projected starters William Hayes and Jacob Ford have been hampered with injuries. More important than the sack numbers, though, is the pressure they've applied to quarterbacks. I have really been hoping that we wouldn't have a repeat of last year when the lack of a consistent pass rush hurt the secondary.
Ball was disappointing last year and Babin has never impressed me before. The Titans faced him twice year when he was in Houston and he didn't do much either as a 4-3 DE or as a 3-4 OLB. He couldn't stick with the Seahawks or Eagles either. I don't know why he's playing better now, but it's good to see that he is. Unfortunately, the Titans will play the remainder of the year without promising first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan.
The defensive tackles have been adequate. Sen'Derrick Marks was playing better than he did a year ago but strained a MCL against the Broncos and will be out several weeks. With Tony Brown still a little slow (it seems) after missing most of training camp recovering from a knee injury, depth becomes an issue. Jovan Haye has been better than a year ago (he could hardly get worse) and Jason Jones has been healthy so far. Knock on wood.
Linebackers: My big concern turned out to be not as bad as I thought it would. Gerald McRath's absence didn't hurt the Titans as much as it could have. Stephen Tulloch has been pretty solid, as expected, and Will Witherspoon has been an ideal fit on the weak side. Some Titans fans don't seem to appreciate Witherspoon, probably because he replaced Keith Bulluck. That's fine, but I believe they'll become more appreciative before the season is over. This unit could become really good after McRath gets back up to speed.
Secondary: There were two concerns here, Michael Griffin and Jason McCourty. Happily, Griffin is much improved over last year (I wish I could say the same for Chris Hope.) McCourty played well enough for 2½ games, before breaking his arm and being replaced by Alterraun Verner. I'm concerned about Verner getting beat deep, and he will, it's just a matter of time, but I thought he played well for his first start.
Overall, here's what I see from this year's Titans' defense:
Improved pass rush? Check.
Improved secondary play? Check.
Getting through McRath's four-game suspension? Check.
I'm rather encouraged by what we've seen in the first quarter.