The one player I wanted to take a detailed look at was rookie defensive tackle Karl Klug. I was skeptical of him when the Titans drafted him, especially because it seemed to be a repudiation of the philosophical direction they were taking with the defensive line. He's particularly light fo a DT at a listed weight of only 275 pounds but has gotten a lot of praise for his work this year, especially as a pass rusher.
Before last Sunday's game against the Panthers, I decided I'd be written an in-depth look at Klug's play that game. Though he wasn't part of the sackfest, he did have a quarterback hit to go along with two tackles, one solo and one assisted, one of those a tackle for loss.
Before I start, some of the normal disclaimers: I'm doing this off TV footage, and without a copy of the Titans' playbook or a knowledge of their defensive assignments on any particular play. This analysis is also limited because I'm honestly not very good at evaluating player technique; Klug gets a lot of praise for his hand usage, but I can't say anything very intelligent about that, or how good his rip move or bull rush ability is. Instead, you're getting a brief description of each play he was in, where he lined up, and what happened; what any of the other ten guys on defense do rarely gets mentioned specifically unless it's relevant in some way.
He made his debut on the second play of the game, a 2&7, playing with Malcolm Sheppard at DT on a four-man line, and got sucked in on a screen call that allowed Ryan Kalil (one of the league's better centers) to get out and block. He lined up in the center of a 3-man line on the subsequent 3&7, and got some pressure up the middle up both Kalil and LG Travelle Wharton were preoccupied looking for blitzers and didn't bother to actually engage him.
On the second drive, he was again in with Sheppard on the second play, 2&6, and you saw what his lack of size could do. LG Wharton reach-blocked him and moved him down the line of scrimmage to create space for a 9-yard run by Stewart. He returned to the game two plays later and ran a stunt to occupy LT Gross while RDE Morgan dropped on a zone blitz; he did occupy Gross and got enveloped despite his efforts to fight free. The next play he was in was the Panthers' second-longest designed run of the day. He made an outside move on LG Wharton and Stewart picked up 16 yards right up the middle in a good call against the defense. The next play he was in, the Panthers picked up 16 more yards on a pass from Newton to Olsen; he ended up sort of double-teamed, as Wharton absorbed his initial rush then pass him off to Kalil, who'd initially looked to pick up blitzed. Kalil stopped him in his tracks.
Third drive, first appearance again on the second play next to Sheppard, this one 2&16. He slants hard to the offensive right, a designed call, and conveniently runs himself out of the play. He's in on consecutive plays for the first time in the game the next play at NT in a 3-man line plus Ayers(?) as a standup DE. He looks around Kalil, but RG Hangartner picks him up without difficulty.
Fourth drive, same thing, this one a 2&20. Hangartner moves him down the line, and Newton has an easy read on the read option on DE Jones. He's is on the subsequent 3&15, as NT on a 3-man line, and is easily handled by Wharton with help from Kalil after he reads nobody is blitzing.
Fifth drive, same thing, 2&9. He takes a move around Kalil to the offensive right, and is harmlessly released on the WR screen blown up by Verner. The subsequent 3&8 he's again at NT in a 3-man front, is engaged by Kalil, tries to get around his other side, and is re-engaged without getting close to creating pressure.
Sixth drive, he's in the first play, next to Casey, and does a good job of blowing up the play. LT Gross (who hasn't been having a great game) tries to downblock him, but he's able to get outside leverage and get in Stewart's way, though Casey makes the tackle. Nice play by him here. He's in for the next play, 2&15, next to Casey again, and has another nice play. He moves like he's attacking Kalil, but uses his quickness to get around him and hurry Newton, who misses an open Olsen for a first down. This is the play where he gets credit for a QB hit. Credit also DC Gray for bringing the 5-man rush here, which means Wharton is occupied by the DE and physically separate from Kalil, creating the lane for Klug to get to Newton. Third down, 3&15, he's in at NT in a 3-man line and gets handled easily by Kalil on both his first and second efforts.
Seventh drive, he and Sheppard are in at the start. Another zone blitz, he occupied RT Bell on a loop from his LDT position (a change from his normal RDT spot) but gets no pressure and Newton scrambles for 10 yards. Second play, he's at LDT again and stunt with LDE Morgan, but the pass is a smoke route to Smith so DL play is irrelevant. He's back at RDT the next play with Casey on a zone blitz, but Newton drops the snap so what he does doesn't matter. He's at RDT for the subsequent 3&9, runs a stunt with RDE Jones that the Panthers easily pick up with Gross and Wharton, and isn't a factor as Newton scrambles for 7 yards.
Eighth Panthers possession, starting inside the two-minute warning, and he's at NT in a 3-man line to start where first Wharton and then Kalil as well easily pick him up. No huddle means the next play is NT in a 3-man line as well, and this time he feels RG Hangartner start to release and gets credit for a TFL when Stewart falls down after catching the screen pass. The tackle is a gift, but still job of reading the screen after his earlier miscues against it. 3&6, NT in 3-man line, false start on the RT. On 3&11, NT in 3-man line, Kalil easily handles him. Back in the game three plays later, again at NT in 3-man line, he bulls Kalil and though Kalil does slip, Newton was throwing the ball already so he wasn't a factor. At NT in a 3-man line the next play, Kalil handles him again.
Ninth possession, he's in at NT in 3-man line on 3&22. He does a good job at the snap and is on Kalil before he's ready. Klug has the leverage to drive him back, but Newton's a good 10 yards behind the LOS and gets the ball out before he's a factor.
Tenth possession, in on 2&17 at LDT, gets blocked easily by Sheppard and then a screen to the offensive left leaves him out of the play. On the subsequent 3&5, he's at NT in 3-man line and gets handled initially by Wharton but fights free and may have played a role in Newton subsequently taking off on a scramble.
Eleventh drive, he's at LDT and the Titans again zone blitz with the DE to his side dropping. RT Bell handles him easily. 2&5, at RDT, zone blitz w/ RDE dropping. 3&5, LDT, drops into coverage himself as the Titans rush 3. He gets credit here for the tackle with McCarthy, but really I think Newton had faked Klug out and McCarthy gets credit for the force in my book.
Twelfth Panther possession, in on first down at RDT, zone blitz with DE his side dropping, and LT Gross handles him easily. At LDT the second play, another 1&10, another zone blitz with DE his side dropping, and RT Bell handles him easily. RDT the third play, another 1&10, and the Titans finally run a zone blitz with the DE not to his side dropping, and this time Kalil has him without difficulty. Back at RDT the next play, Kalil has him and the Panthers handle the rest of the 3-man rush (one DL dropped) without difficulty. The Panthers stay in no huddle to keep the defense on the field, and Klug's at RDT where he tries to loop around Kalil, gets picked up easily, tries again and is still ineffecive. Next play, 2&10, RDT again, and Kalil again picks him up without difficulty. He gets a one-play breather, and is at NT in a 3-man line on 3&25, and gives Kalil no real problems. Frankly, I think he got tired this play.
Thirteenth (and final) Panthers possession, in the first play in 3-man line at NT, and again out of position on a screen. Second play, 2&10, NT in 3-man line, false start on CAR. Third play, 2&15, NT in 3-man line, loops and gets inside of Hangartner, while Ayers' pressure forces Newton from the pocket. Fourth play, 3&15, NT in 3-man line, tries to loop but handled by Wharton. Out for the next couple plays, back in at NT on a 3-man line plus Ayers standing up. Loops on Wharton, does well against him, picked up by Kalil, and Ayers beats Bell for the sack. Next play, 2&19, NT in 3-man line again, more or less handled by Wharton.
Klug had a couple nice plays this game-the blown up outside run to Stewart in particular was a very good play, though I'd also criticize what Jordan Gross did on the play. I think he benefited from the Panthers abandoning the run early, as he looked like a liability on the few run plays early in the game where he was in.
In that, and in his difficulty dealing with screens, I stand by my earlier characterization that he looks like a DT of the kind the Titans played with in the Jim Washburn era. Thanks to his quickness and good agility (in part a result of his size), he's a very useful part for the Titans' defensive line games, including the stunts and loops. He had success with Kalil once against the bull rush, where he was able to use his quickness and hands to get on him before he anchored, but overall he's best attacking not head on but using his mobility to try to create angles and get around the offensive linemen.
Right now, I think he's a very useful but fundamentally limited player. If he wants to be more than a niche inside rusher who's a rotational guy, he needs to get stronger and develop more moves. Otherwise, I think he'll be too dependent on having space work and have trouble standing up in less favorable down-and-distance situations than the Titans faced for most of Sunday's game.