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The Tennessee Titans’ defense was torched by Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns Sunday, 41-35. While the score seemed close, the game was nowhere near it. The biggest talk on the defense has been the lack of pressure up front for the Titans all season long. However, the secondary is a case of mistaken identity as well.
Kevin Byard is one player that is playing out of position. In the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons, he accumulated a total of 17 interceptions and was a playmaker on the back end of the defense. Coming into this season, there was no reason to think he could not do more of the same.
However, this season Byard is playing more man-to-man defense and less centerfield coverage. The result is him not looking the greatest this season with all that he is doing and some Titan fans are asking for Amani Hooker to take some or all of his time.
The issue is, Byard’s strength is not man defense. His strength is reading the quarterback and making plays off that. An adjustment to making him that defender again would yield different results than they are getting now. Even with the pressure they did not get on the quarterback last year, he made plays in this defense. It is just a matter of putting him in a space where he is comfortable.
Speaking of putting pieces where they are comfortable, sliding Byard off coverage more and into centerfield should allow Kenny Vaccaro to cover a little more when it comes to tight ends. At one point in his career, Vaccaro was known to be able to cover slot receivers along with tight ends. He, like Byard, has not made the same impact he made last couple of seasons.
With that being known, why not allow him to fall into something he is more comfortable with instead of trying to have him do a little bit of everything?
Another issue with the Titans defense is they are predictable when they blitz. The more you watch them, you notice they always bring a corner off the edge and more recently it has been Desmond King II. Over and over, Tennessee has ran that blitz and gotten little to no results. Since that isn’t working, they should try something a little different.
Rashaan Evans was a versatile linebacker at the University of Alabama. He could get to the quarterback as well as stop the run and he was an effective blitzer. For some reason the Titans haven’t used him that way.
For a team that struggles to get to the passer, they are not very imaginative blitzing and should use Evans more there. If it doesn’t work, at least you can say you explored all your options, but the Titans have to try something to be a more consistent and effective defense.
Ultimately, this all falls on the leadership of Mike Vrabel, who is essentially the defensive coordinator. The issues they have been having defensively have all gone on under his watch. The players can play better and that is a given, but the defensive coordinator can also help by putting the players in better position to succeed.
That happens when you step outside the box and try a few different things. Ultimately, the name of the game is to win and you have to exhaust all options to do so. It does not seem he has done that nor has he evaluated what he has to work with like the former defensive coordinator of the Titans, Dean Pees.
There is still time to make some improvements to this defense, but time is running out.