Arden Key On Titans' Defense Versus Vikings: 'We whooped their ass'

EAGAN, Minn. – Arden Key is the right guy to summarize the Titans’ defensive work against the Vikings in two days of joint practices.

“We had a good day (Wednesday) but it wasn’t up to our standards,” he said. “The coaches got on our ass a little bit, some of the players got on our ass a little bit. Today, we whooped their ass.”

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) and quarterback Malik Willis (7) chat with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) after a joint practice in Eagan, Minn., Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.
  Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and Malik Willis/ © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

High-intensity Tennessee had an excellent defensive showing at the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Complex, with some pretty pass defense, a consistently disruptive pass rush and a stout and stingy run defense. [Unlocked]

“We slipped a little bit in the back end in that 1:00 situation (at the end of practice),” Key said. “But other than that, the whole practice was good. We were sticky as far as DBs, we were pressuring the QB and the run game, it was nonexistent.”

Said Sean Murphy-Bunting: “For the most part we flew around energized and we played good football.”

Kristian Fulton has the play of the day with a terrific interception in red-zone work, skying in the back left corner of the end zone to pull down a Kirk Cousins pass with one hand.

“That’s just a testament to his hands and his athletic ability because he snagged that ball,” Murphy-Bunting said.

Fulton had a very solid two days, doing quality work against Justin Jefferson, who many consider the NFL’s best receiver, a former LSU teammate. Following his pick, he made a great play in the back of the end zone where an extended play gave Jefferson a chance to make an extra zag. But Fulton he stuck to him and made it impossible for the receiver to collect the pass with a dive.

“I want to gain the respect of my peers in this league and to do that you’ve got to go against the best and elevate your game, Fulton said. “Those guys are going to finish through the catch, they’re going to be great at the line, they’re going to play physical. I’ve just got to match the same intensity, the same energy with them.”

Run defense: when the teams were not completely together, I watched the Titans’ offense the first day and mostly the Titans’ defense the second day.

Neither team found much room to run. Tennessee had maybe two runs of note Wednesday, one from Tyjae Spears and one from Derrick Henry. The Titans consistently bottled up Alexander Mattison and the backs behind him.

BRYMAK“We had a few that were productive I think, later on in the red zone,” Mike Vrabel said. “Burt it certainly was tough sledding. It was good work. You’re seeing different fronts and seeing different things and different pressure, run pressures and first and second down pressure from the edge or whatever it may be. We’re goig to have to go back and see these different things throughout the season.

“I don’t know how much we pressured (defensively), but I know there is a level of importance to being able to stop the run and whatever scheme it may be, it’s going to change week to week. It’s certainly something that’s been a strength of ours. I think in these practices it’s just not letting it go and not relaxing and making sure we’re setting the edge and building a wall.”

Bad form: A frustrated Teair Tart took a swing at Garrett Bradbury and was removed from practice. That was the biggest of only a few very minor flare ups through the two practices…  

Defensive notes: Mike Brown had a nice pass break up… On an inside run where Azeez Al-Shaair was quick to close things down, Chance Campbell did well to read a crossing receiver and pick up Mattison who wound up wide. The linebacker covered him well and took him away… Kevin Byard and Elijah Molden both had effective blitzes. Byard came off the left edge for a likely sack, and Molden weaved up the middle forcing Kirk Cousins to dump a short check to the middle. He might have been sacked in a live situation. Molden eventually left practice with an injury.

When the pass rush was really starting to build the Vikings ran a smart misdirection play that finished with a throw to Brandon Powell to the left that made for a nice gain and changed the tempo of things. … Jaleel Johnson did some jawing with Mattison… Denico Autry showed off some impressive strength with a bull rush on Christian Darrisaw that moved the tackle straight back into the pocket in a hurry…. I don’t know if Monty Rice started the practice but he didn’t finish it. He is a minimal factor right now.

On offense: I thought Malik Willis did some good things over the course of the two days, particularly in the 2:00 drills.

But we’ve seen three issues with the clock recently. He took a delay of game about 10 days ago at practice with Mike Vrabel yelling at him “Gotta go Malik.” That was in 2:00. After an official review of a play on the very good game-opening drive in Chicago, he didn’t have the offense ready to go and took a delay.

Thursday, the offense was called for a false start during a Willis-led 2:00 drive Thursday when he needed to spike the ball to stop the clock with fewer than 10 seconds left, a play that killed the Titans' chances at a TD they needed to win the game. I’m not certain that was on Willis, but he’s orchestrating things there.

“Clocking the ball and we can’t flinch, so that goes down as a false start,” Vrabel said. “It’s a great learning experience, it’s something that we’re trying to continue to cover as we install 2:00 and these things come up and how critical it is as we are waiting there for the snap, knowing that they are going to move, they are going to move inside to try to force that to happen with a 10-second runoff.

"That’s what well-coached teams try to do and we need to understand that’s going to happen.”

There may not have even been a flinch. More on the officials in the podcast I’m about to record.

Will Levis: The potential for Will Levis to play Sunday night against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium is in doubt as he didn’t finish practice with some sort of lower-body injury.

It would be a shame for him to miss an opportunity to stay on the same pace as Willis as the two fight for the backup job to Ryan Tannehill.

I thought Levis’ best work against the Vikings was in the red zone. He came into the league with critics wondering about his decision-making. But in a condensed area of the field that requires quick decisions because of limited space, he’s gotten better and better. He’s making mostly good decisions and his quick release is a big benefit.

Receivers: Vrabel reported it’s a best-case scenario for Treylon Burks after he suffered an injury Wednesday and was carted off the field. Ian Rapoport reported it’s a sprained LCL.

Kyle Philips' role seemed to expand with Burks not on the field.

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