Too big an ask of Titans' D, street free agent success and a fumble test

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A defensive theme that’s emerged for the Titans this year winds up being too much to ask when the offense plays poorly.

I understand and appreciate high aspirations.

But the call for the Titans to outplay the other team’s defense is a little much if outplaying the other team’s defense requires forcing five takeaways, no?Kevin Byard

Courtesy Tennessee Titans 

To have outplayed the Steelers they would have needed five takeaways, and the last time the franchise had five was Dec. 17, 2012. They would have needed the same to have outplayed the Texans in Week 11.

And they would have needed six to top New England in Week 12, something they haven’t done since 2007. [Unlocked]

I asked Mike Vrabel how the Titans arrived at the theme.

“It is something that you want to do all the time, I think it is just a mentality,” he said. “I appreciate where our mentality is right now defensively to go out there and stop them wherever the ball is. It is just kind of what you have to do, and I think that is the hallmark of the best defenses is they can go out there.

“They hop up off the bench – it sucks. I mean, it sucks when you turn the ball over. I have been out there as a player and watching it as a coach. Our guys didn’t flinch, they ran out there. Hopefully, they don’t have to do that and hopefully, we can find a way to get some turnovers ourselves.”

Is the offense’s mentality to outplay the opposing offense?

“The offense’s mentality is to score as many points as we can and try to take care of the football,” he said.

I’m being too literal with it, I’m sure. I’m just struck by what a big assignment that’s been for the defense with the offense giving the ball away at its current rate.

Kevin Byard summed up the theme in a very good, less literal way.

Run defense: One thing the defense has been doing a tremendous job at is defending the run.

After giving up 198 ground yards in Jacksonville in Week 5, the Titans were ranked 15th in run defense. Since then they’ve steadily climbed the rankings. They were at 9th for a bit, then eighth, then seventh.

When they held Houston to 83 yards in Week 11, they jumped to fourth and after a bump up for a couple of weeks the rematch against Jacksonville when they allowed 8 rushing yards got them to No. 2 where they continue to reside after Pittsburgh gained 35 yards.

The Titans have been converging on the ball carrier in great numbers.

Vrabel said they missed a tackle against the Steelers and the ball carrier gained only an extra yard because three players arrived to clean things up so quickly.

The 49ers have run very well, with 150 against the Cowboys and 227 against the Cardinals in the last three weeks.

The Titans will look to execute their simple run-stopping formula: Set the edge, build a wall and swarm.

Ball security: Defenses always talk about turnovers coming in bunches. One would have to think giveaways come in bunches too the way the Titans have given the ball away in their last three losses.

They’ve turned it over 13 times, while not taking it away once in losses to Houston, at New England and at Pittsburgh. And in that stretch, they’ve fumbled it 14 times, recovering half.

If they’re over it, they will have to prove it against a team that is very good at forcing fumbles.

Street free agents: Some of the Titans’ homegrown guys have been big disappointments.

That Dillon Radunz can’t displace David Quessenberry is a massive first-year. Hell, Radunz isn’t even a tackle right now and two weeks ago when he was inactive against the Jaguars, he stood in front of the big heater in street clothes giving guys actually in the game less access. Dude, grab a poncho and step back.

The team has been totally thinned out at receiver, and fourth-rounder Dez Fitzpatrick, who they traded up for, was bad when he was called up and was inactive in Pittsburgh after three games, sitting in favor of Cody Hollister and Racey McMath who was drafD'Onta Foremanted two rounds after him.

But the pro personnel department has done fantastic work finding the team help off the street with hits like D’Onta Foreman (pictured), Dontrell Hilliard and Buster Skrine.

“It helps to have guys that are willing and hungry,” Vrabel said. “D’Onta, Dontrell and Buster were out of work. It is called survival. They have tasted and they wanted to be active. They didn’t have a job. Now that they have one, they are not in a real big hurry to give it up.

“They worked extremely hard. Give the coaches credit, but obviously, it is on the player to go out there and be able to translate all those meetings and the walkthroughs and all the things we do to get them ready and translate it to the game.”PaulKuharsky.com

Foreman is averaging 4.4 yards a carry, a tick better than Derrick Henry’s 4.3. In a smaller role, Hilliard’s been explosive with 7.2 yards a carry.

They each had a killer fumble in New England. But overall the run game, outside of missing leadership and true home run ability, has really done well minus its superstar.

Skrine has been a nice surprise and the Titans have to consider whether he should maintain a role in the secondary even when Janoris Jenkins (ankle) returns. Jenkins has been a full participant in practices this week.

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