Mike Herndon: How metrics view Titans' pass rush, what that could mean for 2022

By MIKE HERNDON, columnist

The Titans' defense made an enormous leap in performance last season and largely carried the team to the 12-5 record it earned while a hobbled offense took multiple steps back.

The defense jumped from 24th in points allowed in 2020 to sixth in 2021 and from 29th in defensive DVOA to 12th.

LandrySimmonsJagsDP

Pool photo/ Donald Page, Tennessee Titans

If you asked most followers of the team for the catalyst behind that improvement, an improved pass rush that jumped from an anemic 19 sacks in 2020 to 43 sacks in 2021 as the primary driver.

A few weeks ago, SharpFootballAnalysis.com ruffled some two-tone feathers by ranking the Titans' defensive line and linebackers as the 20th best front-7 in the NFL coming into the 2022 season.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Not only does Mike Vrabel not want to harp on last year, he hardly wants to reference it.

I’m not talking about harping on the 12-5 division-winning regular season of the crushing divisional-round playoff loss to the Bengals as the No. 1 seed.

Racey McMath

Racey McMath, who had a big day Tuesday

It’s the elements of what the Titans didn’t do well or may have done very well that made me wonder: How do a coach and his staff who’ve got things they clearly need to address from the prior season heading into the next season do so without really referencing where they come from?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Ryan Tannehill showed off some quality play recall Monday afternoon.

Asked about rookie slot receiver Kyle Phillips, Tannehill described a Saturday rep the fifth-rounder ran versus man coverage where he lost his defender at the top and won by seven yards.

Kyle Philips

The most interesting thing about the quarterback’s recollection of the play: he was not the guy dropping back and surveying the field for it.

“I think Logan (Woodside) was taking that rep with him,” Tannehill said.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Starting Wednesday we will add a new voice to PaulKuharsky.com, as Mike Herndon will begin a weekly column.Mike Herndon

Herndon has been writing excellent, unique pieces on the Titans for some time but he’s been underplayed. I’m happy to give him a bigger platform where he can have a bigger spotlight.

He’s a big fan of the team, which obviously makes him quite different from me. But he won’t be writing as a fan here – you know that doesn’t fit with what I do.

He will offer us excellent analytical and insight, and he’s got a way of spotting and seeing things the rest of us don’t and putting them in context. So we will all benefit from getting to see the team through his eyes on a regular basis.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On the fifth day the Titans are resting before the return to camp, put on pads and start hitting.

Let’s review some developments and observations through four ramp-up practices.

Treylon Burks

© George Walker IV / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

Burks: After he was out of shape for rookie camp, OTAs and minicamp, he came back thinner and fitter and he’s been quite good. Asthma is not an issue now, which tells us more, I think, about how it was conditioning. (He said as much.)  And he’s noticeably thinner, which says to me it’s more than the five or six pounds he said.

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – At the start of his 14th year with the Titans, Brett Kern may be facing the most serious fight for a roster spot of his Tennessee time.

After a season where his coach questioned his performance a few times, starting at halftime of a preseason game, the Titans found a quality undrafted rookie to challenge for the punting spot in camp in Colorado State’s Ryan Stonehouse.

Kern

Mike Vrabel sold it as just another competition in a camp full of them.

But it’s not.

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ampNASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans practice Saturday as they continue the ramp-up phases of camp, then they break until Monday morning when they put the pads on and start to hit.

So it's time for a chat.

I want to try something new, where instead of only getting your comments in text, it's more of a two-way conversation where you can't only hear me, but I can hear you.

I've heard good things about Amp, an app that will let us do just that, so I'm set to give it a test run at 12:45 CT Saturday after practice and media availability are over. [Unlocked]

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Taylor LewanNASHVILLE, Tenn. – Taylor Lewan’s been accused of caring too much about how he looks.

He’s got no say in the matter now at Tennessee Titans’ practices, where linemen at players at other heavy-contact positions are wearing guardian caps on their helmets that make them look like the Great Gazoo (for those unfamiliar with the Jetsons, see photo by ABC below.)

The guardian caps are sectioned, exterior padding that makes guys’ heads bigger and add protection.

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