On the way to 13 wins and the AFC's top seed in the 2008 playoffs, one unit truly defined the Tennessee Titans: (usually after that colon I'd write 'the defensive line' like it held some sort of impact or suspense, but come on, you read the title of the post). Last year's defensive line was a nearly mythical beast -- like half Deacon Jones, half El Chupacabra, and half Manbearpig -- that relentlessly harassed offenses and disrupted any game plan that couldn't be executed in 2.3 seconds. Mothers of quarterbacks and offensive linemen cried when they would discover heir husky pride and joys would have to face Big Albert and the gang the next week. It was defense so good it bordered on sexy sometimes.
Well, that collection of talent was squandered in the playoffs, and the most dynamic talent on the line cashed in on a rebuilt image for a pile of monopoly money soaking in the Potomac Basin. With Albert gone and coordinator Jim Schwartz headed to Detroit there was much speculation as to how, yet little doubt if, the defensive line could come close to making the impact they had the year before. Sure Albert is gone, we said, but this unit was always a big rotation and that depth would be the key. Jason Jones grew into a beast at the end of last season, and the ends will be better than ever!
Cut to week 6 of 2009 and we’re all feeling a little foolish after an 0-6 start and an especially emasculating 0-59 loss to the Patriots...
The D-line struggled with a pile of injuries (Jones, Ford) and disappearing acts by veterans so beloved they had nicknames (Boom King, The Freak). Efforts to blitz and use the safeties aggressively, combined with injuries to Cortland Finnegan and Vincent Fuller, resulted in a line that couldn’t penetrate and a secondary that couldn’t cover.
Looking at the last three games, however, one that same defensive line has combined with a healthy secondary to give us a glimpse of the defense we expected at the beginning of the year. Where as a few weeks ago Tony Brown looked like the only D-lineman who did a lick of work in the off-season, we’re now looking at massive strides being made by MCM favorite Jacob Ford, self-made starter William Hayes, rookie Sen’Derrick Marks and a healthy Jason Jones. The deep rotation is also benefiting from improved play by Boom King and newcomer Jovan Haye, along with the reliable (if unspectacular) contributions of Dave Ball and Kevin Vickerson.
What has this improved play wrought? Do 10 sacks in 3 games sound better 11 in 6 games? You bet it does. Well, how about forcing 8 turnovers in 3 games (most due to pressure) after we only got 8 in the previous 6?
What about a sack rate that’s better than the vaunted Colts D-line? I mean hell, that’s all their DE’s do is play the pass.
We have the best RB in the league right now, and Vince Young is a walking headline no matter what he does, but anyone who overlooks the improvement Chuck Cecil and Jim Washburn have gotten out of the line does so at their own peril. The pressure has helped cover for our horrendous safety play, and they don’t waste their opportunities when Cecil dials-up the blitz.
Are they back to where they were in 2008? Of course not; the 2008 defensive line was a rare collection of talent, but this group is showing signs of turning into something special all the same.
So lets debate Vince Young over 600 comments in a troll call, and lets vote Chris Johnson into the Pro Bowl until he gets more votes than most presidents. But just remember: it’s going to be the success or failure of Tony Brown, Williams Hayes, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Jason Jones and Jacob Ford that decide if we’re watching a miracle or just a nifty turnaround.