Tennessee Titans: Pass Rush Efficiency

Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

An evaluation of the Titans 2013 pass rushing resume.

The 2013 defense was far superior to it's 2012 version...Great, now that is out of the way, we can talk about how things actually played out on the field.

Defensive Line

On the defensive line, the Titans unit was carried by the efforts of Jurrell Casey on the interior, who was stellar in the individual pass rushing efficiency category. For a while during the season, he sat at No. 1 right alongside teammate Karl Klug, if you can believe that.

The outside pressure was there in spurts courtesy of a mixture of Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Akeem Ayers, Kam Wimbley, and the aforementioned Klug. This edge-rush production, usually the staple of any good pass rushing unit, was maddeningly inconsistent. The Titans ended up as one of the rare teams to generate a majority of their pressure from the inside positions. The lack of a steady rush on the outside was noticeable; primarily in games like the Oakland match-up (against less-than stellar competition no less), where the entire defense failed to record a single hurry of QB Matt McGloin, and another especially poor performance against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

T0 look deeper into these numbers, Pro Football Focus provided us this chart at the beginning of December that quantifies the NFL's defenses in this category. Below all of the 4-3 defenses are listed, with the last quality (PRP) being pass rush efficiency. They use a complicated formula to generate this number, but it is surprisingly accurate.

Team Pass Rush Snaps Sacks Hits Hurries Total Pressure PRP
SEA 1561 27 42 134 203 10.19
DET 1792 19 39 150 208 8.97
SL 1587 32 42 102 176 8.82
MIA 1707 28 36 126 190 8.76
CAR 1679 25 45 111 181 8.46
CIN 1793 30 42 114 186 8.20
DEN 1745 25 29 122 176 7.92
TEN 1480 21 21 102 144 7.65
MIN 1887 20 27 135 182 7.50
avg 1667.0 21.6 32.4 103.5 157.5 7.41
DAL 1948 24 33 123 180 7.24
NYG 1785 17 44 101 162 7.04
NE 1759 30 30 94 154 6.99
OAK 1530 14 36 86 136 6.90
TB 1644 15 36 88 139 6.57
JAX 1525 13 32 84 129 6.56
CHI 1466 13 18 87 118 6.26
ATL 1470 17 15 78 110 5.90

As you can see the 2013 Tennessee Titans, despite improvement from their basement-level year in 2012, still ranked below the league average in every category listed, and hovers around the median in the pass rush efficiency mark. This does two things for me: It gives a clear indicator of just how bad 2012 was for the Titans D, while also showing just how much work needs to be done to remedy the unit.

The plan didn't work last season. Akeem Ayers, while a versatile linebacker, was not the sole answer to the Titans woeful edge rush. Wimbley took a huge step back, Pitoitua was always more of a run-stopper than a rusher (despite performing okay in that department) Lavar Edwards was but a rookie on limited snaps. Morgan was the only steady force there, and he was hard pressed to get home to the QB without some tangible help on the other side.

Linebackers

The gurus over at PFF actually took it a step further as well, and provided a look at the pass rush efficiency of these team's linebacking corps as well. Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers supplied much of the Titans blitzing duties, supplemented by Moise Fokou at times.

Team Pass Rush Snaps Sacks Hits Hurries Total Pressure PRP
TB 194 11 8 25 44 18.43
NE 167 5 5 24 34 16.02
CAR 119 6 2 15 23 15.76
DEN 300 8 9 41 58 15.17
MIN 148 4 7 17 28 14.86
OAK 311 12 9 36 57 14.71
JAX 68 3 3 6 12 14.34
TEN 257 5 9 33 47 14.20
avg 172.1 4.9 5.5 19.1 29.5 13.58
SEA 211 6 7 21 34 12.80
MIA 205 2 9 23 34 12.68
CIN 189 6 6 17 29 12.30
DAL 91 2 3 9 14 12.09
CHI 114 6 4 6 16 11.84
ATL 193 4 4 20 28 11.40
SL 118 2 2 11 15 9.96
NYG 161 0 1 19 20 9.32
DET 79 1 6 2 9 8.86

There is a mixed bag here. The Titans used their backers to rush the QB almost 100 snaps MORE than the league average, yet fell right into the median with sack production. The silver lining is the hits, which led all 4-3 defenses, and hurries, which was 3rd accordingly. This, along with the eyeball-test this past year, gives me reason to believe that the Titans are closer to results when it comes to the linebackers than it appears, "a second late and a dollar short," so to speak. The Titans weren't the Giants, for instance, who are about 2 hours late, and eighty dollars out of pocket comparatively.

We have harped all day long about the inconsistencies at the linebacker coaching spots, so I will spare you the canned lecture. But it is clear to me that the potential is there already for Lou Spanos and Ray Horton to get the desired results out of these players.

So what does it all mean? Well pass rushing efficiency and wins don't correlate equally, as most statistic tools. The numbers do, however; provide an additional tool to evaluate how effective defensive play calling and personnel are on the field. 3 of the top 4 pass rushing linebacker groups were playoff teams, and the leader of the defensive line efficiency stat won it all in a convincing Super Bowl stomp featuring a suffocating line that put tons of pressure on Peyton Manning, and subsequently stole the show.

As has been said many times since the end of last season, changes will be made in Tennessee, and regardless of what schemes, formations, or personnel are brought into the fold, the Titans have a clear goal to reach. The need to improve the pass rush is paramount to continuing the defensive growth we saw at the beginning of last season, and that might just provide the backbone this Titans team needs to catapult it to the next level.

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