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Titans vs Steelers Comprehensive Preview: Defense

Breaking down the Titans' MNF match-up on the defensive side of the ball.

Justin K. Aller

Yesterday we previewed the Tennessee Titans match-ups on offense. We follow that up with a look at the team's defensive prospects as they head into their prime time home match-up on Monday Night Football.

Front Three

Tennessee was a tough team to peg in the summer as far as how they would deploy their personnel in new DC Ray Horton's scheme. Sammie Hill has had a better campaign at NT than he did last year in the 4-3, but he is still shy of the kind of player the team can build a stalwart line around. The Titans have found it difficult to balance anchoring against the run with a solid pass rush, and the result has been a unit that does neither particularly well. In the trenches this week, the squad will be facing an offensive line with plenty of talent, as well as a uniquely gifted runner in Le'Veon Bell, who runs with both power and quickness.

Jurrell Casey is still a high-performing player even in a scheme that many assumed would not highlight his skill set. In last season's opener, Casey had a field day against Steelers backup center Kelvin Beachem following an injury to Maurkice Pouncey. He likely won't have such an easy assignment this time around, but he still remains the Titans only source of interior pressure.


The Titans biggest stumbling block on defense this year has been producing from the outside linebacker positions. Derrick Morgan has been solid, if unspectacular, but the rest of the crew including journeymen Kamerion Wimbley and Shaun Phillips has left much to be desired. The corps lacks the dynamism to put consistent pressure on the quarterback, as well as the athleticism to defend against perimeter runs and screens. The Steelers will no doubt test this group horizontally as the Ravens did in the latter portions of the game last week. Ray Horton's defenses have never been known for their ability to stymie the run, and it seems that forcing the OLB's to play in space puts a strain on the rest of the unit.

Inside things have been rosier. Rookie Avery Williamson has been a force since entering the starting lineup, racking up boatloads of tackles and generally getting his hands dirty. The ex-Kentucky Wildcat has been consistently around the ball, and his ability to rush the passer from the ILB spot has been a breathe of fresh air. In limited blitzing opportunities, Williamson recorded three hurries of Joe Flacco in the first quarter alone last week, to go with his 9 tackles on the day. Williamson will be key in stopping the Steelers running game next weekend.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Since moving into starting lineup in Week 5, <a href="">#Titans</a> rookie LB Avery Williamson leads team with 48 tackles.</p>&mdash; John Glennon (@glennonsports) <a href="">November 14, 2014</a></blockquote>

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Woodyard has been dialed back into a role that complements his skill set; that of a coverage backer who can flex in and out situationally. The former Bronco has been good when utilized this way, and will certainly have his hands full keeping track of Bell and the Steelers Tight Ends next Monday.


The Titans pass rushing woes have been personified in the performance of the secondary. Without any semblance of a consistent pass rush, the pass defenders on the back end have struggled. Jason McCourty hasn't looked himself, but he is far from the unit's biggest issues. Blidi Wreh-Wilson continues his maddeningly inconsistent streak, and it looks more and more as if the Titans were far too optimistic that he would be ready to step in and play such a large role this season. Antonio Brown will be a big task for either corner, as will his speedy teammates Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, the last of which has an impressive six touchdowns on the year. With Michael Griffin only furthering evidence that he can't play the run nor understand rudimentary angles of approach, the entire corps has ailed. Griffin in particular will need to be on his toes; with a Steelers offense that is not afraid to test the deep zones and has plenty of speed courtesy of guys like Antonio Brown.

Young SS Daimion Stafford and veteran George Wilson have stepped in admirably in Bernard Pollard's absence though, and both will be called upon heavily to play run support.


In the end, the Titans will have to show up to play at LP against their old AFC Central rivals if they are to have a chance at walking out with the upset victory. I don't see a pretty performance on the horizon if the offense pulls a repeat of last week. But should Zach Mettenberger and company get things moving and keep the defense fresh, I would expect many would be surprised by the results. If anything, at least the Titans have played well on Monday nights in recent years...but then again, so have the Steelers...

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>The <a href="">#Titans</a> are 10-5 (.667) on Monday Night Football since 1999. Only <a href="">#Seahawks</a> and <a href="">#Steelers</a> are better in that time.</p>&mdash; Paul Kuharsky (@PaulKuharskyNFL) <a href="">November 15, 2014</a></blockquote>

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