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All-22 Review: Titans-Bengals (Defense)

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The defense had two ugly lapses, but dominated 3rd downs against Cincinnati.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

I split this post in to separate offense and defense posts due to my apparent fascination with the Titans offensive gameplan leading to an abnormally long review of the offense which you can check out here.

This was a game that featured a lot of big plays, both positive and negative, on both sides of the ball. The offense largely played well, but two bad mistakes cost them 14 points. Similarly, the defense largely played well, but two bad mistakes gave the Bengals 14 points. We will look at those two big plays that the Titans gave up, but the story of the Titans defense in Week 10 was their 3rd down dominance. The Bengals were just 1 for 10 on 3rd downs as the Titans defense consistently got off the field when given the opportunity.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise as the Bengals are 2nd worst in the NFL on 3rd downs, converting at a 31.1% clip. The Titans defense is 5th best in the league on 3rd downs allowing a conversion rate of just 33.3%. However, 1 for 10 is still a dominant display by the defense.

Despite it being a pretty tight contest for the vast majority of this game the Bengals barely attempted to run the ball against the Titans, tallying just 53 yards on 14 carries. Through the air, the Bengals employed a quick passing attack that got the ball out of Andy Dalton’s hands in just 2.25 seconds on average. He was the quickest to throw in the NFL in Week 10, and that is no accident as the Bengals were clearly concerned about protection behind a very bad offensive line. As a result, the Titans only got pressure on Dalton 6 times out of 36 dropbacks per PFF which was the 2nd lowest pressure rate in the NFL this week.

Despite not consistently getting to Dalton, the Titans did get one huge play from the pass rush as Brian Orakpo got around left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and got the strip sack which was recovered by his counterpart Derrick Morgan. Orakpo’s 2017 season has been hard to make heads or tails of. He only has 2.5 sacks on the year, but he currently ranks 5th in the NFL among 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) according to PFF thanks to generating 37 pressures. He’s currently sandwiched between Khalil Mack and Ryan Kerrigan in the PRP rankings which combines sacks, QB hits, and pressures to create a comprehensive metric for pass rushers. I’m a big believer in PRP because I love stats that measures process as well as results, especially in a game that offers such small samples sizes for stats. I hope this sack was a first step towards a second half correction to Rak’s sack numbers.

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Orakpo had a really strong game in general despite that being his only “splash” play. Watch the penetration he creates here on the Joe Mixon touchdown run. He gets blatantly held on the play which is all that keeps this from being a 3 yard tackle for loss rather than a touchdown. He’s playing at a high level, the numbers just haven’t been there yet.

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The Bengals spent most of their day throwing quick passes though and that meant lots of action for the cornerbacks. Last year that would have spelled disaster, especially against a wide receiver corps led by A.J. Green. This year’s secondary is up to the challenge though. Logan Ryan has played really well for the entire year and he was good again Sunday as he was tasked with shadowing Green for nearly the entire game. Here he is working against him at the bottom of the screen. Green twists him up a few times, but Ryan stays right with him and is able to finish with a nice break and nearly came up with a pick. He is another guy who is overdue for an interception.

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Green’s final numbers ended up looking pretty good after that 70 yard touchdown, but even that play was pretty well defended by Ryan. He’s in good position and it takes a near perfect throw to get it past his outstretched arm. I’m not big on the “take this play away and ...” game, but if you exclude this play Ryan limited green to 4 catches for 45 yards. Obviously, that play did happen, but Ryan’s performance overall against Green was very good in my opinion.

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While we are looking at the rough parts. Let’s take a quick look at the other long touchdown pass for the Bengals. Its hard to diagnose some of this stuff without knowing for sure what call the Titans had on this play, but from the outside looking in, it appears to me that this one is on Byard. The Titans look to be in a Cover 2 zone, and I’m guessing that Byard may not have noticed LaFell sneaking back in towards the hashes pre-snap. He ended up bracketing Tyler Kroft and seemed to only notice LaFell after the ball had left Dalton’s hands. Byard is playing at a really high level, but good players make mistakes too.

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Opposite of Ryan, Adoree Jackson is really starting to make the leap as a player. His plays on offense will grab the headlines, but his play at corner was fantastic on Sunday. According to PFF, he was targeted 9 times and allowed just 4 catches for 27 yards on the day which is fantastic. He got his hands on the ball on a couple of those targets. Here he is in press man lined up in the slot against Brandon LaFell. LaFell is running a quick slant — a route that Jackson struggled with early in the season — but Adoree plays this one perfectly and breaks it up. You can’t cover better than that.

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Here is another matchup with Jackson covering LaFell. He’s in the slot again and has LaFell coming through on a deep dig over the middle. Adoree does a good job of re-routing at the stem and then uses his elite closing speed to break on the ball and knock it away. Again, this is picture perfect. His growth throughout the season has been very noticeable, it’s also staggering to see how much better Ryan and Jackson are than what we saw last season at the same position. This secondary is no longer a weakness.

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One last Adoree play. This time he is playing contain against a jet sweep. The Bengals have two tight ends to the play side and they go to double Jackson, but he fights them off, keeps his outside shoulder clean, and forces the run out of bounds for no gain.

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One more play for the corners. This time Jackson gets some help from his buddy, Brice McCain. I know he’s not a popular guy around here, but he makes a really smart play here. He’s lined up in press man against the slot receiver and starts to follow him on the crosser, but he reads Dalton’s eyes and — knowing he has help in the middle from Woodyard who is playing robber — peels off and gets a tip on the slant, nearly deflecting it enough for Byard to come up with his 7th interception on the year. Smart football play.

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One other rookie that is starting to show more flashes is Jayon Brown. He outsnapped Avery Williamson 27-22 on Sunday. Part of that is due to the Bengals lining up in 11 personnel a ton, but Brown is also starting to play pretty well. Here he is lined up in man coverage over Bengals tight end Tyler Kroft. Similar to Jackson, watch him re-route the stem and then stay tight on the break. The re-route here is what throws this play off and forces a punt from the Bengals.

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One more from Brown on the final drive with the Bengals in desperation mode. They are playing prevent defense since the Bengals needed a touchdown to win and there were 25 seconds remaining. Brown shows his excellent closing speed here, but what I love is the extra effort to bring Bernard down in bounds which forced Cincy to burn their final timeout.

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This defense has really responded since the debacle in Houston. Over the past 5 games they have allowed just 5 touchdown drives (I’m excluding the 3 yard drive by Cincinnati after the interception this week) and just over 281 yards per game. To give some context, the Panthers are currently #1 in the NFL with 278 yards per game allowed. Part of that is the offenses that the Titans have been matched up against, but getting it done against bad teams isn’t something this defense has done in the past few years. This is progress. We will get to see exactly how much progress on Thursday night when they take on one of the better offenses in the league in Pittsburgh.