If you missed the review of the offense this week you can check that out here, but the defense is the side of the ball that really carried the water for the Titans in Indianapolis. I wrote about the pass rush earlier this week. The Titans front 7 generated the highest single game rate of pressure on a quarterback in an NFL game this season, by an almost 5% margin. It was truly a dominant performance.
So how did they suddenly erupt for 8 sacks?
Here is the first sack. It’s 3rd and 10 on the first drive of the game. DaQuan Jones and Jurrell Casey run a nice little twist on the interior while Woodyard comes on a well-timed blitz, however Logan Ryan deserves the real credit here. Brissett is looking for T.Y. Hilton in the slot all the way and Ryan sits right on his route. It looked like he knew exactly where he was going from the snap. Jones and Woodyard then do a good job of making sure Brissett can’t get to his second read. Great complementary defense.
Sack #2 was pretty similar. 3rd and 12 and the Titans blitz. Once again, Logan Ryan deserves a hat tip from the front seven as he locks down T.Y. Hilton who was the primary read and forces Brissett to look elsewhere. Meanwhile, Jayon Brown is screaming around the corner and ends up splitting the sack with Morgan (and Casey was there too). Brown has been a surprisingly good blitzer so far and his speed can cause real problems when used in that role as it does here.
The third sack was a bit of a busted play for the Colts. They’re trying to get Jack Doyle in the flat off the read option, but a well-timed blitz by Da’Norris Searcy and a good read by Avery Williamson force Brissett to eat the sack.
This next play was almost Sack #4, but Logan Ryan was called for illegal use of hands which bailed the Colts out on this 3rd and 8. This is what the Titans would love their pass rush to look like all the time though. They don’t blitz this time, but both Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan destroy the Colts tackles and meet at the quarterback with Morgan forcing the fumble. Jayon Brown also does a nice job carrying Doyle up the seam here which appears to be Brissett’s first look. The penalty negates it all, but this would have been their 3rd sack in a row on 3rd down.
With that sack negated, the Titans did get their 4th sack a few plays later. This time it comes on a 1st down play where the Colts were looking to get a deep shot down field. Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, and Kevin Byard do a great job in coverage. Derrick Morgan makes quick work of Jack Doyle and flushes him in to the waiting arms of Wesley Woodyard who was coming on a delayed rush.
Sack #5 is a pure coverage sack. The Colts roll Brissett out and he’s got plenty of time and space as Cyprien gets sucked way too far in on the play fake. Adoree Jackson really saves the day here as he passes off the deep route and sits on the crosser. You can see Brissett load up like he’s about to hit the crossing route (which is open most of the play), but pulls down at the last second and scrambles. I have to assume he thought Jackson was going to jump the route if he let that one go.
Sack #6 is a case of players doing their job and trusting the next man to do his. Once again, the Colts are running a read option look, but Wesley Woodyard immediately tracks Doyle in to the flat while Orakpo stays disciplined in his read and then attacks Brissett as soon as he sees he keeps the ball off the read. Frank Gore is open as Avery Williamson gets sucked in by the read action, but Brissett doesn’t have time to find him. Morgan gets there to help finish him off.
Sack #7 was Johnathan Cyprien’s best play in a Titans jersey so far. It’s a crucial 3rd and 3 in the red zone too. His timing on this safety blitz is absolutely perfect and it leaves the Colts with no one to block Brian Orakpo which is... ummm... problematic. Rak closes quickly and Brissett has no chance. Jayon Brown was blitzing around the edge from the other side which helped pin him in as well.
Sack #8, our last of the game was another boot action look from the Colts, but Derrick Morgan stays home and jumps in the passing lane to make Brissett pull the ball down. Williamson ends up getting credit for this sack, but this one is all Morgan (another example of why sack stats don’t tell the whole story with a player).
One play later the Titans got their most important defensive play of the game. Marlon Mack fumbles the pitch from Brissett which is a pure gift from the Colts. The Titans did nothing to force that, but take a look at where Kevin Byard came from to recover this thing. When the ball hits the ground he’s on the 28 yard line and he recovers it on the Colts 4 yard line. He was about the 4th furthest player from the ball for either team, but ended up recovering it. That’s phenomenal effort from the young leader of the defense.
While we are on the topic of Byard, not only is he leading the NFL in interceptions with 6, but he’s also leading all safeties with 13 passes defensed. Those 13 break ups are 4 more than the next closest safety, Harrison Smith. He’s not just playing at a Pro Bowl level, he’s got to be in consideration for All-Pro as well. Byard has more than lived up to the hype in 2017.
Overall, this was one of the best defensive performances by the Titans in 2017. The pass rush consistently impacted the game from start to finish and the secondary held up their end of the bargain. T.Y. Hilton was held to just 2 catches on 5 targets for 15 yards giving him a final line against the Titans in 2017 of 3 catches on 9 targets for 34 yards. Both Adoree Jackson and Logan Ryan had nice games. Jackson allowed 3 catches on 5 targets for 34 yards and Ryan allowed 2 catches on 4 targets for 20 yards.
They get another chance to build on this performance this week against a Texans team that has the least mobile quarterback in the league playing behind one of the NFL’s most vulnerable offensive lines. The Titans will need to find a way to shut down DeAndre Hopkins like they’ve shut down T.Y. Hilton this year. If they find a way to do that, its hard to see a way that they lose this game.