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All-22 Review: Titans defense dishes out a donut in New York

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Kevin Byard and company put together one of the most impressive performances in franchise history.

Tennessee Titans v New York Giants Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The All-22 Review is a recurring feature here at Music City Miracles breaking down the tape from the previous week’s Titans game. The focus will vary depending on where the action on the field takes us, but the idea is to bring insights that may have been missed on the TV broadcast.

The 2000 Titans defense is, without question, the best defense in franchise history. They finished first in yards allowed, second in points allowed, and finished the season with back-to-back shutouts in which they allowed a combined 208 total yards to the Browns and Cowboys. Since that shutout of the Cowboys on Christmas Day to end the 2000 regular season, the Titans hadn’t blanked an opponent once over the last 285 games. That streak ended in New York on Sunday as the 2018 Titans defense — currently ranked second in points allowed and seventh in yards allowed — completely dominated the Giants on the road. It was just the fourth road shutout in franchise history going all the way back to the AFL days.

The 2018 defense isn’t going to knock the 2000 defense off the throne, but it has a chance to push the 2008 defense and the 1980 Oilers defense for the second best group in franchise history before it’s all said and done.

This game will likely stand as this season’s signature defensive performance (though the Titans are welcome to top it over the next two weeks). Dean Pees’ unit gave up just 260 yards of total offense with 72 of those yards coming on a garbage time drive when the team was up 17-0 with just minutes remaining.

Rookie sensation Saquon Barkley was bottled up for easily his worst performance of the season. The former Nittany Lion had four straight 100-yard rushing games coming in to this one, but he rushed for just 31 yards on 14 carries in this matchup. It was just the second time in his career that he’s failed to reach 100 yards from scrimmage.

They also harassed Eli Manning into his lowest completion percentage of the year at 47.7%. Jurrell Casey and Harold Landry led the charge for the Titans pass rush with both players generating five pressures while Kevin Byard and the secondary clamped down on an Odell Beckham-less Giants receiving corps.

Here’s some of what stood out on tape.

Titans run defense frustrates Barkley

The Titans run defense has been a bit of an enigma over the course of the season, but they’ve been on fire the past two weeks. Tennessee has allowed less than 3 yards per carry to Leonard Fournette and Saquon Barkley in Week 14 and Week 15. Bottling up a back like Barkley is always a team effort and that was certainly the case on Sunday.

Let’s start with an early run that went for a 10 yard loss. Derrick Morgan played his best game of 2018 and this might have been his best play of the game. He beats not one, but two blocks quickly and stops this run in it’s tracks. Barkley tries to reverse course, but Harold Landry and Kendrick Lewis are both there to corral him.

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With Brian Orakpo out, Harold Landry saw his highest snap count of the season and really took advantage of it. The big question with him coming out of Boston College was whether he could hold up against the run, but 2018 has emphatically answered that question for me. Landry doesn’t just hold up against the run, he’s a plus run defender and it’s because of plays like this. He uses his outstanding quickness to cross the face of the right tackle and knife inside to make the tackle for a loss.

NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger had a great breakdown of this play on Twitter that I would highly recommend checking out (if you’re not checking out Baldy’s Breakdowns after games you’re really missing out).

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Landry also does a nice job as an edge setter when teams run at his side. Here he does a great job of locking his inside arm out against Nate Solder (No. 76) and not allowing him to get any movement on the edge while also keeping his outside shoulder clean. That compresses every gap on the play side and gives Barkley nowhere to go.

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The Titans secondary contributed to the run-stopping effort as well. Last week it was Logan Ryan and Kevin Byard helping stuff Leonard Fournette at the goal line. This week it was Adoree’ Jackson flying up to make excellent open field tackles on one of the most elusive running backs in the game.

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Jurrell Casey Appreciation Corner

Jurrell Casey is one of the most underrated players in the NFL despite the fact that he just got named to his 4th consecutive Pro Bowl. He can be borderline unblockable at times and Sunday was one of those times. A great defensive play doesn’t always result in a stat for that player and this is an example. Casey’s quick penetration causes Barkley to re-route in the backfield and that allows Rashaan Evans to make the tackle for just a short gain instead of what could have been a much larger one.

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This is another play where Casey doesn’t really record a stat, but check out the lateral quickness from the 300-pounder at the snap. Good luck blocking that all day. The rush forces Manning out of the pocket and eventually results in an incomplete pass (with a great PBU from Malcolm Butler).

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Harold Landry got in Eli Manning’s head

I’m sure Harold Landry is frustrated by the lack of sack numbers he’s accumulated this year. He’s still on just 2.5 sacks for the season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been effective. He ranks second on the Titans in pressures behind Jurrell Casey and is frequently found in the opponent’s backfield.

PFF credited Landry with four quarterback hits on Sunday. That’s a pretty large number and it shows how close he was to getting home against the Giants. Here is the first of those hits. It comes from a stunt between him and Rashaan Evans against the left side of New York’s line. Landry’s job is to attack the tackle’s inside shoulder and then try to bounce off him towards the quarterback while Evans loops around inside. Landry executes this game very well here and forces an off balance throw from Manning that Logan Ryan does an excellent job of breaking up on the back end.

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Here’s another QB hit from Landry. This one comes off his typical speed rush and results in what was a common occurrence in this game: the Eli chuck ‘n’ duck.

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Here’s another stunt that resulted in a Landry hit on Manning. This time he’s the guy looping inside while Derrick Morgan picks off the tackle.

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A very similar look and result here. I would guess that the Titans saw some struggles from the Giants offensive line with stunts and twists on film, because we saw a ton of these on Sunday. This one is another chuck ‘n’ duck and the wobbly pass is underthrown, allowing Wesley Woodyard to break it up. The ball nearly bounces in to Kevin Byard’s arms for an interception here.

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One more E-T stunt. This time it’s Casey and Landry combining as Casey flat out knocks down the tackle to free up Landry. These two make a great pass rush combination.

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Landry is playing really good football right now. Obviously, the sacks and the forced turnovers need to come eventually, but he feels like he’s really close to a break out game right now. It would be a great time for him to put it all together over the next two weeks.

Complementary pass rush and coverage

Every pass defense ultimately comes down to how well your pass rush and coverage can complement each other. The better your pass rush is, the more players you can commit to coverage. The better your coverage is, the more you can feel comfortable blitzing to help the pass rush. The Titans defense is currently leaning a little bit harder on their coverage.

Check out the coverage on this play from Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Adoree’ Jackson, and Jayon Brown. Every one of them has their man locked up and eventually Manning just gives up and throws the ball away to avoid a sack. Butler is particularly impressive on this play.

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The pass rush was pretty good in this game as well though. I mentioned Morgan up top and here he is again. This time he’s bull rushing the right tackle right back in to Manning’s feet which forces the hurried pass. Woodyard’s arriving in coverage so that play wasn’t going anywhere even with an accurate throw (it might have even been picked), but this is what things should look like when you can get complementary pass rush and coverage on the same play.

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To supplement the pass rush, Dean Pees does a great job of dialing up unpredictable blitzes. The Titans personnel helps in this department due to the slew of good blitzers they have among the linebackers and defensive backs. Logan Ryan was one of the best before he went down with an injury (get well soon, Logan). Here, he comes on a nickel blitz and the Giants actually have it picked up, but Ryan is able to beat the right guard quickly with a Eurostep-esque move and get Manning on the ground. The Titans will miss Ryan’s blitzing nearly as much as they miss his excellent coverage. He finishes his 2018 season with 4 sacks (currently 3rd most on the team).

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Jayon Brown has gotten a lot of love here during the course of the year — deservedly so — but much of it has centered around his ability as a blitzing linebacker. Brown is still a major plus in coverage though. Check him out in man coverage here against Evan Engram (one of the tougher tight ends to cover in the NFL). This is absolutely picture perfect play to get his hand in there and knock it away on 3rd down.

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One of the biggest plays of the game was a strip sack from Kamalei Correa. It’s a great team effort on this pass rush from the Titans defensive line. It starts with Harold Landry who comes buzzing around the edge behind Manning, forcing him to step up in the pocket. Meanwhile, Casey, Morgan, and Correa combine to overwhelm the interior of the Giants line and take away the space that Manning wanted to step up into. Eli panics and tries to dump the ball off, but loses control of it and Casey is able to recover and set up the Titans second touchdown.

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Morgan very nearly created another huge play later in the game. With the Giants backed up inside their own 5-yard line, he got an easy win on the pass rush and nearly got to Manning. It forced another panicked throw which landed near Harold Landry’s feet and the right guard is lucky to not be called for a hold that would have resulted in a safety here.

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Kenny Vaccaro and Rashaan Evans set the tone for the entire defense

The additions of Kenny Vaccaro and Rashaan Evans this offseason injected a massive amount of much-needed ferocity into this Titans defense. They are tone setters in the purest form. Check out this play early in the game. Watch the urgency and power that these two play with. Vaccaro blows up blocking tight end Rhett Ellison, loses his helmet, and then continues on to help bottle up Barkley.

Meanwhile, Evans takes massive rookie guard Will Hernandez and disposes of him like yesterday’s newspaper before going to find the ball and make the stop. These two are so fun to watch and they bring a level of intensity that’s infectious to the rest of the defense.

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Evans has gotten to the point where it’s no longer surprising when he makes plays, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to see. The biggest thing that has come on for him over the past month is his recognition. Watch him here as he almost immediately sees where the play is going and beats Barkley to the hole to make the tackle for a big loss.

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The Titans defense still lacks a little juice from the pass rush, but there aren’t too many holes outside of that. This is a really fun group to watch play right now.