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All-22 Review: Breaking down the tape of the Titans defense and special teams in Miami

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The Titans struggled to get pressure and stop the run. We take a look at why those were issues against the Dolphins.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The All-22 Review is a recurring feature 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.

If you missed my review of the offense, you can check it out here, but this one will be all about what went right and wrong with the defense and special teams.

First, a lot has been made about the lack of pass rush from the Titans against the Dolphins. Part of that is due to Miami’s game plan. They were getting the ball out of Ryan Tannehill’s hands in a hurry. He averaged just 2.22 seconds from snap to throw according to PFF, the third shortest amount of time for any starting quarterback in Week 1. That short passing game always makes it tough for a pass rush to get home, but Tennessee’s pass rushers weren’t very impressive either.

I wanted to pass along a few quick notes from the Titans snap counts before we get in to the tape. First item of note was both Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro being on the field for 100% of snaps.

Logan Ryan got the start at corner opposite Malcolm Butler and played the most snaps among the three cornerbacks which qualifies as a mild surprise. Adoree’ Jackson was generally the corner who went to the bench on the rare occasion that the Titans weren’t in nickel.

Wesley Woodyard was the clear 3-down backer at 97% snap share. Jayon Brown saw far more action than Will Compton, out-snapping him 71% to 31%.

Kamalei Correa and Brian Orakpo were the starters at outside linebacker and both played 77% of snaps. Sharif Finch and Derrick Morgan both played 23% with Aaron Wallace getting 13%. Finch is now being listed by the Titans as a defensive lineman which I thought was interesting. He played both defensive line and outside linebacker at points during the game. Morgan clearly appeared to be less than 100% healthy.

I didn’t have anywhere below to really fit this in so I’m just sticking it up top, but Sharif Finch had a couple moments in the 14 snaps he saw in Miami. Here’s one of them which qualifies for one of the best pass rushes we saw all day unfortunately. He gets a great bull rush on left guard Josh Sitton and nearly walks him right back in to Tannehill, but the three step drop gets the ball out in time.

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The snap count along the defensive line went as expected. Jurrell Casey led the way with an 84% share, followed by DaQuan Jones (65%), Austin Johnson (45%), and Bennie Logan (21%).

With that let’s get to the tape.

Run Defense

The Titans run defense was a big talking point in the fallout from the game on Sunday. They got gashed in the first half to the tune of 14 carries for 98 yards (7.0 yards per carry). Half of that total and over a third of Miami’s total rushing yards for the entire game came on the Dolphins 98-yard touchdown drive that swung momentum of the game.

Here are a few of the key plays from that drive. The Dolphins threw a lot of looks at the Titans in the run game early. On this play, they spread them out and then run it up the middle. Somehow, the Titans defense starts this play with only 5 defenders in the box which makes it easy for Miami to create a big hole for Frank Gore. I’m guessing this was an assignment bust by the defense, because it’s extremely rare to only see 5 in the box outside of prevent situations.

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Miami was really creative with some of their run calls. Here they motion receiver Albert Wilson in to the backfield with Frank Gore lined up as a fullback/H-back and run a little buck sweep action. You can see the Titans linebackers take the bait with Wilson which leaves them outnumbered as the Dolphins pull their right tackle and center around to lead for Gore on the left. It’s nice design and execution here.

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This was the most egregious play from the drive in my opinion. There isn’t any trickery going on here from Miami. It’s just a simple split zone run on 1st and 20 after a holding call. This was the Titans chance to get off the field, but instead they give up 21 and give up the touchdown on the very next play.

The two culprits for the the play are highlighted pre-snap. DaQuan Jones gets pushed too far down the line by Josh Sitton while Jayon Brown gets stuck inside for some reason. Danny Amendola comes flying in from the outside to block Kenny Vaccaro which leaves Gore one-on-one with Malcolm Butler on the outside. Vaccaro gets blindsided here, but this is bad work from Jones and Brown.

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The run leaks continued in to the next drive as well. This next play is really a case of a perfect play call by Miami (I thought Adam Gase called a tremendous game on Sunday). They take advantage of Jurrell Casey’s aggression here and run a little wham play. They allow Casey to come up field and nail him with the tight end blocking down from the outside. Casey would probably like to have this one back as defensive linemen are coached to be on alert if they are left completely unblocked like this.

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After that run, the run defense seemed to get much better. Here is one example of what we have come to expect to see from the Titans run defense over the past couple years. A few guys stand out here for good reasons. DaQuan Jones does a nice job of two-gapping at the point of attack (he’s being blocked by No. 77). Will Compton also does a nice job of staying patient behind Jones and waiting for Gore to pick a gap before meeting him there. But the guy I really wanted to highlight was Sharif Finch (spotlighted) who collapses the back side of this run and takes away the cut back lane. You’d rather he not end up on the ground, but this is a great job of squeezing from the back side of a play.

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Bennie Logan didn’t get a lot of snaps, but I’d expect that he’ll get more in the next few weeks as I thought he did well with the opportunities he did get. This was his biggest play. He absolutely demolishes the Dolphins center and while he isn’t able to complete the play by getting Drake on the ground, his early penetration is what stops this play for what ends up being a 1-yard loss. Logan is a load inside.

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Jayon Brown had some rough moments early on, but I thought he settled down and played better as the game went on. Here is an example. He does a nice job of beating the center’s attempted cut off with his speed and making the stop on this outside zone run.

Also, while we are here, the Titans promise of being multiple in their fronts definitely came to fruition on Sunday. There were relatively few true 3-4 base fronts during the game. They often used the 4-3 look we saw in the preseason and even flashed this look with Woodyard walking down as an outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage a few times.

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Austin Johnson had some good moments as well. This 3rd and short effort was led by big No. 94 who reset the line of scrimmage inside and got some help from his teammates rallying to the ball to get the defense off the field.

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The defense came up with another good run stuff on 3rd and short again later on. This time they were led by Jurrell Casey and Kamalei Correa who both got good movement at the point of attack.

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The good news is that the Titans weren’t just getting physically bullied up front for the most part. Many of the Dolphins big runs came on blown assignments or a play call that fooled the defense. Those things are more fixable than defensive linemen getting put on skates or linebackers who can’t beat blocks.

That being said, the Titans need Brian Orakpo, Derrick Morgan, and Rashaan Evans back on the field and playing at 100%. Orakpo started and played a full complement of snaps, but he certainly didn’t look like his usual disruptive self out there. Morgan was limited to just 14 snaps in the game and didn’t look like himself either. Both those guys and Evans all figure to be big parts of the Titans run defense in 2018 and they missed having them out there and playing well against Miami.

Kamalei Correa’s busy debut

Correa has largely received praise for his play on Sunday, but I thought the tape wasn’t quite as kind to him. Yes, he played a lot of snaps and picked up a sack and two tackles for loss, but he also had some misses.

On the very first defensive snap of the game, the Dolphins got him with a little play action swing pass. He takes the bait from the run fake and is out of position to get back outside for the swing pass, resulting in an easy first down.

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On the Dolphins’ 98-yard drive, he missed a key tackle. This was a 3rd and 6 and Correa has Albert Wilson short of the sticks, but he’s able to break away and pick up the first down. If Correa makes this tackle, the Dolphins are punting back to the Titans from their own 17-yard line. Instead, they continue their drive and end up in the end zone several plays later.

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Correa also missed another tackle on Wilson shortly after, though this one didn’t cost them nearly as much.

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However, he was around the ball a lot and he deserves credit for that. He does a nice job here of squeezing down the back side of a zone run which forces Drake to stop his momentum and try to cut back.

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The sack was nice from Correa, but he was unblocked. It was also a good rush from Brian Orakpo who looked like he helped cause Tannehill to pull the ball down just before Correa got there. Blocked or unblocked, it’s good to see him taking advantage of the situation.

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Correa’s game was OK overall I thought. He had some misses early, but like most of the defense, appeared to get better as the game went on.

Mixed bag for defensive backs

The Titans secondary received a lot of hype during the lead up to the season and they were short of those expectations in Week 1, though like everything else with this game it wasn’t all bad.

I thought Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler played very well. Ryan lined up in the slot for the majority of the game and did really good work there. Here’s one of his best coverage snaps as he is locked up with Danny Amendola one on one and is able to track him all the way across the field and end up in perfect position to make a play.

Also, check out Kevin Byard on this play. He’s lined up towards the top of the screen near the 20-yard line marker. He very nearly jumps this route for what would have probably been a pick 6. He just slightly overruns the spot. He’s going to be a turnover machine again this year. His anticipation is just too good. This is going to be a theme spread throughout this post too. Consider this Byard Almost-Pick #1.

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Butler had the big interception and allowed the big touchdown which grabbed the headlines, but he was really good outside of those two big plays. On this snap he’s working in press man against Danny Amendola and does an outstanding job of squeezing the Dolphins receiver against the sideline which leaves virtually no room for Tannehill to fit this ball in.

Also, credit is due to Jurrell Casey and Brian Orakpo who got a little pressure on Tannehill here with a well-played twist inside.

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Here is a look at the Butler interception. The Dolphins are trying to isolate their big tight end Mike Gesicki on the 5’-11” Butler, but Butler is physical with Gesicki from the snap and bullies him outside which leaves him in perfect position to peel back and pick off the pass. I thought Butler might take this to the house, but he tripped over his own feet as he tried to cut back inside.

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The touchdown that Butler allowed to Kenny Stills is far from a disaster when you look back at it. The Titans are in Cover 3 and Tannehill does a nice job moving Kevin Byard out of the middle of the field with his eyes which leaves Butler all alone against the speedy Stills. Butler is able to close on Stills as the ball is in the air and get his hand in late to try to break it up. From the endzone angle it’s actually hard to see how this ball even squeezes in without Butler knocking it away, but it’s a great throw and catch against decent coverage from Butler here.

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Adoree’ Jackson was the worst of the Titans big three corners on Sunday. He gave up the first Dolphins touchdown when he was late to pick up a switch. The Titans are in man coverage, but Jackson and slot corner Logan Ryan are clearly supposed to pass off cross routes. Ryan recognizes it right away, but Jackson is a beat late and it costs the Titans a touchdown.

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Not everything that was completed on Jackson was his fault though. Here, again, the Titans are in Cover 3 and while the pass is easily completed for a first down to the receiver that Jackson is lined up over, this is simply the perfect play call for this defense. Jackson is responsible for the deep third here and can’t get caught driving down on short out routes. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the playcaller as a DB. If the Dolphins run that against Cover 3, it’s almost always going to be an easy completion. Every coverage has it’s weakness.

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Jackson’s coverage outside of that missed switch was mostly pretty good, but he did have a bad missed tackle early on that gave the Dolphins some additional yardage. The coverage here isn’t terrible. It’s a well-timed route and throw by Miami, but he’s got to get his man on the ground immediately here. The miss costs the Titans about 15 yards.

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As with most everything for the Titans on Sunday it was a mixed bag for Jackson. Here he shows off his outstanding deep speed as he runs step for step with Albert Wilson down the sideline and does a nice job of squeezing him out and not letting him come back in to try to make a play on this ball. That nearly allows Kevin Byard to make what would have been a spectacular interception. Byard Almost-Pick #2.

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Finally, we have Byard Almost-Pick #3. This time the ball doesn’t even get thrown, but that’s because No. 31 anticipates the WR screen and breaks on it before the ball is even snapped. If Tannehill let’s go of this throw, again, it’s probably a pick 6, but he wisely tucks it and scampers forward for a couple yards.

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Byard has an interception coming soon. He’s everywhere in this secondary.

Special teams highs and lows

Like pretty much every phase of this game, the Titans special teams had great moments and one very terrible moment against the Dolphins. Let’s start with the terrible to get it out of the way. Kick return touchdowns are always tough, but this one was especially poorly timed. The Titans had just driven 75 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 and suddenly appeared to have life again when Jakeem Grant snatched the momentum right back for the Dolphins.

The return came down the right sideline on the angle below. You can see the root of the problem appears to be Aaron Wallace getting caught too far inside and Brynden Trawick appearing to trip over the legs of the Dolphins player blocking him. That gives Grant enough of a crease to make it a foot race and he wins it with ease.

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The Titans would strike back with a return of their own shortly after though as Darius Jennings used key blocks from Jonnu Smith, Luke Stocker, Will Compton, and Aaron Wallace to open a lane for him to wind his way through. This play kept the Titans alive late in the game and was great to see from a guy who has fought so hard to stick around at the NFL level.

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That wasn’t Jennings’ only nice return either. The opening kickoff of the game saw him almost break free after spinning off a pile. I didn’t realize how close he was to possibly breaking this until I saw the All-22. The Titans might have found themselves a pretty good return man in Darius Jennings.

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That does it for my thoughts on Titans-Dolphins. I now get to cleanse my mind and focus on Houston. More content on the Texans to come on Music City Miracles this week!