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.
Over the last decade, there have been just three NFL teams who have made it through their first seven games without allowing a single opponent to score more than 20 points:
Both the 2013 Chiefs and the 2019 Patriots started the season 7-0, but that’s not really the point I want to make here. The point is that this Titans defense is off to a start that is quite rare in modern football.
They check in at 5th in the NFL in scoring defense despite having played one more game than three of the four teams ahead of them in that category. They’re also among the top ten in the league in the following categories:
- Yards allowed per drive (6th)
- Points allowed per drive (4th)
- Drive success rate allowed (4th)
- Three and outs forced per drive (3rd)
They’re a clear top ten unit and you could make a very strong case for top five... and that was before they added Jeffery Simmons to the equation. I know I already broke down some of Simmons’ dominant debut, but I don’t think you’ll mind too much if we take one more stroll through the 21 snaps that put him on the national radar this week.
Jeffery Simmons is going to be a superstar
If you want to call this an overreaction, go for it — and I get it, it’s “just” 21 snaps against a below average Chargers offensive line — but Simmons is going to be a multiple time First Team All-Pro selection for the Titans.
This is his first snap as a professional football player and he’s already harassing quarterbacks.
I slowed down the second run through of this clip so you can really appreciate exactly what he does here. The first thing I notice is the lateral quickness to jump across from the B gap to attack the center. Worth noting that he’s pushing off of his surgically repaired knee (again, just 8 months removed from ACL surgery) to generate that burst.
However, the magic here is his hands. His initial punch at center Dan Feeney misses and Feeney is able to knock Simmons slightly off balance, but what him regain his base — again, off that surgically repaired knee — while simultaneously re-positioning his right hand under the triceps of Feeney. As soon as he gets his hand in that spot, he has total control and is able to use his brute strength to simply toss the 310-pound Feeney on his back and get to the quarterback.
The ability to reset his hands while re-gathering his lower half is really special.
Other plays require less analysis simply because there are only so many ways to describe how unbelievably powerful Simmons is.
Here, he’s lined up as a 1-technique on the shoulder of the center pre-snap. The Chargers are looking to run outside zone, but Simmons has none of it. He simply overpowers Feeney again and is able to just reach out and pluck Melvin Gordon with one big paw and drag him to the ground.
Simmons is remarkably quick off the snap, showing great reaction time as well as burst out of his stance. He comes out with great pad level and uses his hands to control the blocker with ease. This shouldn’t be that easy for a rookie defensive lineman in his first game no matter who he’s playing.
The Titans defense had two goal line series in this game and the Chargers tried to run the ball initially both times with no success, in large part, because of Simmons. Here are two plays from the first goal line series.
First down sees Simmons immediately knock his man three yards deep, changing the path of Gordon and then peeling back to help pull him down.
On second down, he once again overpowers Feeney, resetting the line of scrimmage and then sliding off to help make the tackle on Gordon short of the goal line.
This isn’t meant as a shot at the Titans other defensive linemen — Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones were both good in this game and have been playing well all year — but it’s pretty easy to locate Simmons on tape in this game. Just look for whichever Chargers offensive lineman is deepest in the backfield and you’ll find Simmons attached.
Here is the sack. It’s actually probably the least impressive of the plays that I’m going to highlight from him.
This is a designed T-E stunt where Simmons is meant to start up field and then loop back inside off of DaQuan Jones’ rush. He executes well, but gets a big assist from Jones whose excellent swim move draws the attention of the center and leaves nobody home to help Philip Rivers avoid Simmons as he begins to try to step up in the pocket. Simmons does show really nice burst to close and lays a pretty big hit on Rivers to finish the sack.
The Titans moved Simmons all over the place in this game, making it virtually impossible for the Chargers to get a read on where he would pop up from snap to snap. Here, he’s lined up as a 3-technique, working against the right guard.
This might have been another sack if not for the center getting a push on Simmons’ hip and slightly slowing his initial rush. His first push, again, sees him use his hands to work to the inside shoulder of right guard Michael Schofield and it looks like he has him beat before Scott Quessenberry’s shove helps Schofield re-gain leverage. That doesn’t stop Simmons though, he continues to fight through and chops Schofield’s hands down to win a second time and nearly gets to Rivers.
He’s really showing it all here. Power, technique, motor, ability to adjust your rush plan on the fly. Special for anyone, not just a rookie in his first game.
Want Simmons to line up as a 5-tech? Sure, he can do that too.
This time he gets to work against right tackle Sam Tevi and uses a similar move to the first pass rush clip shown above. Watch carefully as Simmons takes his right hand puts it right on the triceps of Tevi and pushes up. He is already showing an advanced understanding of leverage and he knows that as soon as he can get a hold of that triceps, it’s over for the offensive lineman. He casually shoves Tevi out of the way and goes after Rivers getting another pressure.
That’s the wild thing about this debut. It didn’t look like Simmons was this raw-but-powerful rookie just out there slamming into people like a bull in a china shop. He had a plan with his pass rush and worked that plan with extreme detail, showing off quick, powerful hands and understanding how to use them. This was a master class in interior pass rush technique from a guy who is just getting started at the NFL level.
Finally, let’s finish the Simmons section with the final goal line stand by the Titans defense that won the game. First, the prospect of facing off with Simmons in a critical situation causes Feeney to jump early and gets flagged for a false start. Gordon doesn’t get in anyway thanks to the efforts of DaQuan Jones and Rashaan Evans.
After a bogus pass interference call against Malcolm Butler set the Chargers back at the 1-yard line again, Simmons would show up twice more. First, beating Feeney inside to make first contact with Gordon on 1st down. Great play again by Evans here whose hit ultimately kills Gordon’s momentum and helps the Titans live to fight another down.
Finally, there is the final defensive play of the game. Simmons, again, knocks an offensive lineman into the backfield, forcing Gordon to change directions and that slight hesitation and change of angle allows for Wesley Woodyard to punch the ball out short of the goal line and save the day with the help of a Jurrell Casey recovery.
It’s honestly hard for me to even put Simmons’ debut into words. I’ve never been more impressed with a rookie defensive lineman, much less one who had ACL surgery eight months ago and had just three live NFL practices under his belt prior to his debut. He was simply fantastic. That’s a high bar to clear and I don’t expect that he will dominate quite to this level on a game-in-game-out basis, but there is little doubt that the Titans stole Simmons with the 19th overall pick in April.
The Titans “other” pass rushers were really good too
Simmons stole the show — deservedly — but Tennessee’s “other” pass rushers had a big time impact on this game as well. Philip Rivers is notoriously tough to sack due to his quick release and advanced understanding of where he can go with the ball when pressure arrives, but the Titans did a better job than most of keeping him uncomfortable for the majority of the game.
Rivers was under pressure on 46.2% of his snaps — the fourth highest rate in the NFL in Week 7 — despite having the eighth quickest time in the pocket among quarterbacks. Harold Landry, Cameron Wake, and DaQuan Jones all contributed four pressures while Simmons chipped in three, Jurrell Casey and Reggie Gilbert added two, and Rashaan Evans, Kamalei Correa, and Kenny Vaccaro all tacked on one of their own.
Here is Evans’ pressure. He continues to get opportunities as a pass rusher on 3rd and 4th downs, usually lined up on the interior to take advantage of his quickness.
Here, his pressure causes an inaccurate pass on 4th and short, giving Kevin Byard a chance to close on Hunter Henry and knock the ball down for a critical early turnover on downs.
Another pressure I wanted to highlight was Cameron Wake’s near sack that almost forced a Malcolm Butler pick-six on 3rd down in the red zone.
Wake absolutely roasts Tevi with a fantastic two-hand swipe and is in Rivers’ lap almost immediately. He rushes a throw out to Gordon to try and avoid a sack and that nearly turns out to be a massive mistake. Butler is incredibly close to picking this pass off and my money is on him winning the 95-yard footrace that would have followed.
Harold Landry was very active in this game as usual as well.
This was a near turnover too. Landry wins quickly with an inside rush move, leaving Rivers with two choices: take a safety or throw a rushed pass. Rivers chooses the pass — into quadruple coverage no less — and Butler once again comes incredibly close to picking it off with a diving effort.
Here is a collaboration between DaQuan Jones and Harold Landry.
Jones swats down the hands of Feeney and swims through while Landry uses his go-to speed rush to get around Trent Scott. The pressure forces another throwaway.
More Landry here.
This time he narrows his shoulders to slip through a chip block while ripping under the tackle’s outside arm. He’s almost immediately on Rivers and the veteran QB does a great job of quickly locating a target and nearly hits him with a rushed throw.
One last great pass rush clip. This time it’s Wake again.
The Titans sorely missed his presence against the Bills and Broncos while he recovered from an injured hamstring. Wake threatens with the speed rush here, causing Tevi to over-set and create a lane inside to the pocket. Wake times up Tevi’s punch perfectly and swats his hands away to get an easy win and force a hurried throw.
It was a fantastic day for the Titans pass rushers despite getting Rivers down for a sack just once. If they play like this against quarterbacks who are more prone to hold the ball — say... Jameis Winston — this kind of performance will result in a lot more sacks and turnovers.
A few things I didn’t like
It wasn’t all perfect from the Titans defense though. They weren’t great on 3rd downs, allowing the Chargers to go 6 of 11 in “get off the field” situations. They also gave up too many chunk plays, even if some of those were simply outstanding throws and catches from the Chargers potent passing attack.
Here is one play that is both a 3rd down conversion and a chunk play. A 3rd and 15 in scoring position is a pretty critical play and the Titans had a let down here, allowing Keenan Allen to get open in the middle of the field.
Logan Ryan is following Allen in man coverage, but with single high safety help to the middle of the field, he’s playing outside leverage, as he should. The problem here is that rookie safety Amani Hooker is playing way too deep and isn’t in position to close on the deep in cut at the sticks. That’s a rookie mistake, and while Hooker has been very good early on at avoiding those, they’re bound to pop up at times.
Sometimes you just get beat by great plays and some of the Titans defensive struggles in this game were just that. I thought Rivers was excellent and his receivers made several highly impressive grabs to help out as well. Here is one of them.
The Titans are bringing a zero blitz — meaning that they’re going man coverage across the board with no help and bringing everyone else after the quarterback. If you watched the Patriots-Jets game on Monday night, you heard a lot about zero blitzes. The Titans blitz doesn’t quite get home in time here, in part, because Melvin Gordon sticks out his leg and trips an unblocked Rashaan Evans as he’s coming through the line (see spotlight from the end zone angle).
That leaves Adoree’ Jackson in the unenviable position of covering Keenan Allen — one of the league’s best receivers — one on one with no help anywhere. The coverage really isn’t bad, but a good throw and great feet from Allen on the sideline result in a nice pick up for LA, setting up a goal line series.
Probably the most frustrating part of this game from a defensive standpoint was the Chargers second to last drive of the game. With a 23-13 lead and just 6:39 left on the clock, the Titans had a chance to effectively end the game with a stop or at least tilt the odds strongly in their favor if they could make the Chargers work for a scoring drive. They did neither.
The Titans settled into a soft zone defense that Philip Rivers quickly shredded with uncontested underneath throws like this one. I understand the idea of trying to avoid getting burnt deep here, I do, but the defense had done a great job keeping the Chargers in front of them while playing their usual aggressive defense. This was far too early to go into the prevent.
The Titans defense missed Jayon Brown in this game. Wesley Woodyard made the game saving play of course, and he should get full credit for that, but he’s a liability in coverage at this point in his career.
Here, Woodyard gets isolated on Chargers pass catching back Austin Ekeler in man coverage and the results aren’t great. It’s clear that Woodyard has lost a step or two at age 33 and it really shows here. Ekeler blazes by him with ease and scores the touchdown to close the gap to 23-20.
The Titans were careful not to leave Woodyard matched up on Ekeler again after this point, but the damage was already done. It’s very likely that this score never happens with Brown in the game.
A few things I did like
Logan Ryan makes impact plays each and every week as one of the best slot corners in the NFL.
Here, he reads the run immediately and shoots into the backfield to make the tackle on Gordon.
He also had multiple passes broken up during this game and a forced fumble that should have been recovered by Kamalei Correa for a turnover. He’s been one of the best Titans free agent additions of all time.
With Jayon Brown’s injury, we got to see a few snaps on defense from rookie linebacker David Long and I came away pretty impressed.
Here, he does a beautiful job of sniffing out the screen and then triggering to close on the back before he can get out of the backfield.
Good recognition from Jeffery Simmons here as well.
Finally, we should give some love to LeShaun Sims. With Adoree’ Jackson leaving this game with a foot injury, Sims stepped in and played really well. It’s telling that the Chargers only tested him once, on the play below, during his 13 snaps in coverage after coming in for Jackson.
Sims is matched up one on one with Allen here, as tough a cover as there is in the NFL, but he stays disciplined on the out and up and gets on top of the route, cutting the receiver off at the sidelines and giving him no chance or making a play on the ball. The Titans are lucky to have Sims. He’s a starting level corner in my opinion and he’ll get a chance to prove it this week against the Bucs with Jackson ruled out with his foot injury.
This wasn’t the best performance from the Titans defense this year, but it wasn’t a bad game either. The early prevent defense appearance was frustrating and made the ending unnecessarily close, but it didn’t come back to bite them this time.
The debut if Jeffery Simmons brings a completely different dimension to this Titans defense. Suddenly, an already strong defensive line has been infused with a game wrecker type talent. As he gets — gulp — closer to 100% and is able to play more snaps, Simmons has a chance to completely change the way offenses approach playing the Titans.