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Titans defensive depth experiences dose of reality in Eagles loss

Where was the defensive depth we’ve been praising all season long?

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Tennessee Titans have often been praised for the defensive depth they’ve put forward this season. Several underrated players and veteran journeymen have performed admirably when afforded opportunities. That storyline came crashing down in Sunday’s ugly 35-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Tennessee’s defense entered Sunday’s contest with several injuries. Denico Autry and Elijah Molden were inactive due to injuries. Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham remains on IR. A pair of early-game injuries to David Long Jr. and Kristian Fulton further exposed Tennessee’s defenders.

Inside linebacker Dylan Cole was forced to play increased snaps due to Long’s injury. Cole played next to the likes of Joe Schobert and Monty Rice. The matchup against the Eagles was a terrible one for Cole. Cole is a limited athlete that struggles to tackle in space. Philadelphia’s RPO-based offense gave him fits.

Cole was credited with allowing three receptions on three targets, via Pro Football Focus. Cole allowed 28 receiving yards via those three receptions. He earned a coverage grade of 43.7 and overall defensive grade of 42.0 from PFF.

Rice was credited with two missed tackles. Rice had a coverage grade of 40.8 despite allowing just one reception via one target. Schobert was completely outmatched. Schobert allowed four receptions for 41 yards on four targets. Schobert’s PFF coverage grade was 37.0 and his overall defensive grade was 34.4. The Titans missed Long. Cunningham can’t come back soon enough either.

Tennessee’s pass rush has disappeared in recent weeks. Jeffery Simmons is playing through a painful ankle injury. It’s clearly hampering him. Simmons has recorded four pressures over Tennessee’s latest three contests. Autry’s injury paired with Simmons’ ongoing ailment has this pass rush looking like the 2020 unit.

We’ve often praised the likes of Mario Edwards Jr. and DeMarcus Walker this season. But it’s clear that Edwards and Walker were benefiting from the attention that Simmons and Autry command. Edwards totaled a modest two pressures on Sunday. Walker had zero pressures.

Bud Dupree had two pressures. He continues to disappoint. Titans general manager Jon Robinson will seriously consider releasing Dupree at the conclusion of the current campaign. Rashad Weaver did not record a pressure against the Eagles.

Onto the secondary. Undrafted free agent Tre Avery earned praise and increased snaps after allowing just three receptions on 11 targets in Weeks 11 and 12. Avery came crashing back down to earth against the Eagles. Avery allowed seven receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets, via PFF.

The Titans are a defensive-minded squad. But injuries to Fulton and Long hamstrung this unit against the now 11-1 Eagles, paired with existing injuries. It’s no surprise, but it’s an outcome worth monitoring. The Titans need Simmons, Autry, Long and Fulton healthy and available.