The Tennessee Titans completed the first month of the 2012-13 NFL regular season with a 1-3 record. The Titans' defense has struggled. Through Week 4, they're on pace to surrender 604 points. That won't happen because their schedule is much simpler in the second half of the season. The real question is how much of a turnaround can Titans enthusiasts expect?
Let's take a look at some of their stats. What must Jerry Gray do to get this defense to play better? Does the main source of the problems lie with the players, coaches, or both?
Points Allowed: 151
The Titans have allowed an average of 37.75 points per game to each of their first four opponents. They surrendered at least 34 points in each of those games. If the two pick-6s and Hail Mary touchdown reception are excluded, then the Titans' defense has allowed 32.5 points per game.
Opponent Quarterback Rating: 118.3
The Titans have faced an assortment of quarterbacks that include Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matthew Stafford and Matt Schaub. These quarterbacks have completed 10 passing touchdowns to one interception. They've also completed 75.3-percent of their passes for 1,140 yards.
Pass Rush: Six Sacks
The Titans had 28 sacks in 2011. That was the second-fewest total in the NFL. They tried to correct this deficiency when they re-vamped their defensive line with Kamerion Wimbley and Mike Martin. Akeem Ayers was also expected to have a significant role as a pass-rusher.
The Titans had appeared to repair their pass-rush woes in the preseason. However, they're on a pace to finish this season with 24 sacks. The front four hasn't been able to reach opposing quarterbacks. Instead of blitzing more, the Titans have allowed opposing quarterbacks to pick them apart.
Yards Allowed Per Game: 421.5
The Titans are one of two teams who've surrendered more than 420 yards per game. They're allowing opponents to convert 46-percent of their third-down attempts. These stats are slightly skewed because of the offense's inability to get off the field. The Titans' defense has averaged approximately 37 minutes of time-of-possession.
Turnover Differential: (-6)
The Titans' defense has only created two takeaways. They didn't record a takeaway in two of four games. They haven't created more than one turnover in any game. Alterraun Verner is responsible for each of those takeaways. Verner had an interception against the San Diego Chargers and a forced fumble against the Detroit Lions.
The Titans haven't given themselves a chance to create takeaways. The combination of a below-average pass rush and ultra-soft coverage in the secondary have made it far too easy for opponents to dissect the short and intermediate ranges of the football field.
The Titans Can Turn It Around
The Titans have faced three Pro Bowl-caliber quarterbacks and another quarterback on an undefeated team. Fortunately, there's no reason to expect such a conservative defense against a young quarterback like Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings rarely go down-field with their passing attack. There's no excuse for the lack of blitzes or the safeties dropping back into extremely deep coverages.
As far as rebuilding theories for the defense, I'm not buying them. This is essentially the same defense that contained Drew Brees and Joe Flacco in 2011. The biggest differences are that Cortland Finnegan is with the St. Louis Rams and Colin McCarthy hasn't been available. The pass-rush should have improved with Wimbley and Martin. When Gray stops with his ultra-conservative game-planning, then these players should make a significant difference.
Joshua Huffman graduated from Middle Tennessee State University as a marketing major in 2009. He's been a Middle Tennessee resident from 1986-88 and 2001-present. He lived in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Wisconsin from 1988-01 and for approximately eight months in 2009-10 as he completed a 20-game volunteer position with the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers. His favorite sports organizations include the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Cubs, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans. He can be found on Twitter HERE.
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