Interior defensive players like Ndamukong Suh, J.J. Watt, Geno Atkins, and Muhammed Wilkerson have gotten most of the press over the first half of the season; but don't be shocked if Casey is mentioned in that group sooner rather than later.
Jurrell Casey's two-sack day in St. Louis is something that Titans fans and close observers of the sport have expected more of this year. Casey's natural leverage and ability to sink below opposing offensive linemen is one of the reasons that he was drafted by the Titans, despite having a short frame and only registering 8.5 career college sacks.
Casey is also deceptively quick as seen by his trailing sack of Kellen Clemens in the game against St. Louis. When the Titans aren't dialing up an interior linebacker blitz (rare), they allow Casey to dip and rip which almost always results in moving the quarterback off of his ideal launch point.
Casey now stands as the second leading sacker among active defensive tackles, and has more sacks than J.J. Watt (5.5 sacks) and many others.
4-3 DT sack leaders
1. Jason Hatcher (Dallas)- 7 Sacks
2. Jurrell Casey (Tennessee) & Geno Atkins (Cincinnati)- 6 Sacks
3. Chris Jones (New England)- 5 Sacks
4. Darnell Dockett (Arizona)- 4 Sacks
5. Clinton McDonnald (Seattle) Ndamukong Suh (Detroit) & Michael Brockers (St. Louis)- 3.5 Sacks
Casey has also been a dominant run defender this year. Despite playing just over 86% of the plays on average, Casey is still fifth on the team in total tackles. Going outside of the team, only four teams have a defensive tackle with more combined tackles than Casey.
4-3 DT combined tackles leaders
1. Sheldon Richardson (New York Jets)- 41 tackles
2. Tony McDaniel (Seattle)- 34 tackles
3. Jurrell Casey (Tennessee) & Chris Jones (New England)- 30 tackles
4. Jason Hatcher (Dallas)- 29 tackles
5. Nick Hayden (Dallas)- 28 tackles
Something that doesn't show up on the stat sheet is his ability to eat up space and allow linebackers to penetrate and attack potential running lanes. In fact, the Titans often seem to have Casey hold double team in order for linebackers like Moise Fokou and Zach Brown to execute "twist stunts" on passing downs. Casey's ability to take on the double team and force opposing offensive lines to honor him as a rusher is something that few defensive tackles get and it is paying off.
Another testament to the significance of the attention that Casey is getting is the production of Antonio "Mookie" Johnson and other defensive lineman that line up beside Casey. Using Johnson as the ultimate example, before coming to the Titans he had 1.5 sacks over six years in 67 career games. In the last eight games, "Mookie" Johnson has tallied three sacks, and a handful of pressures.
That kind of production bump isn't purely from scheme or a good offseason, it is the sort of thing that come from someone who is demanding (and beating) double-teams at the other defensive tackle position.
What is next for Casey and a history lesson
The Titans get to play against weak offensive lines for the rest of the year after a talented stretch of offensive lines, early. According to PFF.com, the Titans get to play three of the bottom 10 guards for a combined four times. Expect Casey to be lined up between them and they, center, to force double teams.
If Casey can keep up his pace (six sacks over eight games), a 10-sack year is completely possible. If he can achieve this, he will be the first Titans' defender to do it since Jason Babin in 2010. To put that in perspective: Kerry Collins was the Titans quarterback; Stephen Tulloch was their leading tackler; and Kenny Britt was their leader in receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, and was responsible for their longest play of the year's 80-yards.
If you want to go back to the last Tennessee Titan defensive tackle with double-digit sacks…you can't. A Titan has never had a defensive tackle to break the double-digit barrier; however if you dig deep into the organization's past, you can find two Oilers that managed the feat. In 1992, Ray Childress (13) and Lee Williams (11) were Oiler defensive tackles that each broke the 10-sack mark. To put that in perspective, I hadn't even had my second birthday when Childress and Williams went on their sack spree. This 21-year streak is astounding considering the defensive tackles that the Titans have drafted or signed, not the least of which is Tennessee's own "Big Albert Haynesworth".
Breaking this streak would be very newsworthy, and it would be a "franchise first" for the Titans. All eyes will be on Jurrell Casey and the defense now that the offense seems to have found a spark; and the Titans playoff hopes likely depend on just how good that unit can be.
Will Lomas is a lead blogger for draftseason.com and a staff writer for SBNation's Tennessee Titans website Music City Miracles. Will is also the sports editor for the Tennessee Journalist, the University of Tennessee's online news source.
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