Titans Bring Bill Belichick-Flavored Defensive Scheme into Week 10 Showdown vs. Chiefs

Regan Creswell

With a big front seven led by linebacker Harold Landry III, the Tennessee Titans bring a defensive scheme familiar to the Chiefs in their Week 10 matchup. The Titans rank seventh in the league in allowing 18.3 points per game, but their reliance on power and strength might be a shortcoming against a Kansas City offense built on speed. 

Defensive Breakdown

The Titans run a 3-4 base defense playing primarily cover 3, man free, cover 2 and 2 man. The influence of New England's Bill Belichick on Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is apparent watching this defense. The defensive line and linebackers will run twists up front, although they lack a dominant speed rusher. Tennessee opts instead to pressure the quarterback by power rushers to collapse the pocket and sending safeties and linebackers on blitzes. The secondary disguises its coverage by moving around pre-snap to create uncertainty in the quarterback’s mind. They also like to bracket the tight end from time to time.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will miss the game with a shoulder injury, and the Titans’ first round draft pick. Defensive end Jeffrey Simmons missed practice on Thursday with a hamstring injury, but he was a full participant on Friday.

Outside linebacker Landry leads the team with six sacks. He wins matchups with his power and hand usage. The outside linebacker opposite Landry is 11-year veteran Cameron Wake, who has five career double-digit sack seasons, the last coming in 2017.

All-Pro free safety Kevin Byard highlights the secondary. He has 15 interceptions since the start of the 2017 season, including three this year. Former Patriots’ Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler suffered a season-ending broken wrist last week against the Panthers, which is a big loss for this unit. Logan Ryan, another former Patriots corner, is very familiar with this scheme due to its similarities with Belichick's system. With Butler out, 2017 first-round pick Adoree Jackson and LeShaun Sims will see more work.

Beating The Defense

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will need to use his snap count to try to identify pre-snap if the Titans plan on sending a blitz, and he can use motion to decipher the coverage he is facing. Scanning the defense to find a numbers advantage to one side of the field can allow Mahomes to rack up easy yards with quick receiver screens. The offensive line needs to avoid false start when the defensive line stems late in the quarterback’s cadence.

The run game should focus their attack outside the tackles. Tackle zone runs, stretch plays, counters and the jet sweep/tap pass can get the ball on the edge and stretch out the Titans' bigger front seven defenders. The linebackers lack the speed to consistently get to the plays on the perimeter and will occasionally over run the outside plays, opening up a cutback lane.

With the Titans running a man-heavy coverage scheme, the Chiefs can pick them apart with rub routes and crossers. These rub routes are particularly effective when targeting the running back out of the backfield and near the goal line. Using play-action to hit the deep over route behind the linebackers has a high chance for success. Kansas City can also use tunnel and bubble screens to get the ball on the edge quickly. With a couple of key blocks, these screens can gain good yardage.

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