NASHVILLE – 'X' marks the trouble spot for the Tennessee Titans defense.
Explosive plays – gains of 20 yards or more – have been a consistent problem through the first weeks of the season. Players and coaches typically shorten that to “X plays” when discussing them, which they have done often in recent days.
Tennessee (1-2) enters Sunday’s matchup with Indianapolis (1-1-1) as one of seven teams that has allowed an average of better than 400 total yards per game. The Titans are 24th in pass defense, 29th in run defense and tied for 29th in scoring defense.
“Those X plays, man,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We talk about stats, and I know our stats are bottom of the league are bottom of the league and all that stuff. Our defensive coordinator [Shane Bowen] brought up (Wednesday) in the meetings that we have (13) drives that we gave up X plays, and they scored nine touchdowns and three or four field goals. But we had 20 drives – or something to that extent – where we didn’t give up any X plays, and we only had one field goal [against].
“So, I think the formula is simple. We don’t give up any X plays, we can be a really good defense. But if we do give up X plays then we’re not going to be worth anything.”
Say this about the Titans in this regard: they are consistent.
In Week 1 against the New York Giants, that unit allowed three gains of 20-plus yards. The last two opponents, Buffalo and Las Vegas, had five such gains apiece.
All three totaled 166 yards from those big gains. For the Giants, that accounted for 41.9 percent of their final tally. For the Bills, it was 40.1 percent. For the Raiders, it was 42.1 percent.
Tennessee is the only NFL team so far in 2022 that has allowed a 150-yard rusher and a 150-yard receiver. New York’s Saquon Barkley ran for 164 yards on just 18 attempts in Week 1, which included a 68-yard run (the longest by any running back this season) in the third quarter. Las Vegas’ Mack Hollins had 158 yards on eight catches and became one of nine players with a reception of 60 yards or more when he hauled in a 60-yard catch in the fourth quarter.
“When we’re in position to make a play, we’ve got to make the play,” secondary coach Anthony Midget said. “… We’ve been playing good ball, but it’s been overshadowed by some of the X plays.”
A year ago, the Titans allowed an average of 5.4 yards per play to opposing offenses. Thus far this year, that figure is a full yard higher, 6.4 per play. The opponents have combined for 188 plays.
Take away 188 yards (one yard per play) from the total allowed thus far, and Tennessee would be in the top half of the NFL in total defense.
Plus, of course, there is the impact on the scoreboard. Of the eight touchdown drives opposing teams have mounted against the Titans, five have required just eight plays or fewer.
“X plays equal points,” Bowen said. “It does. Just look at all our drives throughout the season. When we give up X plays, there’s points associated. When we don’t give up X plays, there’s not many points.
“So, we’ve got to continue to stress making them earn it, not getting the ball thrown over our head, not giving them creases that gash us for 15-20 yards in the run game. We’ve got to keep things in front of us and hopefully make them drive the field.”