- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s become of the Tennessee Titans' defense?
Early in the season, Tennessee was a defensive team, and it looked like the Titans would be able to depend on the unit to keep the team in games.
Now it can’t stop opponents from scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and another early staple, strong run defense, has dropped from 10th after four games to tied for 20th after 10.
According to Derrick Morgan, the rate of mistakes has skyrocketed.
Talk of little mistakes is routine when things go bad for a team. But Morgan said defensive coordinator Jerry Gray precisely spelled out the dropoff.
“It’s a lot of mental errors, misalignments,” said Morgan, who’s dealing with a groin injury. “Jerry was telling us in the first four games we only had 12 mental errors and alignment mistakes. In the last six games we had 52. That’ll get you beat a lot.
“That kind of tells the story, you wonder why. You look back at those type of stats it’s like, ‘Wow, I see where we messed up.’ We watched it as a team earlier this week. We’ve just got to play smarter and I think we will.”
Stopping the run is supposed to be the foundation everything else builds off, but the Titans have been slipping in that department. During the 1-5 stretch, they held the Jaguars to 54 rushing yards. Everyone else has run for at least 120.
Gray thinks some guys have started to think too much about rushing the passer, which can get in the way of stopping the run.
“The thing we’ve got to make sure we keep doing is not put so much emphasis on the rush, but stop the run,” Gray said. “That’s what we’ve got to make sure we get back to. Then get those big guys out, and then get after the quarterback. I think that formula was working for the first six weeks. It’s still working for good teams, San Francisco, Seattle, guys like that.
“Get back to that, not trying to pass-rush on run downs. Get back to saying, ‘Get them in second-and-long, third-and-long,' get to the pass-rush, and you get the sacks and those things after that.”
It’s natural for a rusher to think rush. Under Jeff Fisher, the Titans often employed a completely different mentality about stopping the run. The defense aimed to stop it on the way to the quarterback.
Now Gray wants guys thinking team stats, not individual stats.
“Team stats, stop the run, get off the field on third down, make them kick field goals in the red zone,” he said. “When we make those a higher priority other than individual stats, you’ll win a lot of games around here.”