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Thursday, September 24, 2009
How things get better for Titans' D

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Jason Bridge/US PRESSWIRE; AP Photo/Wade Payne
The Titans need Nick Harper, Kyle Vanden Bosch and the rest of the Titans' defense to step up their game for the team to avoid an 0-3 start.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The numbers hardly add up. A team with three Pro Bowlers in the secondary rates 32nd in pass defense and has two losses two weeks into the season.

The 34-31 loss to Houston, in which Matt Schaub shredded the secondary, skews the ranking against the pass. But at crucial moments, the max-protecting Steelers picked the Titans apart and the quick-throwing Texans found plenty of big plays.

A lot of pride is on the line as the Titans head to Giants Stadium to face the Jets, and they know an 0-3 hole could simply be too big to dig out of.

“I’m very confident that that was a one-time deal, it won’t happen again,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said of the Houston game. “We all were embarrassed by it on the defensive side of the ball …. We got it out of the way.”

First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil, who was previously the secondary coach, said he understands why passionate fans are distraught over the team’s results so far, but that he’s obligated to take emotion out of things, dissect what’s happened and plot what needs to be done.
AP Photo/Wade Payne
First-year Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil said the defense's problems won't be difficult to fix.

“The biggest thing to me is to be objective about what’s happening and I feel very confident about what we are trying to get accomplished and what we’re doing,” he said. “I think what problems we might have had are easily rectified. …. The emotional part of it you have to step back and just go, ‘No, what happened, why did it happen, what do you need to do to fix it? And move on.”

Simply put, defensive backs need to cover better. As Jeff Fisher said Monday, “when a player gets beat one on one, it has nothing to do with the game plan or the calls or so on and so forth.”

That’s priority No. 1 for corners Nick Harper and Cortland Finnegan, safeties Chris Hope and Michael Griffin and nickelback Vincent Fuller.

“We’ve got some things going on right now, and we’re going to get them fixed,” Harper said. “For whatever reason we’re just not playing well right now. … Right now we feel like we’re letting the team down. The past two seasons we felt like we were the strongest unit. We feel like we’re the weakest unit right now.”

Here are five other defensive issues I think need to be addressed or things that need to happen for the Titans to get on track against the Jets.

1. Make the Jets try to run it: The Texans were ineffective running the ball just like the Steelers were the week before. But the Titans need to make sure that matters.

If rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez can find pass plays to offset any lack in production from Thomas Jones and Leon Washington, the Titans won’t be able to brag about the stout run defense they pride themselves on having. It won’t matter.

2. Win against three-step throws or max protection: New York watched what worked for Pittsburgh and Houston and is sure to incorporate a lot of it. The Titans want teams to have to dink and dunk and string together long drives, but they have to counter those things better: Bat a ball down at the line, break up a slant, get the quarterback to double clutch and eat the ball, prompt a mistake.

“They did a lot of seven-man protection the first game, the second game the ball came out fairly quickly,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “But we have ways to counteract that. We have ways to beat seven-man protection with our front four and we have ways to get there quicker with some stunts we do up front. Those are adjustments we’re making and we feel like we’ve got an answer for it.”

Don’t be tempted to load the box until they show you something that suggests you need to. I know some of the Titans' concepts don’t call for it, but if the Jets’ passing game starts to find a rhythm, how about more calls that have the corners pressing and bumping? That disrupts targets from the snap and messes with the quarterback’s timing. And the corners should feel confident that safeties are over the top for help if needed.
Brett Davis/US Presswire
The Titans will focus on rattling rookle quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has been poised in his first two NFL starts.

3. Get inside Sanchez’s head: While Jeff Fisher's teams usually have good defenses, this is a franchise that hasn’t always fared well against young quarterbacks. If the plan is to complicate coverages some of the time and bring heat at other points, the timing needs to be right and Cecil needs to outfox Brian Schottenheimer, the Jets’ offensive coordinator.

Cecil said things are relatively simple for Sanchez, who’s completely willing to turn to a checkdown after an initial read. He’s sidestepping people in the pocket like an old pro.

Bulluck expects some aggression.

“I would attack and confuse him,” Bulluck said. “The first couple games he’s done a great job of managing the game. Their defense has put them in positions where they didn’t necessarily have to press to make plays to maybe win a game or anything like that.

“I would say attack, let him see different things, just confuse the hell out of him. He’s only played two games and he’s done well, but there is always that game where a rookie shows his true colors, and if it can be any game it should be this one.”

4. Be accountable: I don’t think no-commenting after a rough game is the way to go for a veteran who’s made big mistakes, though that’s the path free safety Griffin took after the Houston game.

After talking with Cecil, who also chose not to say much before leaving LP Field, I feel it’s less of an issue among players who may have had to answer for Griffin’s errors.

“The thing is he doesn’t owe that explanation to anybody except to his players, his teammates in the locker room,” Cecil said. “And you know, he’s done that. Saying ‘My bad’ to the general public is really not his responsibility. Not that he’s not representing Nashville and the Titans, but he’s been very accountable to his players and teammates and that’s what’s more important.”

Glad to hear it, that’s a solid answer. But mistake-makers should be able to gather themselves on Sunday, and explain key plays to people with notebooks and cameras too. It’s healthier for the team that those questions don’t bleed all the way into Wednesday.

5. Get Vanden Bosch going: Pass pressure is a question mark until the Titans combine hits, sacks and a win. I think they have plenty up front, though it borders on criminal to scratch Kevin Vickerson or Jacob Ford, if healthy, in favor of unneeded fourth running back Chris Henry as the team did against the Texans.

Vanden Bosch is the heart and tone-setter for the line, and dating back to last season and including the playoffs, it’s been four games since he’s taken down a quarterback. One sack for him could serve as a spark for everyone, all the way into the secondary.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “I feel like I am doing the right things, working on the right things and I just haven’t gotten there. I’m expected to be a playmaker on this defense and that’s something I need to do.”