On September 12, the two teams square off in Tennessee and both have similar traits and flaws. Let’s start with the traits.
Both have high-powered offenses along with quarterbacks who are high-quality. Ryan Tannehill has come in and taken control of the franchise while leaving envisioned quarterback Marcus Mariota behind. Their weapons are loaded with A.J. Brown, Julio Jones and Derrick Henry. Arizona can say the same thing with their quarterback in Kyler Murray and their weapons are not too far behind, leading with DeAndre Hopkins.
Tennessee’s major flaw is defense. The Tennessee Titans‘ defense allowed offenses to complete first downs on 51.9% of their third-down opportunities last season. That was the highest percentage given up over the last 30 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
But what specifically on defense were the core reasons for their downfalls in 2020? What areas can the Cardinals exploit for Sunday’s game? One area might be familiar to Cardinals fans.
Similar to Arizona’s situation, the Titans’ lack of cornerback talent is evident. Yes, the Titans drafted Caleb Farley in the first round and Elijah Molden in the third round.
But neither will start on Sunday. Second-year Kristian Fulton and new addition 32-year-old Janoris Jenkins have both sides on Sunday. While Jenkins brings in a ton of experience, the Cardinals’ wide receivers can zero in on their young corners.
The belief is that Chris Jackson and Molden can be used in the slot. It is worth noting the rookie Molden had a terrific preseason.
Nonetheless, starting CB Fulton will be starting and while it was a tough season for everyone including rookies, he was beaten in coverage with a 101.4 passer rating. It didn’t help either that Fulton was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Mike Vrabel and the Titans decision-makers are slow-playing Farley because of back problems and injury history in the past. His preseason wasn’t too impressive either. Despite just 27 coverage snaps, Farley had the worst preseason PFF rookie grade with a 51.9 score. It’s worth noting drafting Farley was a risky pick and many teams left him off their draft boards. Farley was critical of himself after an inconsistent game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I hold myself to such a high standard,” Farley said. “I want to make plays for this ballclub. … I’ve got my head down right now and I’m just working through everything I’m going to have to work through. I’m still confident I’m going to be where I need to be when it’s time.”
The Titans thought process was to get younger by losing Malcolm Butler, Adoree Jackson and safety Kenny Vacarro. But with Hopkins, Rondale Moore, Christian Kirk and A.J. Green at their disposal, the cornerback room still should be an area to attack.
Titans’ Defensive Pressure
The Titans had fewer sacks than all but two teams in 2020. After losing to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round and watching Lamar Jackson run up and down the field, they had to make the necessary moves.
They started by drafting Rashad Weaver in the third round and signing edge rusher Bud Dupree and defensive tackle Denico Autry. Dupree had eight sacks in 11 games with the Steelers, but his season was cut short due to a torn ACL. His ACL recovery has gone well.
“If the opener was this afternoon, and (they) told me to go out there, I am going to go out there,” Dupree said. “I’m going to be ready to go regardless.”
Tennesse undoubtedly put out an effort in the offseason to make sure their defense is better. But we have still have no idea how the Titans pass rush could look like. Dupree might not be as spry after recovering from his injury. The Titans made a similar attempt at finding a pass rush in 2020 with Jadaveon Clowney and Vic Beasley, which failed. Pro Football Focus ranked the Titans’ pass rush 31st.
Harold Landry led the team with 51 pressures but it was mostly due to volume, recording pressure on just 9.7% of his rush snaps. Maybe Dupree, Autry and finally a defensive coordinator in Shane Bowen could fix their problems in 2021.
But it won’t change overnight. Arizona’s offensive line has gotten better with the addition of Rodney Hudson and their left side is solidified with D.J. Humphries and Justin Pugh. In 2020, Murray was sacked just 27 times, which was 14th in the league.
The Cardinals will make sure to get their front ready for a new and revamped defensive line.