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VOL. 36 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 21, 2012

Finally, a prime time show for Titans defense

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Improvement may be a relative term.

But over the past month or so, the Tennessee Titans defense has played much better than in the first half of the season when they were on a record pace for points allowed.

Suddenly, a defense that is still somewhat devoid of playmakers is at least capable of standing up and shouldering its share of the load each week.

Monday night, the Titans defense came up big, forcing five turnovers by now-benched New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Granted, Sanchez has been victimized plenty over the past couple of seasons. Even so, it has been hard to deny the improvement in the Tennessee defense.

Jason McCourty said the defense came together as a unit after the embarrassing 51-12 loss to the Chicago Bears back in November.

It was the game when owner Bud Adams essentially put the organization on notice. And it sounds as if the defense put itself on notice as well after that debacle.

“That’s the one thing that after that Chicago Bears game. As a defense, we kind of came together and said no matter what happens in the game, we’ve got to continue to play,” McCourty says. “Coach (Jerry) Gray has talked to us about playing with a certain attitude, and I feel like the last couple of weeks, in this stretch, we’ve played with an attitude.”

Coach Mike Munchak says the improvement in the Titans defense is a team-wide effort from a young unit that is finally jelling, though far too late to salvage anything for this season.

Titans outside linebacker Akeem Ayers and the rest of the defensive unit have shown steady improvement since the 51-12 home loss to Chicago.

-- Ap Photo/Bill Wippert

“All of this works hand in hand,” Munchak explains. “I think when all of the guys around you play better, it makes you play better. When guys are hitting their gaps right and, all of a sudden, when (Michael Griffin) comes up and he’s got to make his tackle, the gap he’s got to protect is so much smaller when guys are doing their jobs.”

“When guys aren’t doing their job, the hole is the size of a truck, and you may look silly missing a tackle because you have so much area to cover.

“Those guys are playing better and aren’t being asked to do too much. The defense in general is playing better because it’s not just one guy. It’s everybody as a group doing their jobs better, and now you’re seeing individual guys come up and make plays because they’re not trying to do too much.

“That’s what we wish had happened earlier in the season. But we’re seeing it go in the right direction and this will be a big challenge this weekend to see where we’re at.”

It is true that the Titans have dialed up more blitzes of late, and that those blitzes have been more successful as young linebackers like Zach Brown and Akeem Ayers have seemingly found themselves more comfortable in their roles.

Brown, a rookie, had two sacks Monday night and now has 4.5 for the season, which ties him with defensive end Derrick Morgan for second on the team.

Ayers, who has been moved into more of a pass rush role in the Titans’ nickel package, is actually now tied with Kamerion Wimbley for the team lead with five sacks.

Much of the improvement has come without middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, who has been out with a concussion and has been bothered by a high ankle sprain all season.

The Titans have preached patience with Jake Locker. The same thing holds true for the defense.

That is not to say that all the pieces are in place for the Titans to be a contender. But it does suggest there might be at least a few pieces to keep as part of the foundation.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.