Last season, the Tennessee Titans defense had its fair share of struggles as it ranked near the bottom of the league in every defensive category, setting an NFL record for points given up in a season. But buried deep beneath these deplorable numbers, there is a group of talented young linebackers who survived a season of injuries and inexperience.
Although surrendering nearly 30 points a game and nearly 400 yards of offense is never excusable, when you review the Titans’ schedule, you quickly realize that many defenses would have surrendered both points and yards by the dozens if they faced the likes of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings and the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots.
The young and inexperienced linebackers led by Akeem Ayers, Colin McCarthy, and Zach Brown struggled against the NFL’s elite last season, but they also made significant strides as the season progressed.
Third-year strongside linebacker Ayers followed up an impressive rookie campaign by avoiding a sophomore slump recording a team leading 104 tackles and six sacks. More versatile than a Swiss army knife Ayers frequently made the key tackle or sack needed to stop a drive.
Expectation could not be higher for Ayers, as he will be expected to help help McCarthy and Brown avoid having a sophomore slump as a leader of the defense.
McCarthy fought the injury bug last season as much as he battled pulling offensive linemen and full backs. Unable to stay on the field, he was unable to duplicate the impressive numbers from his rookie year where he recorded 76 tackles while starting in less than half of the games. McCarthy has made the Titans facility his second home, dedicating his time to improve his football IQ through film study.
The Titans were fortunate to discover a second-round gem in outside linebacker Brown. Last season, Brown relied on his gazelle like speed to compensate for his rookie mistakes. Opposing quarterback frequently used Brown’s speed against him with the occasional pump fake or play-action call.
Brown was rarely beaten to the outside and had his best game against Rodgers and the Packers, recording nine tackles and one sack. Titans defensive mastermind Gregg Williams will wisely utilize Brown and unleash havoc on unsuspecting quarterbacks and any running back who dare to bounce a run outside.
Unlike the many teams who finish the season below .500, the Titans’ cupboard is far from bare. On the defensive side of the ball, the 6-10 Titans have the talent to wreck havoc next season and contend for AFC South Division crown. Led by a talented group of linebackers who neither lack the talent or the ability, the possibilities are endless.
Although most eyes will be on the offense to score, remember that while offense may fill stadiums, defense not only makes key goal line stand, but also wins championship as well.