The Tennessee Titans finished the 2016 season with the 20th ranked overall defense, but this season they have a realistic chance to catapult all the way to number one.
And here’s why…
For starters, the 20th overall ranking is somewhat skewed because of the gross disparity between their run defense and pass defense from a year ago. The Titans finished second against the run, but a paltry 30th against the pass.
But offseason moves and a favorable schedule (on paper) could change that.
The front seven responsible for the second toughest run defense from 2016 returns in tact, except for the addition of mammoth free agent nose tackle Sylvester Williams.
And speaking of additions, the Titans added a couple of willing and capable tacklers on the back-end with the acquisition of free agents Logan Ryan (corner) and Johnathan Cyprien (safety). Both were near the top of their defense in tackles last season, and both are penciled in as day-one starters in Tennessee.
While their proficiency as run-stoppers serve as a bonus, both were brought in (along with rookie first round pick Adoree Jackson) to improve a secondary that was dreadful at times last season.
With Ryan and Jackson replacing Cox and McCourty as the starting duo, the Titans have become bigger, faster, and more athletic at the starting corner position.
The schedule also breaks in Tennessee’s favor if last year is any indication.
Half of Tennessee’s 2017 opponents finished 20th or worse in passing offense last season (Jacksonville – 20th, Miami – 26th, Cleveland – 28th, Houston – 29th, LA Rams – 31, San Francisco – 32). The Titans play Jacksonville and Houston twice.
And with the exception of Miami, a run-oriented team in 2016, all of these opponents have serious questions at quarterback heading into training camp.
Last but not least, a retooled offense that finished third in 3rd down conversions (100) and conversion percentage (46.1) in 2016 should be even better this season, further limiting the defense’s time on the field.
Tennessee gave Marcus Mariota a host of new toys on offense this offseason with the addition of wide receivers Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor, and Eric Decker. Rookie tight end Jonnu Smith was also added to provide an additional receiving threat to compliment Pro Bowl starter Delanie Walker.
When you add those pieces to a formidable offensive line and the league’s third-best rushing offense last season, then you have the makings of a balanced ball control offense that should finish toward the top of the league in time of possession.
Any defense’s best friend.
The offense will be the focal point of the headlines as we inch closer toward the new season, but the defense may steal the show when it’s all said and done in 2017.