NASHVILLE — Defensive lineman Denico Autry is a man of precious few words. His play and impact for the Tennessee Titans defense this season, however, speaks volumes.
With the NFL playoffs on the horizon, Autry has given Tennessee the keys to crank it up a notch.
The Titans defensive front has become among the league’s best this season with Autry, Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and fellow free-agent addition Bud Dupree. 41 sacks through 17 weeks of play has Tennessee in the Top 10 after finishing the 2020 regular season ranked 30th with a paltry total of 19. Autry is not solely responsible for the pass rush’s revival, but there is no denying his role in it.
Autry’s ability to create opportunities for his teammates is as important as anything the Titans have going for them right now.
Autry has had a massive impact
Outside of quarterback competency, there might not be a more important skillset in the NFL than the ability to bring four-man pressure.
Autry came into the league as an undrafted rookie free agent with the (then) Oakland Raiders in 2014. It took him a year to crack the line-up, but his production since then has been as underrated as any player at his position. Autry’s impact goes beyond tying his career-high nine sacks this season, though.
What he allows Simmons, Landry, Dupree and the rest to do because of his presence is what makes this front special in 2021.
“I think (Autry)’s been huge for us,” said Tennessee defensive coordinator Shane Bowen. “Obviously, on third down what he brings, being able to go inside and he rushes outside for us on the occasional first and second down. So, I think his versatility to be able to do different things has been a big piece for us.”
Autry has played the bulk of his 676 defensive line snaps this season lined up outside of the opponent’s offensive tackle (416). Bowen has deployed him over a tackle on 228 snaps, 24 times as a defensive tackle and eight plays this season over the center, according to Pro Football Focus.
On 476 pass-rush snaps, Autry has personally contributed 57 total pressures on opposing quarterbacks. That ranks tied for 21st with Leonard Floyd of the Los Angeles Rams among all qualified defensive players, regardless of position. Star linebackers T.J. Watt and Von Miller are tied at 23rd just below Autry with 56 total pressures apiece.
What matters more to the Titans defense than just Autry’s individual numbers is what he has helped create for this star-studded front.
Titans pass rush has feasted this season
Imagine me writing those words about Tennessee’s defense at this time last year.
The Titans inexplicably managed to rack up four sacks in a 41-38 win in Houston to close out their 2020 regular season. It brought them to their final tally of 19, which tied an NFL record low for a team who made the postseason. Now, after more than doubling up that sack number, the impact of Autry, Dupree and other new pieces has clearly helped realize the true potential of Simmons and Landry.
“We talked about his instincts before when we have talked about Denico (Autry),” said coach Mike Vrabel. “He is really, really good on the inside against those guards. We have seen that show up over and over when we have played well. He has been able to beat those guys inside to affect the quarterback to either get a sack or help somebody else get the sack, or force a quick throw or incompletion.”
With an extended NFL regular season, Autry can help make franchise history.
Autry can reach a new career high (9) in sacks this week with one against the Houston Texans in Week 18. According to Titans PR, the veteran can also register his fifth consecutive game with at least one sack. It would extend what is already the longest such streak of his career and mark the 12th time in franchise history a player recorded five or more consecutive games with a sack.
Landry achieved the feat earlier in 2021.
Autry and Landry can become the franchise’s fourth set of teammates to each reach double digits in sacks since 1982, when individual sack statistics first started being tracked. No pair has done so since the franchise moved to Tennessee. Houston Oilers teammates Sean Jones (13.0) and William Fuller (10.0) were the last to do so in 1993.
“It’s been awesome having (Autry) as a teammate,” said Landry. “He spends the majority of his time in our room with the outside linebackers. Once you get to know him, he’s a real cool, funny dude to be around. It’s just been an overall great experience to have him in our room and it’s just been awesome on the field and in the locker room, in the meeting rooms. Everything.
With Landry (61 total pressures), Simmons (59), Autry (57) and Dupree (21), the Titans have put together one of the most formidable fronts in football.
A deep playoff push against a conference filled with high-level quarterback play will require their persistence.
Featured Image: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports.