One of the Tennessee Titans‘ main goals to open the season, was to prevent any significant damage the New York Giants’ run game could produce.
Not only to prevent the Titans’ defense from playing on their heels, but to keep the Giants’ offense from finding a flow and interchanging their play calls offensively. If the Titans succeeded, they would find themselves with plenty of opportunities to pin their ears back and rush the passer with ease.
If they failed, they would’ve risked keeping the Giants in a game they’re not supposed as competitive in.
In the first half, the Titans were well on their way to passing this test with flying colors. Saquon Barkley wasn’t much of a factor in the opening two frames, and as as a result, the Titans were able to bring the heat and put the pressure on Daniel Jones more often than not.
This development played a part in the Titans having a dominant half defensively, a half that saw the Giants struggle to consistently move the ball and even put points on the scoreboard.
But once the second half began, the once-formidable dam that was the run defense broke loose, and the Titans found themselves scrambling to seal the leakage before it became too late.
“Defensively, we just couldn’t stop the run,” Mike Vrabel said after the game. “[Which] was the number one key of the game.”
Once the last set of quarters began, the Titans saw their previously stout run defense, turn into a helpless one that needed saving desperately.
The culprits on the collapse were obvious to the naked eye. One was the usual suspect when it comes to bad run defense, which is poor tackling in the open field and in the box where most of the action occurs.
But the most damning reason, was the lack of discipline and effectiveness by the Titans’ front seven when it came to stuffing the right gaps.
“This is an unforgiving league when you don’t play the gaps [well] or you don’t tackle.” Vrabel explained.
These simple, yet powerful mistakes all combined to make a nasty, run-defending mess the Titans couldn’t fix as the rest of the game went along.
Once the Giants recognized the collapse had begun, Saquon Barkley immediately became a benefactor. Once the Giants began to feed him, he never looked back, as he finished with 164 yards and the eventual, game-winning two point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Barkley’s emergence opened up a lot of avenues for the Giants’ offense, something that appeared evident on their game-winning drive as the unpredictable game flow kept the Titans’ defense from playing free and fast football.
The result of that struggle was an eventual loss for the Titans, and a painful ending to a game that appeared to be on the right track in the first half.
There is reason to believe this performance was an isolated one for the Titans. They still employ the same personnel that helped anchor the league’s second best rushing defense last season, and their poor performance today was a matter of inconsistency.
But if the Titans want to avoid a sudden drop in quality like they showcased against the Giants, there has to be more discipline and caution when it comes to defending the run.
Featured image via George Walker-The Tennesseean