Coming into the season, the Tennessee Titans‘ defense — specifically their pass rush — was predicted to be the main contributor towards any success the team would have in 2022.
It’s easy to see why so many placed their calculable stakes on this malevolent, quarterback-eating group too. Since the offense had more questions than answers after trading away A.J. Brown, and the pass rush was one of the key reasons this team was even in the fight to secure the top seed in the AFC.
But through two games so far, the Titans’ pass rush hasn’t displayed the consistency it showed throughout last season.
After five sacks in Week One against a poor New York Giants offensive line, the Titans came back with a one sack performance against the Buffalo Bills in Week Two.
And although there were some built-in excuses for the sudden drop in sacks — the Bills having a superior offensive line in comparison to the Giants, injury situations at outside linebacker, and the mobility of Josh Allen — there’s no doubt the week-to-week consistency still took a hit as a result of the performance.
We talk so often about the identity of this Titans team, how detrimental it is for this team’s success, and how disastrous it would be if this team suddenly lost it.
That identity is mired in the basis of physicality, responsibility, unpredictability, pure tenacity in all facets of the game. Offensively, it comes down to winning the battle in the trenches by effectively running the football and punishing defenses by tapping into the branched off additives that come as a result, like the play-action passing attack this offense is also known for.
Defensively, the same principles apply, like winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and being physical at all three levels (at the line of scrimmage, the second level, and in the secondary).
But what makes up a very large portion of that identity defensively, is the ability to rush the passer and make teams fear your pass rush. Much like panic that would ensue if the Titans lost their ability to consistently run the football, panic would ensue if this team suddenly lost its ability to consistently rush the passer.
We’re seeing the results of these scenarios playing out in real time, mostly encapsulated by the Titans’ blowout loss against the Bills on Monday night. If these scenarios continue to pillage the Titans’ usually stout defensive unit, then the overall results will begin to snowball until it turns into a self-defeating avalanche the team won’t be able to stop.
Despite the visual concerns that are easily seen, Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen isn’t concerned with the early consistency issues. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity for the players that have been inserted into the lineup, to make an impact and make a name for their self.
“It’s not [a concern],” Bowen explained on Thursday. “It is what it is right now, I think our guys are working on trying to [pass] rush.”
“I’m not concerned with it, I’m more hopeful that these guys continue to get better and improve. And hopefully step in and are able to make some impact [on the quarterback].”
Bowen’s response is fine yes, but the reality of the situation is more grim than his words might indicate.
Before the season even began, the pass rush lost its most versatile piece in Harold Landry for the entirety of the 2022 season.
Bud Dupree — who was signed to a big money contract last off-season — hasn’t played well enough to justify the contract he was given, and has brought his injury questions with him to Tennessee.
And those are just the two main chess pieces the Titans have at outside linebacker.
Rashad Weaver isn’t ready to handle a full-time role yet and produce at the level the Titans need him to.
Ola Adeniyi is a fine depth option, but it’s quite unreasonable to expect him to give the Titans the production they need from their outside linebackers.
Further inside, Jeffery Simmons is an elite player on the verge of receiving the expensive contract extension he deserves. But even he has limitations due to the double teams he receives because of his excellence as an interior disruptor.
Even Denico Autry dealt with some injury issues during the off-season.
This pass rush is so littered with questions, that it’s currently hard to gauge the overall impact it’ll have on this season, and just how much it’ll be able to meet the level this team needs it to be at.
And that’s a red flag, since this pass rush stands as the only possible way this team will be able to make noise in an AFC playoff field that’s expected to be loaded with contenders.
Unless the Titans’ offense pulls a miracle out of their magical black hat and somehow reverts to the high scoring form displayed during the pre-Todd Downing and A.J. Brown era.
“I’m excited for the guys we got in there,” Bowen said. “They have to go out there, perform, execute, step up, and take advantage of their opportunities.”
Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports