Last year, I had almost as many problems picking a 2012 Titans defensive MVP as I did an offensive one. My main problem, though it was not how I framed that post, was I was not really sure I wanted to select one. After giving up the most points in franchise history, picking an MVP did not feel quite right. I ultimately settled on Derrick Morgan, a choice that seems much more obvious in hindsight than I felt it was at the time.
The 2013 Tennessee Titans had a much better defense. Not great, mind you, but much better. The team as a whole gave up 90 points fewer, average instead of last in the league. By Football Outsiders numbers, they went from 25th to 19th, improving by roughly equal amounts against the run and the pass. They had broadly, though less extreme, quarter and half splits, playing at their best in the second quarter but worse and roughly equally badly in the other quarters. They sacked the passer at roughly the same rate (by FO numbers). The one place they continued to really struggle was the red zone, where they ranked 31st in points allowed per defensive possession.
Anyway, this is just a way of dressing up what I think is the obvious: defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was the Titans' defensive MVP this past season. Missing the season finale didn't do a thing to change that for me. He led the team with 10.5 sacks, far outpacing second place man Morgan. It wasn't just the sacks, either, as he was a disruptive presence in the run game, too. I noted his excellence against the Cardinals in my post on that game, but that wasn't his only standout game. The best was probably the season opener against the Steelers, when he was a hugely disruptive presence and maybe the key factor in the Titans win. His other multi-sack games came against the Rams and against the Colts in Indianapolis. He also had at least 5 solo tackles against the Seahawks and the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Especially on a defensive line group that lacked other standouts, Casey's overall phenomenal performance and impact in games made him an easy choice as Titans defensive MVP.
Alterraun Verner, the only other Titans defender to earn an All-Pro vote, will probably be the other name who gets some credit as Titans defensive MVP, and he clearly had the best season of his career. A couple reasons I didn't pick Verner, though. First, Casey had a bigger impact on more plays. Verner had a great season in coverage, but he wasn't a Darrelle Revis-type corner that completely changed both offensive and defensive gameplans, while opposing passers still had plenty of success throwing the ball toward other players. That's by and large why I picked Casey. Second, unless you want to count the missed season finale in this category, I didn't think Casey had any real clunker games like Verner did against the Broncos. True, he didn't pile up the same stats in every game, but that's partly the nature of the D-tackle position. Third, even if it were close, my view was Casey was overall the better player. As I noted in yesterday's offensive MVP discussion, for me that would have been an important tie-breaking factor.
Bernard Pollard may also draw some affection, for volume of his impact both on the field, where he was a huge upgrade over Jordan Babineaux, and his leadership in the locker room. Personally, I saw too many coverage breakdowns to agree. If I were to mention a second member of the secondary, it would be Jason McCourty, who had another very solid season, and like the other members of the secondary, benefited from the overall much sounder schemes and play of the other members of the secondary.
There were no other serious candidates in my book. Morgan had another solid season, but didn't translate those hurries from 2012 into more sacks. The non-Casey/Morgan defensive linemen were all just guys. Michael Griffin was solid and nicely improvement, but no more. Don't even think of mentioning any of the linebackers. Gregg Williams' presence certainly helped, but I'm not going to pick a coach over a player for this award unless the coach's impact is so overwhelming and obvious and there are no standout players.