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Did the Titans have a problem covering tight ends in 2010?

I’ve seen some things written out there in the intertubez about how the Titans had a problem covering opposing tight ends in 2010, and well, I’m not sure that’s exactly right.  It was a big area of concern for me after 2009, when the Titans ranked 31st in the league in DVOA of opposing tight ends as aged Keith Bulluck and David Thornton and inexperienced Gerald McRath (and you can also toss in a bit of Chris Hope and Michael Griffin, really) struggled to catch up to and stay with their opponents.

I thought the signing of Will Witherspoon, and another year of experience for Stephen Tulloch, would help the Titans do a better job of shutting down opposing tight ends.  Did it, though?

Rather than sit down and watch hours of plays and try to come up with some overarching themes, I’ll do a relatively simple statistical look at how opposing tight ends did against the Titans as opposed to how they did in their other games.  Chart?


Week TE Tar Rec Yds Net YPT Net Yds
1 Z.Miller 8 4 43 -2.0 +0.4
2 H.Miller 4 2 3 -6.9 -29
3 K.Boss 7 3 88 +5.0 +54.8
4 D.Graham 3 3 5 -2.5 -4.6
5 J.Witten 9 5 84 +1.5 +21.4
6 M.Lewis 6 4 3 -1.5 -4.8
7 B.Celek 5 2 8 -4.9 -23.9
8 A.Gates 7 5 123 +5.5 +74.1
10 A.Fasano 7 5 107 +6.5 +74.0
11 C.Cooley 9 7 91 +3.4 +37.9
12 J.Dreessen 5 3 15 -6.6 -17.4
13 M.Lewis 4 3 36 +1.0 -7.8
14 J.Tamme 5 4 36 +0.4 -3.4
15 O.Daniels 7 4 45 -0.5 +15.6
16 T.Moeaki 7 5 63 +1.3 +28.2
17 J.Tamme 9 7 67 +0.7 +27.6

Incomprehensible?  Incomprehenshible, or I assume mostly so.  Week and TE are, I hope, self-explanatory.  Tar, for Targets, is how many times the ball was thrown that tight end’s direction in the game.  Rec and Yds are receptions and yards, respectively.  The last two numbers are the ones I think I most valuable.

Net YPT is how many yards per target the opposing TE got for that game as compared to how many yards per target the opposing TE got in every game last year.  It’s essentially how efficient the team was throwing to that tight end, as opposing to how often they normally were.  Negative numbers are good for the defense.  For example, the 4 throws to Heath Miller in Week 2 netted a combined total of 3 yards.  The Steelers normally got 7.64 yards on each throw to Miller, not 0.75, so the Titans came out 6.9 NetYPT better.  On the other hand, throws to Anthony Fasano averaged 8.8 yards, not the 15.3 the Titans allowed.

Net Yds is how many yards the opposing tight end gained compared to how many he normally gained.  Using Miller and Fasano again as our examples, Miller gained 3 yards instead of the 32 he normally gained, so his Net Yards was -29.  Fasano, of course, had a great day, gaining 107 yards instead of his normal 34, so his NetYards is 74.

Concentrating on those two net numbers yields, I think, a better view of how the Titans did against opposing tight ends in 2010.  Note that the Net YPT is negative, representing a win for the defense, in 7 of the 16 games, and that in most of the 9 games it is positive it’s not strongly positive.  There are only a couple games (Boss, Gates, Fasano, Cooley) where it was a real issue for the defense.

When you look at Net Yards, the story is a similar one.  Like NetYPT, it’s negative seven times, and there’s another time it’s just barely positive.  There are more cases where it’s more strongly positive than was the case for NetYPT, but that just indicates that Titans opponents threw an above-average number of passes to tight ends (just as they did to their wideouts and RBs; the Titans faced a lot of pass attempts last year).

The answer, then, is that the Titans had a specific problem with tight ends, not a general one.  They struggled to cover the opposing tight end in a couple games, but did not struggle overall the way they did in 2010.  With the upgrade in coverage ability from Stephen Tulloch to Barrett Ruud, I’m even less worried than I was before about the Titans’ ability to cover opposing tight ends, and I wasn’t very worried at all.  Of course, that just leaves more opportunity for other things to worry me, but that’s a post for another day.