Right now, there’s some optimism around the Titans that the pass rush might be better. It needs to be better. As I noted this offseason, they were the league’s second-worst team at getting to the opposing passer. Coming off two preseason games with four sacks each, even some who tend toward the skeptical side are starting to change their mind. I’m not one of them, though.
Anything that happens in a limited sample size, especially one as small as preseason, is tend to great overreading. Sixteen games’ worth of data is hard enough to make conclusions from; three games, with different players playing in different mixes and with different teammates, is much more prone to generalizations that end up being fraught with error.
Superficially, though, it does seem like the Titans got a lot of pressure against the Cardinals. The Cardinals ran many more plays than the Titans, though, and those four sacks came on 59 non-scramble dropbacks. That’s not bad, 6.4% unadjusted rate, but it’s also less impressive. Against the Cardinals’ numbers the rest of the preseason, though, that’s even less impressive. On the whole, the three quarterbacks who played against the Titans have been sacked nine times on 137 non-scramble dropbacks. That’s a 6.6% rate, or better than the Titans’ pass rate rush. In other words, the Titans did a worse job of sacking the Cardinals than did the Cardinals’ prior preseason opponents. Those prior preseason opponents were the Saints, Raiders, and Chiefs, three teams that also ranked among the dozen worst teams in the league at rushing the passer last year.
For the Titans’ other two preseason opponents, the story is also pretty similar. I didn’t give much credit to the sacks of Matt Flynn, both long sacks thanks to coverage where the ball probably should have been thrown away, but the Titans got to Flynn and Russell Wilson about half as often as the Seahawks’ subsequent opponents. Then we get to the Bucs, and well, the Titans sacked neither Josh Freeman nor Brett Ratliff; neither quarterback has gone down often this preseason, and Tampa Bay was the only tea the Titans have played that had an above-average offensive Adjusted Sack Rate last year.
In that Bucs game, though, we finally get to the evidence from this preseason the Titans may have a good pass rush: they sacked Dan Orlovsky four times in nine dropbacks. It was certainly an impressive performance, especially by Keyunta Dawson, who feasted on the Bucs’ backup left tackle, but it’s far from enough for me to hang my hat on.
I don’t know just how good the Titans’ pass rush will be this year. I know Jerry Gray doesn’t believe in specific scheming for the postseason. I wrote in my analysis of the Bucs game the Titans defensive line dominated the Bucs offensive line. This post doesn’t take anything away from that statement. I expect the Titans’ pass rush to be better this year, but I think in proper context the preseason evidence gives us little expectation to believe they’ll be as massively improved as we might hope.