After making an offensive MVP selection, eventually settling on Michael Roos, I turned my attention to the other side of the ball and found myself with difficulties just as great as those I'd just faced. As was the case on offense, neither the run defense nor the pass defense was anything like consistently good. Moreover, the Titans allowed more points than any team in the history of the franchise. Ultimately, though, I decided that having committed myself to this endeavor, I had to go make a choice.
Unfortunately, there were no great choices. On offense, I eventually went and defaulted to the best player on the team who I feel fairly comfortable saying is an above-average NFL starter for his role on the team. On the defensive side of the ball, I'm not sure there's any such player. I don't mean for that to sound like too much of an insult-there are players on the defense who played pretty well at times, but there are a lot of really good players around the NFL. Part of that, of course, is what I wrote before the draft, about the Titans lacking premium defensive players, and the players they're playing like premium defensive players didn't spend 2012 playing like they were premium defensive players.
My 2012 Tennessee Titans defensive MVP is defensive end Derrick Morgan. The 2010 first-round selection seemed to be a good example of a player who really blossomed in his second year back after the ACL ended that ended his rookie season after only four games. He started all 16 games and ended the year with more playing time any other player in the front seven. He responded to the playing time by putting up numbers, including a career-high 6.5 sacks and, as I noted, creating even more sacks for other players. At the same time, he wasn't just a pass rusher, playing stout run defense. The Titans were on the whole a pretty bad run defense, but an area of relative strength was against runs right end, where they ranked 13th by Football Outsiders Adjusted Line Yards metric. In a defensively down season, he stood out the most in a positive way to me.
After the jump, a breakdown of the other candidates I considered.
As I did for the offense, I basically came up with every name I could and threw it against the wall to see if it stuck. Morgan led the team in sacks with 6.5, but three other players had at least 5.5. Kamerion Wimbley was one of them, with 5.5, but overall didn't have the impact I was looking for in the pass rush and was a liability in run defense. The Titans will be looking for more than they got from him in 2013, and I couldn't name him MVP.
Zach Brown was another one of those players, finishing with 5.5 sacks and three interceptions, including those two pick-6's against the Jaguars in the season finale. At the same time, he didn't start for the entire season and made too many dumb plays. He certainly improved over the course of the season, but I didn't think his body of work over sixteen games deserved honoring.
Akeem Ayers may be the popular choice for this award. I can mostly see that. He did get better, and I say that not just because 6.0 sacks is more than the 2.0 he had as a rookie. At the same time, though, I think the Titans still see more to get out of him and you saw that reflected in how they used him. He started off the year in the nickel package, but he's far from a great cover linebacker. The Titans adjusted and started finally using him a bit in a down lineman role, just to get a better cover linebacker on the field. I didn't track just how many times he did that, but whatever it was, it was mostly as a specialist substitution for one of the defensive ends. Again, the impact wasn't there. On the whole, a better season, but still not worthy of the MVP award.
Jason McCourty played like Jason McCourty. He was a good #2 corner in 2011. He played like a good #2 corner in 2012, but that's not what he was. Alterraun Verner put up better numbers, similar in some ways to his work as a nickel corner in 2011, but I didn't see enough of an impact from him to put the #2 corner on a bad pass defense as team MVP. I was tempted to name Michael Griffin, just for actually having two interceptions that displayed actual ball skills, but that would've been like the Chris Palmer joke I ended up not making on offense.