Losing starting deep safety Rodney McLeod to season-ending IR (knee) is not the ideal preface to the Eagles’ game plan heading into Nashville. Fortunately there is veteran backup Corey Graham to pick up some of the deep coverage snaps. In passing down packages, there will be some questions. Does Graham move back to his quasi-corner spot in those packages with Deiondre’ Hall taking over as the deep safety? You could also make a case for Rasul Douglas moving back to cover deep. Tre Sullivan is also available if they want to activate him off the practice squad. Eventually the Birds may trade for a veteran safety, but it’s difficult for me to see that happening in time to prepare for the Titans this Sunday.
“We’re all ready. This is our job,” Corey Graham said. “You have no choice but to be ready. Everybody knows his job and what he’s supposed to do, so that there really isn’t a big drop-off. We’re confident with all of our current guys. They all know the system.”
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll all still have our role in our packages. All of the defensive backs we have can cover. That’s something that (defensive coordinator Jim) Schwartz wants us to have.”
On offense, the Eagles must deal with the Titans’ current “overload” theory in Dean Pees’ renovated defense. But as Fran Duffy at PE.com says, this can be tricky business:
“Blocking up overload blitzes may seem simple. Why not just slide extra protection that way? That should work, right? Well, it’s not that easy. Sure, there are times where the defense lines up with extra blitzers on one side and they all come after the quarterback at the snap. A lot of times, however, that is not what happens. When the offense sees the defense “overload” one side of the formation the players have to figure out if all of these players are coming, or if the defense wants the players to THINK everyone is coming, just to change the protection. Because what often happens with this defense is that what you see before the snap is not what you get afterward (up front or on the back end).”
Disguising pressures and coverages is the name of the game with this Titans outfit.
Tennessee also loves to work in different stunts along the defensive line. Whether they are “simple” two-man stunts (with the end and tackle or with both tackles), three-man games (like what the Eagles saw from Indianapolis numerous times), or stunts with a defensive lineman and a linebacker. Those games can be some of the most difficult to pick up.
“At the forefront of those stunts will be No. 99 Jurrell Casey. The veteran is one of the top interior disruptors in football, and I’d argue he’s the best one the Eagles have faced through the first four games (a list that includes Gerald McCoy and Grady Jarrett). He’s a strong, stout run defender with extremely nimble feet and impressive movement skills to play sideline to sideline. He’s the best player on this Titans defense and must be accounted for on every play.”—Fran Duffy
The Titans also have two former New England corners in Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. Butler is one of the most competitive corners in the league. He does not back down from anyone and has the instincts in man coverage to stay in an opponent’s hip pocket up and down the field. Ryan is a smart, tough, versatile player who gets reps both inside and outside in this defense. Second-year corner Adoree Jackson gets a ton of playing time as well, and he’s an extremely talented player with great athletic traits and plus ball skills down the field. This trio of corners is one of the best groups the Eagles will face this season.
At safety, the Titans have a strong duo in budding star Kevin Byard, a former second-round pick from Middle Tennessee State, and former New Orleans first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro, a versatile, do-everything player, who not only covers deep but brings pressure from the box.
At linebacker, the team has veteran Wesley Woodyard manning the middle. He’s their three-down player who lines up in all of their subpackages. He’s an instinctive, versatile player who can defend the run, drop back in coverage, and be used as a blitzer all at levels of the field.
Also at LB are first-round draft choice Rashaan Evans from Alabama, and second-year man Jayon Brown.
Up front on the defensive line, keep a close eye on rookie pass rusher Harold Landry out of Boston College. The second-round pass rusher has freakish flexibility off the edge. Fran Duffy thought there were some similarities between Landry and Derek Barnett coming out of college.
Veterans Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are the starters off the edge for the Titans, and they both provide solid run defense and physicality at outside linebacker. The team also acquired former Baltimore linebacker Kamalei Correa for depth. An underachiever in his original stint with the Ravens (where Dean Pees was also his coordinator), Correa seems to have turned it up a notch with the Titans.
On offense, the Titans plan to play fast.
Unlike in the Titans’ previous two games (both wins over AFC South opponents), the offense will be at full strength against Philadelphia. All-Pro tackle Jack Conklin is set to return from the torn ACL he suffered in the postseason, and quarterback Marcus Mariota seems to have regained nearly all of the feeling in his throwing hand.
Titans offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur had spent the past two weeks creating patchwork gameplans to compensate for the absences of Conklin and Mariota.
This Sunday expect to see a lot of hurry-up offense from the Titans, with the objective being to neutralize the Eagles pass rush and keep fresh bodies off the field.
LaFleur spoke on Thursday to both the benefits and challenges of utilizing the hurry-up. “I think the hurry-up is more or less just you trying to get a feel for the game. And if you think that’s the best way to move the ball, then you go to it. As far as trying to wear those guys down, it has the same effect on your own guys. And then you get a break, and they substitute their guys in. I think it’s a total feel thing.”
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel added that use of the hurry-up definitely could be helpful against the Eagles. “It’s a weapon we can use throughout the game—different tempos to try to help us move the football. I think Matt [LaFleur] has done a great job of mixing it in and having it be successful and allowing our guys to understand how it can help us get in the plays and get in the formations and try to dictate what the defense may do.”
Here is the updated Titans depth chart on offense, as compiled by OurLads.com:
|LWR||19||Sharpe, Tajae 16/5||14||Williams, Nick SF18|
|RWR||84||Davis, Corey 17/1||13||Taylor, Taywan 17/3||15||Jennings, Darius SF17|
|LT||77||Lewan, Taylor 14/1||71||Kelly, Dennis T/Phi|
|LG||67||Spain, Quinton CF15||61||Stinnie, Aaron CF18|
|C||60||Jones, Ben U/Hou||62||Levin, Corey 17/6|
|RG||64||Kline, Josh W/NE||69||Marz, Tyler CF16|
|RT||78||Conklin, Jack 16/1||71||Kelly, Dennis T/Phi|
|TE||85||Pruitt, MyCole P/Hou|
|TE||81||Smith, Jonnu 17/3||88||STOCKER, LUKE SF17|
|QB||8||Mariota, Marcus 15/1||7||Gabbert, Blaine U/Arz||12||Davis, Austin SF18|
|RB||22||Henry, Derrick 16/2||33||Lewis, Dion U/NE||32||Fluellen, David SF15||39||Dawkins, Dalyn CF18|