If Tennessee Titans General Manager Jon Robinson hoped to inspire his team’s defense after cutting veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph and linebacker Vic Beasley last week, then mission accomplished.
Sure, the Titans allowed Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles to throw for 335 yards and two touchdowns Sunday at Nissan Stadium. But after taking a 10-0 lead in the second quarter, the Titans were never really in trouble of squandering their lead.
The Titans entered Sunday with the 22nd-ranked run defense, which allowed 128.1 rush yards per game and surrendered at least one rushing touchdown in six of their seven games. Against the Bears, Tennessee yielded only 56 yards on the ground on 20 carries with a long of 11, which came on a fake punt.
“I felt like we were playing together, to be honest,” linebacker Harold Landry said. “I saw everybody flying around making plays. We knew that at the end of the day, we just needed to go out there with some swag and play together and have some fun together.”
Tennessee also saw marked improvements in its third-down defense. The team was on pace to set an NFL record for the highest third-down conversion percentage (61 percent) in league history but held the Bears to a 2-for-15 effort (13 percent) on third downs.
“This week we emphasized communication and talking to each other to make sure we’re all on the same page and that came through into the game,” linebacker Jayon Brown said. “When it came down to third down, we made the plays on the field and was giving our offense back the ball.”
The Titans entered Sunday’s game next-to-last in the NFL in sacks with seven. The Titans sacked Foles three times — a season high. With no Jadeveon Clowney, Harold Landry, DaQuan Jones and Jayon Brown picked up the slack.
Landry had a sack, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, Jones had 0.5 sacks and two tackles for loss and Brown added 10 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass break up.
“Of course, we want more sacks,” defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons said. “We talk about it every week. We talk about who is going to be in the backfield, who going to get the sack first. Everybody was hyped up. Everybody had their energy and just doing our job. It comes down to winning your one-on-ones. It comes down to coordinating your rushes and make sure you're on the same page.”
The Titans defense had contributions from its usual suspects but also saw several new players step up as well. Simmons continued to be a game wrecker, adding three tackles, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.
Newly acquired cornerback Desmond King made quite the first impression despite not practicing with the team before Sunday’s game, scoring on a 63-yard fumble return. Fresh off the practice squad, cornerback Breon Borders contributed nine tackles and a pass breakup as well.
“We felt like we had a little something to prove and I think we did well for the most part,” Borders said. “Me personally, I appreciate the coaches especially for putting me in there. I appreciate my teammates trusting me. We came out with the win at the end of the day.”
“It was definitely a challenge just because I wasn’t in practice,” King added. “I was under COVID protocol because of the trade, so I was sitting in the hotel for most of the day just doing Zoom meetings with the team and then I got into the playbook. The challenge for me was to be prepared to come in and play on Sunday. I felt like I handled it the right way.”
Sunday’s showing provides reasons for optimism heading into Thursday’s divisional showdown with the second-place Indianapolis Colts. Led by Philip Rivers, the Colts are scoring 28.3 points and averaging 369.1 yards of total offense per game.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_