NFL Football

Titans keep opposing QBs guessing with defensive changes

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File)

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Pro Football Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Figuring out where the Titans are coming from defensively requires a lot of film study, and that might not even be enough to solve the riddle.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has consistently changed where players line up and seems to be constantly switching their responsibilities.

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said it's easy to see on game tape just how much Tennessee is confusing opponents.

"Some of the looks we give quarterbacks, you can clearly see once you watch film that they're confused, don't know where the blitz is coming from, don't know which defensive system we're in, so it's cool man to keep that mixed-up look for the offense to keep them off balance," Woodyard said.

Rookie coach Mike Vrabel talked about how the Titans would show multiple looks on defense after being hired in January. So did Pees.

Now the Titans (5-4) are putting all that talk into results on the field where they lead the NFL in scoring defense, allowing just 16.8 points per game. They're also first inside the red zone, allowing touchdowns on only 34.8 percent of opponents' possessions.

The Titans also have not allowed more than 23 points in eight straight games, the longest streak in the NFL this season. It's the longest such streak for this franchise since the first 10 games of the 2008 season and faces a stern test Sunday when the Titans visit Andrew Luck and the Colts (4-5).

Pees said Thursday he believes the Titans are getting better and getting more comfortable with how he changes up defenses from week to week, even if the changes aren't much different.

"I think they understand now kind of the philosophy what Mike wants, what I want, what we want, and that's being multiple in the front, being multiple in the back end, disguise things," Pees said. "I think they're starting to feel comfortable with that, comfortable with the philosophy of how we're going to attack the teams."

Linebacker Brian Orakpo said the Titans now see exactly what Vrabel was talking about when he talked about multiplicity for the defense.

"Rather than just talking about it and putting it on the whiteboard, we can actually play on Sundays and distribute what we learn, and it shows," Orakpo said. "We turn on the film, and guys are flying around. Quarterbacks don't know what to do with the ball. It's just satisfying to see when things start working."

Making all that work requires players buying in and doing the studying, especially when they need to slide over to spots they might not normally play.

"Sometimes I'm over the center, sometimes I'm on the edge," Orakpo said. "We're all over the place. (Defensive lineman Jurrell) Casey may be on the edge, inside we got a linebacker blitzing in the middle, outside we got people all over the place. We got nickel Logan (Ryan) coming all the time now in certain situations. You have to know multiple positions to kind of make this defense thrive, which we're doing so far."

The Titans finished last season 17th in points allowed in Dick LeBeau's final season as defensive coordinator.

So far, the Titans also rank sixth in total yards, tied for 10th in rushing and sixth in passing yards allowed even with some key starters missing games to injuries. Linebacker Derrick Morgan has missed the last three games with an injured shoulder. Woodyard was out the first two games in October with an injured shoulder. Safety Kenny Vaccaro missed all three October games.

"It's definitely fun," Orakpo said. "It keeps the offense and quarterbacks on their toes, and we can just go out there and make plays."

Notes: RT Jack Conklin (concussion protocol) practiced fully for the first time since being hurt in Dallas on Nov. 5. LG Quinton Spain (ankle) was limited.

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Updated November 15, 2018

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