Tennessee Titans

Titans’ defense among NFL’s best since embarrassing loss

(Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

The Tennessee Titans believe they got the defensive wake-up call needed from one of the worst losses in franchise history.

A month ago in Houston, the Titans simply could not stop the Texans. They gave up four drives of 73 yards or longer and were stuck on the field for nearly 40 minutes in a performance that easily is their worst this season. The only defensive wins that day came from holding Houston to three field goals and one interception.

“After the Houston game, we all kind of looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘That’s not our standard, and we never want to display or put that on film again,'” Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “And it’s really elevated our game.”

It sure has.

Since that 57-14 loss in Houston on Oct. 1, the Titans have been among the NFL’s stingiest defenses ranking third giving up 253 yards per game behind only Carolina (246) and Minnesota (246.3). The Titans also are fifth against the run (83.7 yards) and the pass (169.3 yards).

The Titans also have allowed 15.7 points per game over the past month, sixth-fewest in the league. That includes four touchdowns — two allowed by the defense over Tennessee’s three games. Only Jacksonville has allowed fewer TDs with only one allowed in three games. Tennessee is coming off a season-low in points allowed in a 12-9 overtime win at Cleveland on Oct. 23.

For the season, nobody’s been better at limiting big pass plays than Tennessee, which has allowed only one TD pass of 20 yards or longer this season. The Titans are tied with Minnesota giving up only 16 pass completions of 20 yards or longer.

“We all just settled down and started playing more responsible football,” Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said Wednesday. “Everybody just executing their jobs and doing their assignments. That’s all it takes in this game of football, everybody doing their job and the right thing. At the end of the day, you never want to be embarrassed like that.”

Now the Titans (4-3) are rested coming off their bye with safety Johnathan Cyprien closer to returning from a hamstring injured in the opener.

The Ravens (4-4) visit Sunday in a game that should be a defensive showcase. Baltimore leads the NFL in passing defense giving up 146.8 yards per game and eighth in total defense over the past month.

“They play well as a group, they’re obviously very well-coached,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of the Titans. “Great system, coach (Dick) LeBeau is one of the best ever at what he does, and it’s reflected in the way these guys play.”

The Titans used the bye to remind themselves of what they need to do better. Casey said execution and consistency is key. Orakpo pointed to better tackling to limit yards after contact. They could use more sacks with only 11 through seven games after finishing with 40 a year ago. Tennessee had 20 through seven games in 2016.

Orakpo said the Titans have been pass rushing well with 102 quarterback pressures as proof of how close they are getting.

“They’ll come,” Orakpo said of sacks.

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said the Titans responded to the wakeup call and now face the next challenge of continuing to play just as well.

“Now it’s the most important time,” Woodyard said. “You’re remembered by what you do in November and December.”

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