Under embattled defensive coordinator Shane Bowen, the Tennessee Titans saw a defensive resurgence in 2021 following a campaign in which the team struggled mightily in that area the year prior.
The Titans improved across the board. In per-game averages, Tennessee went from 28th in total yards allowed, 29th in passing yards, 19th in rushing yards and 24th in points in 2020, to 12th, 25th, second and sixth in those areas in 2021, respectively.
The engine of the Titans’ improvement was no doubt the pass-rush. The front four consisting of Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Bud Dupree was arguably the best in the league and accounted for 32.5 of the team’s 43 sacks, tied for ninth-most in the league.
In all, the Titans were the only team to have three players tally eight or more sacks.
But it wasn’t just about the pass-rush. The secondary sported two of the better performing young cornerbacks in the NFL in Kristian Fulton and Elijah Molden, and Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker were an elite safety duo.
Looking ahead to 2022, Byard says the goal is for the defense to be the NFL’s best, according to Ben Arthur of The Tennessean.
“Coming off of 2020, the goal was to try to find an identity, find out who we are as a team,” Byard said. “And I think as (2021) went along, we started playing better and better and we got dominant towards the end of the year. So I think it’s all about taking that from last year and carrying it onto this year and try to be the top defense in the NFL. “
As linebacker David Long pointed out, the unit is returning almost all of its starters. The exception is at the cornerback, where Caleb Farley is expected to take over for Janoris Jenkins.
“We have a lot of pieces back,” Long said. “It’s not really going to be too much we got to get personally caught up on. The front seven is the same. (Caleb) Farley is coming back from injury. We’ve got some good pieces.
“I think we just have to keep growing together.”
Farley remains the biggest question mark of the group, as he didn’t get much experience in his first season, which ended after his playing in three games (one start) due to a torn ACL.
If Farley can simply match what his veteran predecessor did, the Titans will be in fine shape. Obviously, the hope is he brings more than that and takes the kind of second-year leap Fulton did.
After sporting an elite offense the past two seasons, the Titans regressed on that side of the ball in 2021, which made the defense’s contribution even more important.
Now, if the Titans can put it all together in 2022, they’ll have as good a shot as any to come out of what is a much tougher conference than it was last year.