The Tennessee Titans gave up nearly 450 passing yards in a 20-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football. So, I admit that the title of this article may make some eyes roll.
However, if you actually watched the game, it was obvious the Titans’ defense was frustrating the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense.
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How did they do it? Constantly changing covers to create confusion, then executing those covers to perfection.
The Titans are in the top five this year to use Cover 4 on defense, with a usage rate of 22.7%, but they don’t appear in the top five of Cover 1, Cover 2 or Cover 3 – we like hear it.
This means the Titans vary coverage so consistently that it’s hard to plan their game. You never know which coverage you can get the most from week to week, and in some matches you can see them all.
This brings me to Sunday Night vs. Patrick Mahomes. If you play too much of the same coverage, head coach Andy Reid will plan it and Mahomes will shred it.
So the Titans mixed it up a ton. We saw Cover 2, Reverse Cover 2, Cover 3, Red Zone Cover 4, and a ton of 1 man cover.
Regardless of the cover, the Titans were trying to take midfield and prevent KC from winning with tight end Travis Kelce or Crossers.
Again, I know the raw numbers don’t lead you to believe the Titans played great defense, but they did. The reality is that the Titans offense has failed so many times that the defense has been asked to play an extraordinary amount.
That kind of coverage complexity mixed with a terrific passing rush should keep the Titans in games all year, just as it did against the Chiefs’ juggernaut offense.
So, as we do every week, let’s dive into the tape and see how the Titans did it…
The Chiefs love attacking midfield. They use depths, cruisers, and tilts to get players to pass through the middle.
Obviously people know about Kelce, but the other Chiefs WRs aren’t exactly winners on the outside, so moving them through the middle also makes sense.
So the goal is to win.
The Titans defense runs a nice 3 cover, with three on top and three under. With Fulton and McCreary playing so they can’t be beaten on the outside, the three underlying defenders and Kevin Byard in the deep third can focus on the two lanes over the middle that we see here.
Five-man pressure comes to Mahomes, led by a nice swimming move from DeMarcus Walker! Cover bag.
The Titans are in cover zone 2 here, but one wrinkle I loved is that Adams follows Kelce while he’s on the move to make it look like he’s man cover .
That’s not the case, however, this is cover 2. I like the way the Titans play cover 2. They do it so they don’t get attacked in cover 2’s main weakness: the hole middle.
Typically, against C2, the hole just behind the linebacker and just between the two safeties is vulnerable, but here the Titans move David Long back another five to eight yards so he sits in his place.
Sometimes teams will run a vertical route from the slot against cover 2 to try and push safety deep which opens up the middle more, but the Titans will have Long just to run with that vertical route all the way through so that security can remain in place.
That’s nice, but back to this play: After Adams fakes a man and falls into the deep half, Long sits down in the middle hole. No one is open and Mahomes takes the bag. Another good shot and swim from Walker too.
I love this variation of Cover 2. Still two deep halves on play, but instead of the traditional two deep safeties playing that role like the last play, it’s now one safety and a corner.
In this case, it’s Joshua Kalu who plays the big nickel slot position. Byard originally looks like the deep safety on that side, but Kalu backs up and now Byard is playing that middle hole that Long made in the previous game.
Inferior defenders on the outside win both short lanes. At the rear, the deep safeties are just waiting for the passageways to come to them.
Completely congested the combination of routes. Dylan Cole finally breaks free and forces incompleteness, but it’s a major cover win!
Now we come to Cover 1. This was the cover the Titans used the most and really relied on when it mattered.
Man coverage at all levels on the five eligible receivers, one defender plays deep with the job of making sure no one gets past him for deep completion, another plays in the midfield zone to read the eyes of the quarterback, then four men rush in.
The big variable here is WHO this midfield area defender is. Where is he from? The Titans did it in many ways!
They had the linebacker in the middle zone, they had the safety on the field side and the boundary side to play that role as well, constantly mixing it up so Mahomes didn’t know where his read would be.
The first version we are going to see is the traditional version of Cover 1 in my eyes: man cover, safety deep, linebacker over the middle in zone. It’s just a nice cover by the Titans.
Long mirrors Mahomes’ eyes and takes off his first read, giving Denico Autry plenty of time to bag it.
Same version here, but a little wrinkle: Byard comes off as a deep security giving Titans a two-tier security look. Byard rotates to cover men though, leaving safety deep and Long as the men in the zone.
Again, same cover, different look, confusing. Long does a great job mirroring the eyes and takes Kelce off as a first read. This makes Mahomes wait long enough to create a bag via Mario Edwards off the edge!
That wasn’t the only version of Cover 1 the Titans ran, however. The Titans also performed a version of Cover 1 that some call Cover 1 Lurk. Instead of the linebacker and the deep safety like the zone men, it’s now the two safeties.
Remember, the goal is to take down the midfield routes the Chiefs love so much. Adams is the middle of the field area man on this play, but here’s another cool wrinkle the Titans are using.
Watch Terrance Mitchell leave the pass road to Adams and then drop back down to midfield. To keep the same coverage, the Titans incorporated this quick pass.
So now Adams, who started as the zone man, has man coverage on the deep sleepers and Mitchell can become the zone man in the middle.
God, it’s so wonderful to see that defense working.
We see the same version of Cover 1 Man here. Adams falls in the middle of the field. No one is open to the start and pressure from Bud Dupree forces Mahomes to step in.
He looks at Kelce, but Byard has him as a man and Adams hides above him with his eye on the Chiefs tight end. Mahomes has nowhere to go and gets dumped by Autry.
Look, I know the Chiefs put up insane numbers statistically, but the Titans made it tough for them all night by varying coverage, using specific wrinkles and generally executing to perfection.
If the Titans even had a league average offense, that’s a big upset win.
While it didn’t turn out that way, seeing the Titans perform these various covers gives me hope that they can compete and win any game they play in this season!