The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Defense


Tony Brown was the Titans best defender. Photo by Andrew Strickert for Total Titans

It’s good to see many of you have followed us here on our new temporary home. Thanks for being with us.
We looked at the report card for the offense the other day and will now turn to the defense.
As before, I’ve arranged the grades by position group, with a sentence or two about each player after their grades. Only the players who had significant playing time are graded here. Also, please note that these grades reflect only their performance on defense; any special teams play is not considered here.
As you might expect from a defense which had a poor year, many of their grades are not pretty.
Defensive line: A unit which was very good in 2008 became very average this past season. As Drexel noted, the loss of Albert Haynesworth was significant. Combine that with several other players having a decline in their games and it’s a big dropoff from the performance of the 2008 d-line.
Tony Brown: A- 
He provided a very strong pass rush again this year and while I believe there are better DTs in the league more deserving of Pro Bowl honors, I’m happy for him. Brown is my choice for Titans Defensive Player of the Year.
Jovan Haye: D-
While the RDT spot was once again the strength of the d-line, LDT was the weak link this year. Haye didn’t apply any pressure on the quarterback and was just as bad against the run. The man simply looked overmatched week in and week out. If he didn’t have Stephen Tulloch behind him to cover his butt, the Titans would have been in an even worse mess.
Kyle Vanden Bosch: C
After missing six games in 2008 and being largely ineffective in others with a groin injury, KVB was supposed to be a force once again in 2009. Although the effort was there, it didn’t happen, at least not up to expectations. Opponents didn’t rely on double-teams as much as they used to. KVB was still better than average on the pass rush in 2009 but hardly dominant.
William Hayes: C+
Replacing Jevon Kearse in the starting lineup in Week Five, Hayes went on to have a rather unremarkable year. Still, even as an average DE, he was an upgrade over the Freak. Solid against the run but still needs improvement rushing the passer.
Jacob Ford: B
He’d make a good platoon partner with Hayes, as they’re pretty much opposite in their skill sets. Keep Hayes on the field for run defense and put Ford in to rush the passer. I would have liked to see a lot more of Ford last year; the pass defense sure could have benefited from his play.
Jason Jones: B
JJ was a better than average DT when healthy. His shoulder injury was disappointing to all but if he and Brown are both healthy next season, they can combine to generate a formidable push up the middle and get in the quarterback’s face. A lot.
Kevin Vickerson: C+
He was a pleasant surprise to me, playing fairly well, and in my opinion, not enough. The Titans would have been better off with more Vickerson and less Haye. 
Sen’Derrick Marks: C-
The only good thing to come out of Jones’ injury was more snaps for Vickerson and Marks. If Marks continues to increase his core body strength we may be able to see the reason why he was a second-round draft pick. The encouraging thing about Marks was his late season improvement.
Dave Ball: D
He certainly wasn’t the player he was a year earlier. Ball came off the proverbial scrap heap to become a decent role player and it appears he’s now headed back to the scrap heap.
Jevon Kearse: D
It was only a year ago that the Freak was still a decent player. Being in Jeff Fisher’s doghouse and having a knee problem didn’t help him. We missed the Old Freak.
Overall grade for the D-line: C 
Linebackers: The performance here was very much a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good.
Keith Bulluck: B
Even though he had lost a little quickness, #53 was still a good player before his ACL injury.
Stephen Tulloch: B
This grade should really be broken down into two grades, an A on run defense and D in pass coverage. I didn’t like it on those occasions when he stayed on the field in nickel defenses.
David Thornton: D
It was not a good year for Thornton, who was hampered by his shoulder injury. He did manage to get in a couple of good games but had his face on a milk carton for most of the time. 2008 may have been his final year in two-tone blue.
Gerald McRath: C-
I wasn’t really impressed by McRath – he just didn’t show much – but I know LB coach Dave McGinnis thinks highly of him. If McRath is going to replace Thornton next year it was good that he got a little experience this year.
Colin Allred: C-
His two starts as Bulluck’s replacement were both terrible games for the defense as an entity. I didn’t think Allred played too well but certainly not as poorly as some of the others on the field. Maybe it’s just a case of him not being as good as Bulluck.
Overall grade for the linebacker corps: C
Secondary: We try to keep the language clean on this site so that limits what can be said about them.
Chris Hope: C-
I was tempted to make this grade a D but Hope was pretty good in run support, which raises his overall grade to C-.
Michael Griffin: F
He was absolutely, far and away the worst player on Tennessee’s defense this year. Hands down. No contest. Yes, a lot worse than Harper. Griffin was absolutely terrible in pass coverage and didn’t contribute much on run defense either.
Cortland Finnegan: C+
Another guy who had an off year. Funny how guys who were Pro Bowlers in 2008 had “off years” when the pass rush wasn’t there in ’09. In fairness to Finny, he was hampered with a hamstring injury for a while.
Nick Harper: D+
This is the guy that was hurt the most by the lack of a consistent pass rush but his coverage was still better than Griffin’s. Like Hope, he was good against the run, which raised his overall grade.
Vincent Fuller: C+
Although he didn’t have a strong year, when he was out his absence was noticeable. Fuller did come up with some big plays, three picks, two for scores.
Jason McCourty: D+
McCourty was thrown into the fire when Finnegan was out. Yes, he was burned, but when you consider two of his three starts were against Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, he played about as well as you could reasonably expect.
Ryan Mouton: D+
Similar situation as McCourty’s, he replaced Fuller at nickel and then Harper at corner. This grade is solely for his play as a defensive back and not as a punt/kick returner.
Rod Hood: C-
Making three picks is not enough to raise his grade, when you consider he was in the wrong place at the right time on at least one of those plays. Having said that, I do believe he was an upgrade over Harper in coverage. Hood’s run support, or lack of it, was the reason he wasn’t graded higher.
Overall grade for the secondary: D
Overall grade for the defense: C-
What do you think of these grades? Where was I too harsh or too lenient on somebody?

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9 Responses to “The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Defense”

  1. Scott Says:

    The grades are pretty good Andrew. It is a bit sad looking at these grades this year. I am sure almost everyone of these guys would have been graded a full letter higher at the end of last season.

    I disagree with a few of them though. Tony Brown can’t be an A- with all of those costly penalties. I know he played well so maybe a B+, but not anything with an A in it. I disagree with you on William Hayes as well. I think Hayes was one of the few bright spots on the defensive line this year. I know his numbers were not eye-popping, but he was a steady force and will only get better. I would have given him at least a B. Lastly, McGrath has got to be rated higher than Allred. Allred is nothing more than a special teamer and was not effective when he was called into duty on defence. McGrath was much better than that and showed enough to be Thornton’s permanent replacement. In my view, he was at least a C+.

  2. wesc Says:

    I wonder how much of the problem was the old scheme with new players. The first six games saw what looked exactly like last years defensive schemes, except without any preassure on the quarterbacks. Without the preassure, the secondary fell apart. People kept wondering why they were biting on pump fakes – well last season if you pump faked the ball you got sacked or at least bumped. This year, not so much. After the break, they seemed to settle down and there seemed a lot more game to game adjustments and scheminig. Talent drop off across the D-line really hurt. Still, almost made the playoffs.

  3. Shawn Smith Says:

    I agree with most of the grades except a few…Finnegan deserves greater than a C+. He had the same number of interceptions as in 2008 (5) with the greater number of int return yards. He also had just 7 fewer tackles…all of this in 3 fewer games due to his injury problems. So, although I wouldn’t say he played great, he did play ok so he should be bumped up to a B. The same can be said for Fuller who had 3 picks (2 returned for TDs) and was a bigger part in blitzes.

    I also think Hayes and McRath deserve to be bumped up a little but not much…overall, the defense wasn’t good at all so it is difficult to defend any of the players. Fisher needs to overhaul this group from the coaching/scheme to the individual players.

  4. Andrew Strickert Says:

    I’m glad some people saw more in a few of the players than I did. But if “C” is average, I didn’t see Finnegan or Hayes as playing much better than an average CB or average DE. No way I saw McRath as being better than an average LB, but once again, I’m glad someone thinks so.

    It makes me feel better that you guys have seen things I didn’t. It gives me more hope.

    By the way, the AP All-Pro team was announced today and Tony Brown was the only Titans defensive player to receive a vote. CJ was a unanimous selection and Roos and Stewart received votes on offense. Bironas received one vote as well.

    Thanks for your comments, guys. It’s always good to hear from you, so please keep them coming. I’ll conclude the report cards with special teams, either tonight or tomorrow.

  5. Bob Loblaw Says:

    I would give Kearse an F. Why they kept him on the roster after week 5 is beyond me.

    Finnegan – B. Not spectacular, but definitely above average.

    Scott – I agree with you about Brown, but disagree about Hayes. He was solid against the run, but doesn’t have the pass rush moves to get to the QB. He’s quick up the field, but often gets too far upfield before turning the corner.

    Hopefully the front office has the cajones to cut the cord with Haye and pay him whatever he has remaining of his $9m guaranteed jack.

  6. The Tennessee Titans’ 2009 report card: Special teams « Total Titans Says:

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  8. USAF Guy Says:

    Wow C- for Rod Hood…tough grade considering 3 intercepts in 3 starts! However, in light of his run support, I can see your point. Let me offer this mitigating circumstance…its a little hard to come off the bench after 5 weeks and have the mind-leg-eye coordination it takes to provide stellar run support. (however, props to Jeff Fisher for remaining loyal to his starters). That being said, I feel Rod Hood is an outstanding CB and could start opposite Courtland Fennigan next year. His football IQ is through the roof which accounts for what you call “being in the right place in the wrong time”. The truth is that when the ball is in the air Rod Hood thinks its his and that is why, more often than not, he is in the right place at the right time. Our overall DB game will improve if we sign Rod Hood. Now, damn the off-season, full speed ahead!

    USAF Guy

  9. Retaining Stephen Tulloch: A no-brainer for the Tennessee Titans « Total Titans Says:

    […] Andrew mentioned in his defensive report card, Tulloch’s pass coverage could use a little work. However, despite that weakness, overall, […]

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