It has been awhile, but it is finally time to finish off the defensive units in the AFC South. A funny thing happened in the comment section on linebackers. Someone noticed that two of us differed on the linebackers. I’m reminded of the ol’ adage about opinions. They are like noses. I think you can finish the rest.
We usually start off with the basic numbers, but the basic numbers are hard to parcel out. After all, if you go with the standards like tackles, interceptions, and other numbers, you have no idea how those numbers came about. Linebackers and defensive linemen can defend passes and get interceptions. The tackles for secondary guys usually come at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage, so there is little use of looking at those. So, we will look at interceptions and passes defended. We will also look at look at individual player grades for coverage and run defense.
Indianapolis Colts— 19 interceptions, 69 passes defended
Houston Texans— 17 interceptions, 64 passes defended
Tennessee Titans— 16 interceptions, 83 passes defended
Jacksonville Jaguars— 7 interceptions, 50 passes defended
We know Lovie Smith’s defense was good at taking the ball away last season. Passes defended is an impressive looking stat, but we have no way of knowing how proficient each defense was just by looking at the raw numbers. That is where something like the PFF grades come into play.
CB Isiah Rodgers— 49 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PD, 71.9 coverage, 62.9 Run
CB Kenny Moore— 102 tackles, 6 TFL, 4 INT, 13 PD, 62.1 coverage, 73.3 Run
CB Stephon Gilmore— 16 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 2 PD, 79.4 coverage, 68.1 Run
CB Brandon Fayson— 55 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 13 PD, 42.5 coverage, 76.7 Run
SS Rodney McLeod— 58 tackles, 0 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 60.4 coverage, 73.2 Run
SS Nick Cross— Rookie selected in the third round
FS Julian Blackmon— 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 53.2 coverage, 81.1 Run
FS Armani Watts— 19 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 67.2 coverage, 75.9 Run
The raw numbers can be a bit deceiving. One of these players made the Pro Bowl last year and these numbers wouldn’t tell you who. Well, the PFF numbers would and that would be free agent Stephon Gilmore. Watts is also a free agent acquisition. Clearly, their fourth corner is a weakness in coverage, but if you are going with a fourth corner then you are probably in trouble anyway.
These players end up with an average run grade of 73.0 (tops in the division) and a 62.4 coverage grade (third in the division). If you remove Fayson then they probably vault up to number one in the division in both categories. Again, if they don’t win the AFC South then Frank Reich should be fired.
CB Kristian Fulton— 40 tackles, 0 TFL, 2 INT, 14 PD, 66.2 coverage, 54.2 Run
CB Caleb Farley— 4 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 40.7 coverage, 71.8 Run
CB Elijah Molden— 62 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 61.8 coverage, 53.0 Run
CB Roger McCreary— Rookie selected in the second round
SS Amani Hooker— 62 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 86.9 coverage, 85.9 Run
SS Theo Jackson— Rookie selected in the sixth round
FS Kevin Byard— 88 tackles, 1 TFL, 5 INT, 13 PD, 90.9 coverage, 83.8 Run
FS A.J. Moore— 9 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 46.0 coverage, 28.8 Run
A.J. Moore wasn’t the worst safety in football. That would actually be Lonnie Johnson. Oh wait, we’re talking about the Titans. They have the best one-two punch at safety in the business with Byard being in the Pro Bowl and Hooker probably should have have been. That tends to help with the lackluster corners. McCreary will hopefully beat out Farley, so their 62.9 run grade (DAL) and 65.4 coverage grade (1st) might be even better.
CB Derek Stingley— Rookie selected in the first round
CB Steven Nelson— 50 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PD, 61.4 coverage, 70.8 run
CB Tavierre Thomas— 86 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 76.1 coverage, 86.5 run
CB Fabian Moreau— 61 tackles, 3 TFL, 0 INT, 11 PD, 55.2 coverage, 64.9 run
SS Eric Murray— 76 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PD, 54.7 coverage, 45.4 run
SS M.J. Stewart— 47 tackles, 2 TFL, 0 INT, 4 PD, 86.0 coverage, 59.8 run
FS Jason Pitre— Rookie selected in the second round
FS Terrance Brooks— 21 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 1 PD, 47.5 coverage, 67.6 run
We have to follow rules here. So, we simply followed the depth charts as they were reported. I think we know Jonathan Owens will end up supplanting Murray or Brooks and we know Desmond King fits in here somewhere. Yet, this is kind of the difference between terminology. “A good problem to have” can be defined as having at least ten guys capable of playing reasonably good football. Yet, there is a difference between reasonably good football and actual good football.
The biggest jump comes in jettisoning the likes of Johnson and Moore. They also signed Moreau and Nelson so they could let their weaker corners go. Their 65.8 run grade ranks third in the division and their 63.5 coverage grade is second. That doesn’t count what Stingley and Pitre bring to the table. Even if they bring nothing then their secondary is still much improved.
CB Tyson Campbell— 73 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, 10 PD, 59.9 coverage, 69.9 run
CB Shaquell Griffin— 49 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 7 PD, 71.1 coverage, 68.5 run
CB Darius Williams— 71 tackles, 3 TFL, 0 INT, 9 PD, 60.7 coverage, 68.6 run
CB Xavier Crawford— 15 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 45.4 coverage, 54.5 run
SS Rashawn Jenkins— 73 tackles, 1 TFL, 0 INT, 3 PD, 61.3 coverage, 57.3 run
SS Daniel Thomas— 27 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 0 PD, 56.4 coverage, 72.4 run
FS Andre Cisco— 26 tackles, 0 TFL, 0 INT, 2 PD, 62.7 coverage, 74.7 run
FS Andrew Wingard— 88 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PD, 75.1 coverage, 69.0 run
One of the problems with doing overall team grades is that there is never a satisfactory way of crunching these numbers because we know not all of these players will be on the field at the same time. There is no accounting for how defensive coordinators will deploy these guys and when you have a new defensive staff you also don’t know if their strategy will get a different result from these players.
They signed Williams and Crawford in free agency. Williams is decent enough while Crawford really wasn’t. Maybe he will be if used sparingly. We really don’t know. Their 66.9 run grade is second in the division while their 61.6 coverage grade was DAL. Yet, that coverage grade includes Crawford’s low score. We will have to see if someone in camp ends up supplanting him as well.
Overall Power Rankings
The Colts are again the best unit in the division. Signing Gilmore should guarantee that as he joins an already strong cornerback group. We know the Titans have a dynamic group of safeties so we could comfortably put them in second, but the Texans could challenge for that if Stingley and Pitre show up and immediately play well. Using two of their top three picks and a majority of their free agency attention creates some level of hope for this group. Jacksonville was last in the division in 2021, but a new defensive coordinator and a few new faces could change things as well.