NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The matchup between Tennessee's defense and Philadelphia's fast-paced offense is getting a lot of attention this week at Saint Thomas Sports Park - and for good reason.
The Eagles run about 80 snaps per game and use little time on the play clock between snaps. Ray Horton discussed the team's plan for Chip Kelly's offense, as well as what needs to be cleaned up following a 27-24 loss on Monday to the Steelers.
Here are the top five topics to come out of Titans practice on Thursday.
- Update from the Training Table**
Defensive back Marqueston Huff (hamstring) was the only member of the team to not practice. Derrick Morgan (knee), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (back), Daimion Stafford (shoulder) were all listed as limited in Thursday's practice. Whisenhunt said Morgan was full yesterday, but some swelling in his knee caused the Titans to be cautious today.
As for Delanie Walker, the Titans tight end practiced Thursday and has one final meeting with a physician. Whisenhunt sounded hopeful that Walker would be cleared by Friday.
Having Walker against the Eagles Sunday will be a huge lift of the Titans.
4. Bring the Heat
Every week the head coach from Tennessee's upcoming opponent holds a conference call with the media here in Nashville. Without fair, each coach discusses the expected pressure they expect to get when facing a Ray Horton coached defense.
The Titans' new 3-4 defense is finding it's rhythm in the pass rush with much of that credit going to Horton's scheme. The Titans are tied for third in the league with 20 sacks over the last six weeks, trailing only the Eagles and Bills, both with 22.
Tennessee's defensive coordinator said the last three weeks have been an especially strong indication as to how often he plans to blitz opposing quarterbacks.
"The last three weeks we've been very aggressive, probably close to 40 percent pressure," Horton said. "That's what we're evolving into; we're going to pressure you 40 to 50 percent of the time."
Horton added that he blitzed Roethlisberger close to 50 percent of the time Monday night. That resulted in five sacks (all by linebackers) and eight total QB hits.
The key to success in Horton's scheme is to combine run pressures with pass pressures. He also blitzes a variety of players to keep an offense away from keying on one guy. Horton said he wants the offense to have to account for everyone on his defense.
That variety is a big reason why 15 players have accounted for at least one of the Titans' 29 sacks this season. That includes five defensive backs (Michael Griffin – 3, Bernard Pollard, Coty Sensabaugh, Daimion Stafford, Marqueston Huff – 1).
Horton understands the risk/reward scenario that comes into play when bringing so much pressure.
"If you don't hit the quarterback, you're risking getting your butt kicked," he put simply.
3. No Encore for LeSean McCoy/Darren Sproles
Shocking. That's the word Horton used to describe Tennessee's rushing defense that allowed Le'Veon Bell to rack up 204 yards on 33 carries Monday.
"That was very disheartening what happened in the Pittsburgh game," he explained. "It was more of an individual technique thing. I heard (Jurrell) Casey say after the game 'we're responsible for our area of the defense, our gap.' It's been that way and that's what the problem has been. They're working hard to rectify it, but it's not what we want to be at all."
He added another word that he's been stressing to his players.
"I've preached the whole time, accountability, being accountable to your teammates," Horton continued. "Be accountable to your teammate and until we are, we'll have these issues."
The Titans have no plans to let McCoy and Sproles, two versatile playmakers, gain the kind of yards Bell was able to accumulate.
Whisenhunt said that even though McCoy's numbers aren't what they were last year, film still shows the same back that was an All-Pro in 2013.
He then went to discuss the many threats of Sproles.
"They both can do a lot of things," Whisenhunt said. "Sproles certainly makes a lot of big plays. He's been an explosive guy. Having been in San Diego, they talked a lot about him and the things he has done. I saw a lot of tape of him and obviously played against him a number of times. He's a good football player. You certainly have to be aware of his explosive capabilities."
2. Tuning up for a Track Meet
Chip Kelly's offense was made famous at Oregon and he's been able to make the smooth transition to the NFL. The Eagles offense moves at breakneck speeds and requires certain adjustments from opposing defenses.
"We've tweaked a few things in practice like most teams," said Horton. "I won't say what we tweaked but we're ready for what we've seen on film and on TV.
"They run two personnel groups so we'll run two personnel groups," he continued. "If they don't change, we won't change. We've prepared that way and so what we've shown them in practice is what we should get in the game."
With the Eagles never taking the time to substitute or huddle, the Titans will call plays with signals from the sideline to streamline the play-calling process.
Horton showed the defense the TV copy of Philadelphia's week 11 game against Green Bay. The goal was for them to see just how fast the offense moved in real time.
1. Woodyard and Phillips Share Experiences vs Eagles
Linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Shaun Phillips played the Eagles in 2013 while with the Denver Broncos – a game the Broncos won 52-20 in Week 4. They're making their rounds this week trying to provide as much knowledge as they can to their teammates.
"Individually in our linebacker room we talked about it," said Woodyard. "I'm sure today we'll sit down with the DB's and talk to them. We're definitely going to give them some tips and tell them what to expect.
"They run that college-style offense to keep you guessing," he went on. "They are really fast and they have some fast skill guys. You've got to be on point but the most important thing is to take care of your assignment."
The Titans are used to game-planning for a number of weapons. Just last week the defense had to prepare for Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Martivis Bryant, Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell.
This week will be no different in terms of the number of players who will touch the ball for Philadelphia. McCoy and Sproles are joined by receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek round out the list of weapons that the Eagles expect to contribute on a weekly basis.
"You've got to be ready for whatever matchup you get so you can win those battles," said Woodyard.
Woodyard said he's going to tell the defense that big plays are going to happen for this offense. It's all about limiting them and being able to counter.
"They run so many plays you know they're going to get some big ones. If we lose one play we know we still have 70 more," he said. "The thing is to win a majority of the plays and not let the big ones be touchdowns."