IMHO, the first (and second) down defense is considerably improved. We're creating significantly more 3rd and longs than previous years. However, Sanchez killed us on 3rd down in week one. And, while the 3rd down efficiency was better against the Titans, two of the back-breaker plays were on 3rd and long.
So, the defense is indeed creating the 3rd and longs that have been missing for so long -- but not capitalizing on them. Why is that? Third and long means playing the nickel or dime package. And, that means that in addition to having Brian Cushing on the field, you potentially have Connor Barwin, Brice McCain and Glover Quin. That's a lot of rookies (and not including first year starter Dominique Barber).
How important is that? Well, against the Titans:
- On Chris Johnson's 57 yard TD run on 3rd and 19: Brice McCain had outside responsibility and got blocked inside. If he stays outside, DeMeco makes the tackle. In addition, Cushing was held. If he weren't a rookie, maybe he gets the call? Finally, I think Conner Barwin overran the play. However, even if he brakes down, he still might not have been able to make the play.
- On Chris Johnson's TD reception on 2nd and 5 Dominique blew the coverage and left Johnson uncovered.
- On Chris Johnson's 91 yard TD run on 3rd and 11, apparently Cushing was out of position (forgot DeMeco was blitzing??).
In any event, in every case at least one of the first year starters played a key role in the breakdown. It's the price we pay for being such a young team. It's one reason the team always performs better in December than in September.
Cushing and McCain are clearly quick learners, so they'll get better and better. McCain's and Quin's playing time will decrease substantially as D-Rob gets up to full speed and Jacques Reeves returns. Finally, it looks like Dominique is going to be in a fight for playing time (Busing got the bulk of the snaps after Dominique's blown coverage). Bottom line, the defense will get better when fewer first time starters are out there, and as those that are get more experience. There's no reason to panic.
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