Titans' defense shores up season-long vulnerabilities in win over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After giving up 41 points to the Cleveland Browns in Week 13, the Tennessee Titans' defense was extra stingy against the Jacksonville Jaguars in a 31-10 win on Sunday. The difference in the defensive performance extended beyond the point total the Titans allowed.

The Jaguars were able to convert on only five of their 14 third-down opportunities (35.7%), a far cry from the 10 out of 16 opportunities (62.5%) the Browns converted last week.

The Titans' defense turned in a solid performance, starting with cornerbacks Tye Smith and Malcolm Butler. Butler didn't forget how the Jaguars found plenty of success on third downs (converting 71.4%) in their Week 2 meeting, a close 33-30 Titans win, when Jacksonville rolled up 480 yards of total offense.

"Once you can get off the field on third down, it changes the whole game," Butler said. "I know the last time we played them they were 10-of-14 against us, and you can’t really win a game if you’re not getting off the field on third down. We won the last game, but we put more emphasis on getting off the field on third down and it was a big change.”

Sunday's performance will help improve Tennessee's 53% opponent third-down conversion percentage. But the Titans are still last in the NFL in that category.

The Titans' red zone defense also showed significant improvement against the Jaguars, who only came away with one touchdown in three visits inside Tennessee's 20-yard line. That's much better than the 72% red zone touchdown percentage the Titans had allowed for the season entering Sunday's game.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel credited Smith for holding his own as Jaguars quarterback Mike Glennon went after him in the red zone.

"They tried Tye down there on a double move, we had pressure on, Tye started square and on top and it was a big stop. Those were nice to see down there to get some stops in the red zone," Vrabel said.

The defense's dominating performance started on the Jaguars' first drive, which ended with a blocked field goal attempt by Titans defensive lineman DaQuan Jones. The fast start carried over to the rest of the game, even after Jaguars coach Doug Marrone went to QB Gardner Minshew to give them a spark. Minshew managed to extend a few plays and lead Jacksonville on its only touchdown drive of the day.

Butler played a key role in holding standout Jaguars receiver D.J. Chark to just two catches for 16 yards despite being targeted nine times. The Titans asked Butler to lock in on Chark and follow him wherever he lined up.

Chark had four receptions for 84 yards against the Titans earlier this season, including a 45-yard reception with Butler in coverage that helped set up the Jaguars' first touchdown of that game. Butler wanted to make sure Chark wasn't a factor the second time around.

Butler was physical with Chark by challenging him with press coverage at the line of scrimmage and sticky coverage throughout his routes. Even though Butler is always willing to play zone, the feisty cornerback felt at home getting to play some press coverage against Chark.

"That’s what I do. I like the challenge. I like to take on the best of the best, but whatever coach tells me to do, that’s what I’m going to do," Butler said. "I owe Chark from the past. Great player ..."

Butler hauled in his third interception of the season when Glennon took a shot to Chark on a post route. Chark had a step on Butler, but the corner was able to close on the ball and go up to pluck it for the turnover. Derrick Henry plunged 1 yard for the Titans' final touchdown on their ensuing drive.

Although it came against the 1-11 Jaguars, Sunday's defensive consistency is the kind of showing the Titans need regularly if they want to make a deep postseason run. There's no more room for hot-and-cold performances.

"We’ve just got to stay consistent, and we’ve got to find out who we are," Butler said. "You’re going to have ups and downs, but for the most part, we’ve got to find out who we are and stay rising, instead of going up and down like the stock market. We’ve got to set the tone on that and we should be good to go, but you can’t predict the future."

The Titans will get a chance to build on their performance next Sunday when they host the Detroit Lions at Nissan Stadium.