Titans have to defend TEs far better

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One weak area of the Tennessee Titans' defense the past couple seasons wasn’t tested in the season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With Heath Miller out injured, the Steelers were unthreatening at tight end.

In Week 2, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham of the Houston Texans will pose a much tougher challenge. In the Texans' opener against the San Diego Chargers, Daniels had five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Graham had four catches for 27 yards and a score.

Has Tennessee improved at covering tight ends, or are Daniels and Graham poised to have a big day, picking up on the trend of the Mike Munchak-coached Titans?

Per John Parolin of ESPN Stats and Info, 24 percent of the catches made against the Titans since Munchak became head coach in 2011 have been made by tight ends. That is only the 17th-highest percentage in the league.

The troublesome number: Those catches have accounted for 24 percent of the receiving yardage against Tennessee, the fourth-highest percentage in the league.

Strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers has been a key cog in the effort defending tight ends the past two seasons, but it has not been his forte. Now he’s a line-of-scrimmage player most of the time, and an end in nickel situations.

“It’s being disciplined and keeping your eyes on you man, really,” Ayers said about covering Houston's tight ends. “My first two years here, I was doing a lot of covering. So I experienced firsthand when I got the tight end, I took my eyes off him for one second and he’s running across the field.”

Now Ayers will look to provide pass pressure that will help everyone in coverage.

More often, weakside linebacker Zach Brown will be the linebacker involved in covering the tight end.

Brown made it sound simple -- probably too simple -- when I spoke to him about it late in the preseason.

“You’ve just got to be disciplined with your eyes and know what routes the tight end runs,” he said. “The tight end really don’t run a lot of routes unless you’re Vernon Davis. Other than that, tight ends run two or three routes.”

So eye discipline against guys that run only two or three routes was that bad?

We’ll need to see significant improvement in that department for the Titans to limit Daniels and Graham.

A few weeks ago, senior defensive assistant Gregg Williams spoke of tight end coverage issues the Titans' defense had before he joined the staff.

“Maybe some of the teams they’ve played have been high-profile threats on those teams and maybe diminished receivers on those teams,” Williams said. “We’re going to have teams each week that are going to pose talent threats, and we’re going to have to matchup talent threats.”

Over the past two seasons, the Titans gave up big plays to Daniel Fells of the Denver Broncos, Ben Watson of the Cleveland Browns, Joel Dreessen of Houston, Colin Cochart of the Cincinnati Bengals, Dante Rosario of San Diego, Kyle Rudolph of the Minnesota Vikings, and Jeff Cumberland of the New York Jets.

Those guys hardly qualify as high-profile threats, and hardly ranked high on the list of people the Titans had to worry about -- at least until the games began to unfold.

Daniels is a high-profile threat, but he’s not the Texans' highest-profile threat. To win in Houston, the Titans will have to get some degree of a handle on both Andre Johnson and Daniels.