Titans' leniency for offsides is long gone

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the bulk of the time since the franchise was invented as the Titans, Tennessee was willing to accept an occasional offside penalty from its defense.

The thinking -- predominantly from long-time defensive line coach Jim Washburn, who's now in Detroit -- was that a super quick get-off involved some anticipation. In exchange for anticipating well, there would be times when linemen anticipated poorly and got flagged. A good pass rush with a very fast get-off would make an offensive line a bit jumpy, and an offside here and there wouldn't necessarily hurt that cause either.

I asked new Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt if there was any degree of acceptable offside calls on his watch, and he asked me to take the question to his pass-rushers.

"The tolerance level? No, it's a different philosophy," end-turned-outside linebacker Derrick Morgan said. "We've got to play smart. Our D-coordinator (Ray Horton) is always stressing the importance of being smart and wants smart players on the defense.

"Offside will kill you. There are a lot of statistics about the success of offensive drives when you get called for it. It's an important factor we need to be smart about. It's not an acceptable thing where, ‘OK, we're trying to get a good jump, so every once and a while we're going to go offside.' It's going to happen, but the tolerance isn't there for it."

Marty Callinan of ESPN Stats & Info looked into the correlation between sack totals and defensive offside penalties. Over the last 10 seasons, league-wide, it's 0.04. Negligible. Add in encroachment and neutral zone infractions and it's still weak, just 0.13.

Under Washburn, who left after 2010, the Titans consistently ranked high in offside penalties. Over the last 10 years only periodically has the team's sack rank come close to matching its rank for offside.

The top two teams in terms of sacks over the last 10 seasons (Steelers and Dolphins) rank 31st and 27th in defensive offside penalties during that time.

The top two teams in terms of defensive offside penalties (Cardinals and Titans) rank 12th and 16th in sacks over the last 10 seasons.

The strongest correlation between sacks and defensive offside penalties for the Titans in the last 10 years came in 2007 and 2008. Those were Albert Haynesworth's final seasons in Tennessee.

While Haynesworth was piling up the sacks, he wasn't the one drawing the penalties. Fellow defensive linemen Tony Brown, Antwan Odom and Kyle Vanden Bosch were responsible for 13 of the team's 27 defensive offside penalties during that two-year span, while Haynesworth accounted for just one.

Tracy Rocker coached the defensive line from 2011-13. Giff Smith is in his first year with the team now, with Lou Spanos new on linebackers as the team moves to a 3-4.