Don't judge Titans defensive coordinator Shane Bowen by 2020 performance

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There is little doubt last season was a disappointment for the Tennessee Titans' defense.

They allowed opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 69.2% of their red-zone visits, and opposing offenses converted on 51.9% of their third-down opportunities. Both of those numbers were among the worst in the NFL.

No one held the defensive coordinator title last season after Dean Pees retired in the 2020 offseason, but then-outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen was the one who led defensive meetings during the week and called the plays on game day.

The Titans formally gave the defensive coordinator job to the 34-year-old Bowen last month. The decision didn't resonate well with some fans who were frustrated with last season's struggles.

But it would be overly simplistic to lay all the blame at the feet of Bowen, who didn't have OTAs or minicamp to install the defense.

"At the end of the day, I think Shane is a good coach," safety Kevin Byard said via the team website. "And I think it is kind of unfair for a guy to get a promotion to a new job and everybody just pounds on him as if he's a bad coach. I really do think he's a great coach.

Titans GM Jon Robinson illustrated this point when asked about the team's decision to name Bowen the defensive coordinator.

"When it comes to execution of defense, there’s a lot of things that go into it. There’s the call itself, there’s the execution of the call, it’s the players that are on the field trying to execute the call. It’s more than one thing when things go good, and when things don’t go so good. It’s a combination of a lot of different things on every single play."

Byard echoed Robinson's point about accountability.

"If you look at the situation for us this past year as is relates to our defensive performance, I am real big on accountability," Byard said. "I am not going to be one of those guys, because I didn't have my best year statistically, to say, 'Hey, it's the defensive coordinator's fault, or it's because of this or that.

"I am always going to look at myself first. And I think when you look at our entire defense as a whole last year, it is everybody's fault we didn't play better."

The pass rush was the biggest weakness. Tennessee mustered 19 sacks, which according to ESPN Stats & Info tied them with the 1982 San Diego Chargers and 1979 Denver Broncos for the third-lowest sack total by an NFL playoff team. Only the 1982 Atlanta Falcons and 1970 Miami Dolphins, who both finished with 18 sacks, had fewer.

Robinson tried to address the pass rush by signing free agents Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley but neither had a sack. Clowney played eight games before going on injured reserve with a knee injury and the Titans cut Beasley in early November. It left the team with three outside linebackers.

Another problem that can't be overlooked: coverage packages -- specifically where defensive backs played off the line of scrimmage allowing receivers to get a free release and giving quarterbacks the ability to quickly throw them the football. That area is one that can be put on the scheme.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel was still involved with the defense last season, so it wasn't a completely different scheme. But there was still a feeling-out period for both Bowen and the players.

"Bowen getting the DC job, it's the same defense -- we were just getting used to his playcalling and the way he thinks," Titans linebacker Jayon Brown said.

Obviously, the results weren't pretty all around, but there were some positives. With Bowen as the defensive playcaller last year, the Titans generated 23 takeaways, which were the seventh-most in the league and the most by a Titans defense since 2013 (25).

Tennessee also finished with 15 interceptions, which ranked seventh in the NFL and were the most by the Titans since 2012 (19).

"First and foremost, Shane is qualified, and he is very intelligent," Vrabel said. "I think he communicates well, and I think he has a great vision for what we want to do."