Logan Ryan Fills a Glaring Need for the Tennessee Titans

The Titans' secondary held the team back in a breakout 2016 season. Can the signing of Ryan turn the unit around?

The list of quarterbacks who shredded the Tennessee Titans' defense last year is not a pretty one. There were journeymen, rookies, and no-names posting career numbers against one of the worst secondaries in football.

They needed an upgrade like something fierce. And they got it late Thursday night.

Logan Ryan comes over from the New England Patriots on a reported three-year, $30 million deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. Ryan largely played second fiddle to Malcolm Butler while in Foxboro, but he joins the Titans on a reasonable contract entering his age-26 season. That would seem to be a major win.

With the Titans, anybody would be an improvement over what they had last year. We can illustrate this using numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to measure the efficiency of both teams and players with the team totals being weighted for strength of opponent. With the Titans, we'll largely be focusing on Passing NEP, which shows the expected points added or subtracted on each drop back throughout the season while accounting for negative events such as sacks, interceptions, and incompletions.

The Titans did plenty of work to upgrade their offense last year, and it seemed to largely pay off. The defense is next on the pecking order, and Ryan should help there.

Among the League's Worst

Tennessee still had a shot at the playoffs in Week 16, which means you know something was going right for them. Most of that Gucciness was on the offensive side.

The Titans finished the year with the 13th-best schedule-adjusted offense in the league, according to numberFire's metrics, and they had the 11th-best passing offense. That reflects a team that's right on the fringe of playoff contention, and it means they're moving in the right direction with Marcus Mariota at quarterback. Imagine what they could have done with a competent defense.

Instead of being a top-half unit, Tennessee was 24th overall as a defense and all the way down in 28th against the pass. The four teams beneath them were the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, and Cleveland Browns. Not great, Bob!

That's what they did over the course of the entire season. It gets even uglier if we look from Week 6 on.

In that Week 6 matchup, the Titans were facing those aforementioned Browns. After Tennessee built a 28-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Browns mounted a comeback. Rookie Cody Kessler -- playing in just his fourth game -- led them on a pair of touchdown drives, making it a two-point game with 27 seconds left. The Titans recovered the onside kick to seal the game, but it was nearly a crushing choke job.

From that game on, the Titans' defense couldn't stop a solitary soul. Here are the splits, comparing the defense the first five games with what they did after the near mishap. Success Rate is the percentage of drop backs that result in an increase in expected points for the drive.

In 2016 Drop Backs Passing NEP Passing NEP per Drop Back Success Rate
First 5 Games 163 14.93 0.09 49.08%
Final 11 Games 468 96.64 0.21 52.14%

In the first five games, opposing quarterbacks had comparable efficiency to Ryan Tannehill. In the final 11 games, they were more like Ben Roethlisberger. That's a cavernous split, and it's the opposite direction of where you'd hope things would go.

It's not even as if the Titans were facing a murderer's row of signal callers in this stretch, either. In addition to Kessler, their opponents included Blake Bortles (twice), Brock Osweiler, Matt Barkley, and Trevor Siemian. And yet they still struggled. This unit was legitimately horrendous.

We shouldn't, though, put all of the blame on the secondary. The Titans' defense ranked just 21st in Sack NEP per drop back, which measures the effect of sacks throughout the course of a season. Because Passing NEP does account for sacks, their deficiencies there will show up in the marks above, so this was also a factor. They probably need help on the defensive line, as well, but it doesn't fully absolve the secondary of its sins.

Ryan was part of a defense that was almost completely the opposite in New England. Their pass rush struggled -- they were 28th in Sack NEP per drop back -- while still managing to finish 11th in schedule-adjusted pass defense efficiency. Ryan obviously wasn't the only big piece who helped them do that, but he was still a major contributing factor.

A Step in the Right Direction

The Titans are a team built around a young, exciting quarterback that took big strides last year. Now, with the addition of Ryan, they should continue those improvements in 2017.

It would have been hard for Tennessee's secondary to get worse going forward, but adding Ryan should speed along that progression. Although one player can't fully fix the treachory of their collective pass defense, it's a solid way to start.

Thanks to some shrewd moves in the draft last year, the Titans have plenty of draft capital to go around this offseason. They can use that in a trade or dive into some of the insane defensive talent available in the incoming class. Regardless, with what they did last year and the addition of Ryan, this will be a team to watch as a playoff contender in the near future.