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Kevin Byard

Kevin Byard

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans received a lot of hype this offseason because of their offensive firepower, but they’ve won recently because of their prowess on the other side of the ball. It’s time to give our full respect to the Titans defense and their emerging star, safety Kevin Byard, after their 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“We all know how good we are on this side of the ball,” Byard said leading up to the game. “We just have got to be consistent.”

They were Sunday, holding the Ravens’ eighth-ranked rushing attack to just 73 yards on 22 carries. They came up with a big fourth-down stop by linebacker Wesley Woodyard, and Byard stepped up with two huge interceptions. Baltimore’s final touchdown came when the Titans played softer coverage as they protected their double-digit lead.

The Titans shook off many of their offensive cobwebs in the first half, scoring two touchdowns with a mix of play-action, stellar individual plays and much better red zone efficiency. In the second half, the Titans offense returned to some stagnant play until its final touchdown. Tennessee also was 3-for-3 in the red zone.

Marcus Mariota had an OK day, going 19-of-28 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The run game struggled as DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 47 yards on 17 carries. But they made some timely plays and got the win. There still are problems to solve, but the defense isn’t one of them, at least for now. Coming in, the Titans defense had allowed just 33 points and two touchdowns over their past three games.

What it means: The Titans are 5-3, tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for first place in the AFC South. They’re on pace to finish 10-6, which likely would put them in the playoffs. The offensive problems are troublesome, but the Titans are on a three-game winning streak and have shown an ability to win close, ugly games.

What I liked: The follow-up performance of Byard to bring in two interceptions after getting a heavy dose of positive attention over the past two weeks because of his three-interception game against the Cleveland Browns. I wrote last week that Byard was on the way to being a household name. Sunday only solidified that and now he leads the NFL with six interceptions. He has five interceptions in the past two games, which is tied with four others for most by a player in consecutive games since 1970.

“I hope I can keep doing things that Ed Reed didn’t do,” Byard said, giving love to one of his childhood football idols. “If I can do that, I’ll be on my way.”

Logan Ryan should get most of the credit for the first interception, as he had a great pass breakup and assist to Byard on a deep Joe Flacco pass, but Byard read it perfectly and made the play on his second pick. Ryan, who expected a bunch of Ravens deep shots, said he recognized the play that led to the first interception as the same play as one he defended well against Breshad Perriman earlier in the game.

It was a plus to see the Titans go 3-for-3 in the red zone. I also really liked the Titans’ last touchdown, which capped a much-needed drive that featured big plays from Murray, Delanie Walker and an Eric Decker TD.

What I didn’t like: The Titans offense in the second half, for the most part, reminded me of the struggles and inconsistency that it showed during their first seven games. Tennessee has to get more push up front in the running game. Murray and Henry were hit in the backfield on a regular basis. The Titans only went 6-of-16 on third downs.

Fantasy fallout: It was a dud fantasy day for Murray and Corey Davis. Murray (nine carries, 19 yards) was banged up with injuries most of the day. Davis was targeted five times, but there may have been a bit of rust as he had just two catches for 28 yards. Rishard Matthews rewarded fantasy owners who stuck with him by putting up four catches for 70 yards and a touchdown.

Tough guy performance: Walker battled the pain of a right ankle bone bruise throughout the week, but gutted it out to play and performed as he typically does. Walker finished with five catches for 71 yards. Mariota commended Walker’s bravery for playing through that injury.

What’s next: The Titans host the 3-5 Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a 23-7 loss to a Jacksonville Jaguars team without Leonard Fournette. It’s another game the Titans should be favored in.

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