The phrase “get off” — oft-used in professional sport — has taken an entirely different meaning for the Tennessee Titans.
For years, former defensive line coach Jim Washburn implored his players over and over to do so. They heard it in practices. They heard it during games. They probably even heard it in their sleep.
The idea was for them to get off the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible and get after the quarterback. If their desire to do so resulted in an occasional offside penalty, so be it.
Under first-year head coach Mike Munchak and new defensive line coach Tracy Rocker, “get off” has taken on a much more literal meaning — as in, “Get off the field.”
“If you get offside, you’re not going to get to the quarterback anyway, you’re probably going to get to the sideline faster than to the quarterback,” defensive end Dave Ball said. “It’s a big adjustment, just because for the past [several] years getting off fast on the ball has been all we’ve known. It’s been ingrained in us, I’m telling you.”
The Titans led the NFL last season with 28 offside penalties. That was three more than second-place Detroit (25) and at least twice as many as 23 other clubs. Those violations accounted for more than 20 percent of the 128 penalties marked off against Tennessee, the fourth-most penalized team in the league.
“Offsides — there’s no excuse for it,” Rocker said. “It’s not OK. It’s really never been OK. Why would you jump offside? It’s a penalty. It’s hard enough to stop them, and now you want to give them some yards for free?”
Championship teams, history has shown, don’t tend to accumulate such penalties. Super Bowl champion Green Bay committed just one offside penalty in the entire 2010 season. New England, which had the top regular-season record at 14-2, jumped just four times.
Of the 13 teams that won at least 10 games last fall, nine averaged one offside penalty or less per game. The five teams that had 20 or more were a combined 31-49 (.388), and none had a winning record.
“Our main focus is to cut down on the offside,” defensive tackle Jovan Haye said. “We had too many last season. And it was the situations when we were getting offside. It’s not like it was second-and-25 and we would get offside, it would be third-and-5 or second-and-4. We’re trying to put that out of here.”
In October, for example, the Titans led San Diego at halftime but fell behind when the Chargers scored on three of their first four second-half possessions. Two of those first three scoring drives included Tennessee offside penalties that resulted in first downs. Jason Babin jumped on second-and-3 from the Titans’ 17, and Haye did the same on a second-and-1 from the Tennessee 31.
Solving the problem is simple. At least it sounds that way.
Players at all levels are coached to watch the ball and go only when it moves, regardless of quarterback cadence, crowd noise or any other outside factors. After all, some defensive linemen start just inches from the ball, and none are more than a few yards away, so there never should an issue of whether they can see it.
“In terms of pass rushing, time is precious,” Ball said. “The ball is coming out fast. The slower you get off, the more time it’s going to take for the rush to start getting to the quarterback.
“A lot of times offenses will get into a rhythm, and you can kind of sense when the ball is going to be snapped based on the quarterback. You can get a sense of how he’s going. Then at that crucial time, he’ll change it up. It’s tough.”
Munchak has made clear that he expects things to be different this year — and he is not simply looking at the defensive line. He put his former charges, the offensive linemen, on notice as well about pre-snap penalties.
“It’s that fine line,” Munchak said. “You want guys getting off the ball. … You don’t want to discourage jumps and finding your keys, but we just have to do it smarter. We just had way too many of those last year on both sides, and that’s a penalty that frustrates all head coaches.”