Kevin Byard had the game of his life last Sunday when the Tennessee Titans met the Cleveland Browns. The AFC defensive player of the week was the deciding factor for the Titans as they won a 12-9 snooze fest against possibly the NFL’s worst team. The second year safety out of Middle Tennessee State intercepted three passes and was the most important player in the Titans defense that did not allow a touchdown last week.
Byard had only had one career interception before this game. He became the eighth player in franchise history to intercept three passes in a single game, and the first to accomplish this feat since Keith Bulluck in 2007.
The safety ended back to back drives for the Browns by intercepting quarterback Deshone Kizer. Kizer would eventually be benched for Cody Kessler, and Byard intercepted him too.
His first interception of the day came while the Titans were playing cover-2 man on first down as the Browns drove downfield.
Cleveland lines up with two receivers lined up to the right of Kizer and one towards his left. The two split wide receivers both run vertical routes against one on one man coverage. The linebackers stay underneath covering more shallower zones, and the entire Titans defense stays disciplined as Cleveland runs a play action. The Browns designed this play for the two peripheral receivers to draw the attention of the two deep safeties, allowing Rashard Higgins single coverage over the middle of the field with no safety help over the top. Higgins does a great job gaining separation from his defender and should have gotten open for a deep completion. Kizer overthrows his man though, and Byard jumps into action. The quarterback lets the ball sail on him and Byard in is perfect position to intercept the pass
This was also a failure of the Browns offense. Both of the Browns receivers on that side of the field ran routes into the exact same spot, allowing Byard to put himself in a position to make a play on both in case the ball was thrown in either of their direction.
His second interception of the day came on the Browns next possession in much different fashion.
Byard was lined up as a slot corner up close to the line of scrimmage. He picks up a winged tight end out of the backfield. The Titans show man coverage pre-snap with only one deep safety. Da’Norris Searcy (No. 21) is lined up as a deep safety, while Logan Ryan (No. 26) lines up across from receiver Bryce Treggs (No. 11). Ryan drops deep back to play as a deep safety while Searcy switches with him and comes forward to pick up Treggs on a deep crossing route.
Searcy is a little late getting to Treggs though, as his first few steps are backward. As Kizer rolls out of the pocket he spots Treggs running free between the layers of the defense. Byard reads the quarterback, though, and jumps off his shallower man to Treggs as the ball is thrown. He makes an athletic catch jumping backward and snags his second interception of the day.
Byard’s third interception came in the fourth quarter and helped the Titans protect a slim three-point lead.
Kessler has now entered the game for Kizer at this point as the Browns yet again made a change at quarterback. Cleveland lines up three wide, with tight end David Njoku running a route as well. They run a four verts play, and the speedy Njoku is able to get a step on the linebacker that picked him up in man coverage. The Titans are in cover 2 man, with Byard as one of the safeties in a deep zone. Kessler tries to fit a pass over the top to Njoku, but it’s terrible. It’s a slow pass, telegraphed by the quarterback before he threw it. Both of the Titans deep safeties read Kessler like a book and spring into action. The overthrown ball is intercepted in what was essentially a punt by the Browns offense. Even if the pass was on target, Njoku most likely would not have come down with it as there were three different defenders in position to land a hit on him.
Cleveland’s quarterbacks made it easy for him, but Byard essentially won the Titans the game. Tennessee’s offense was ineffective and practically useless all game, and had Byard not come down with these three turnovers, the Browns may have walked off the field with their first win Sunday.
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