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Know Your Enemy: Tennessee Titans Safety, Kenny Vaccaro

What does this former divisional rival bring to the field in Week 8?

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off of their bye week after losing “at home” to the Carolina Panthers in Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season. Their next opponent is the Tennessee Titans with back-up turned starter Ryan Tannehill leading the offense and a stingy defense who will be looking to send Jameis Winston’s career stock plummeting further by the fifth-year quarterback his fifth loss of the year.

One guy on the Tennessee defense who is worthy of pointing out directly is strong safety, Kenny Vaccaro.


Valero Bowl - Texas v Oregon State Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As a first-round pick in 2013, Vaccaro joined the New Orleans Saints one year after their 7-9 season without head coach Sean Payton due to the bounty scandal that helped derail a team which had been to the playoffs three years in a row and had one a Super Bowl following the 2009 season.

His time in New Orleans started off well as the team made it back to the playoffs in his rookie season, but then went on to miss the playoffs three years in a row. In his final year with the Saints, the team went 11-5 and earned the right to play in the post-season where they lost on the famed “Minneapolis Miracle” touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs.

Upon his departure from the Saints organization, ESPN’s Mike Triplett wrote,

“Vaccaro’s time in New Orleans will unfortunately be remembered for his unrealized potential, particularly if he finally goes on to make his first Pro Bowl or more now that he is destined to leave in free agency. But Vaccaro was never just “serviceable” or “solid” or “ordinary”.”

Vaccaro was on to new beginnings and he found one in Tennessee, signing a one-year deal in 2018. Since then, he’s been re-signed to a four-year contract which will expire following the 2022 season and will likely see him in Nashville until at least the end of next season due to guarantees and dead cap values.

His re-signing came off of a solid season where he played thirteen games for Mike Vrabel’s squad and turned in 41 tackles with two sacks and one interception.


NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

These days, one of Vaccaro’s goals has to be staying healthy. While there are only so many things an individual player can do to impact this, Vaccaro would almost assuredly love to be able to play in all sixteen games this season after missing at least three in each season since 2015.

He would likely also like to get his hands on the football more, as he had just one interceptions last season, tying is second-lowest interception output of his career. In 2015, he had no interceptions and he had just one in his rookie season as well.

Of course, interceptions aren’t the biggest part of Vaccaro’s game, but still, what defensive back doesn’t love the idea of plucking the ball out of the air and running it the opposite direction. It’s fun.

So, because of this, he’s likely salivating at the idea of playing against the NFL’s leading interception thrower in Jameis Winston, especially considering he threw five interceptions in his last outing alone.

But there’s more to what Vaccaro will look to do for the Titans defense this Sunday, and there are things about his game the Buccaneers can hope to play on, to get their own successes in Week 8.


o Versatility

His ability to play against the run and cover isn’t what folks thought it would be when he came to the NFL, but he can still help out in coverage and help stack up against the running game when needed to.

The fact Tennessee trusts him enough in both departments helps out the defense as they have less to adjust to once the offense comes to the line of scrimmage. The less a defense has to move and switch assignments, the fewer chances they’ll miss one or go to the wrong spot.

Having a versatile safety to lean on will be big against Tampa Bay’s offense as they look to force and find mismatches on the field.

o Closing

Notice I didn’t write, “Closing Speed”, because it’s not speed that helps him get into opposing backfields or get after quarterbacks when asked to blitz.

When Vaccaro looks to penetrate or close a gap between he and a ball carrier, he does it all the way. And this can lead to some big hits and missed blocks if offensive players aren’t aware of his willingness to sell out once he’s made up his mind to get after it.


o Biting

You may have known this was coming. As is the case with a lot of players who click and close with maximum aggression, they can also get caught way out of position if they chose to do so unwisely.

Play-action is something Jameis Winston does pretty well and has a lot of success doing in his career. Vaccaro is jus the kind of safety an offense like this one can exploit if they catch him selling out to stop the run, leaving a receiver wide open where he was supposed to be.

o Long Coverage

Vaccaro’s versatility as a guy who can play the run and help in pass defense gets less and less true the further he gets away from the line of scrimmage. Playing routes breaking and finishing in front of him, he’s okay. But if a receiver pushes him up field and gets past him, then the Titans better hope they have help or the quarterback throws off the mark.

This was incredibly evident in Week 7 against the Los Angeles Chargers who abused Vaccaro and fellow safety Kevin Byard, getting Hunter Henry six receptions for 97-yards. Henry won his match-up with Titans safeties so much, I was confused as to why the Chargers didn’t look to exploit the obvious mismatch more often early in the game.

While Henry didn’t get into the end zone and while his team lost the game, what Los Angeles did was expose a big weakness in the Tennessee Titans defense for offenses with talented receiving tight ends. Just so happens the Bucs have a few of those.

While O.J. Howard will miss this game with a hamstring injury, Cameron Brate is no ordinary back-up.

Brate is currently fifth on the team in receptions with twelve, and has amassed 119-yards of offense with two touchdown receptions from quarterback, Jameis Winston.

The connection of Brate and Winston goes back before Howard’s arrival, so the absence of the third-year tight end will not be appreciated, but won’t be detrimental either.

With the potential absence of Howard a possibility, if not likelihood, this opens the door potentially for tight end Tanner Hudson to dress against the Titans. Hudson showed strong receiving ability during the pre-season, and could find some opportunities to make an impact in this game if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense tries to expose the weaknesses in Vaccaro’s game.