Chiefs Defensive Preview: Tennessee Titans

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Nate looks ahead to Sunday to see how the Chiefs defense can attack the Titans offense.

After a thrilling win against the Minnesota Vikings, the Chiefs go back on the road this week, facing the 4-5 Tennessee Titans. While their record isn’t great, they’re still a challenge. While their offense isn’t great, how will the Chiefs go about defending the Titans, and where can they find success? That’s all broken down in this preview of the Titans’ offense.

Scouting Report

In terms of total yards, Tennessee is 26th in the league, posting only 313.4 yards per game. For reference, the Broncos have put up 311 yards per game. Tennessee is 18th in the running game, putting up 100.8 yards per game, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, 21st in the league. That puts them at 212.9 yards per game in the passing game, 24th in the league. This is one of the worst offenses the Chiefs have faced all year, they really struggle to move the ball consistently.

At quarterback, the Titans have gone through a lot of turmoil already this season. After originally starting Marcus Mariota, the Titans eventually switched to Ryan Tannehill. As of now, Tannehill is the starter for this team. Tannehill isn’t the worst quarterback the Chiefs have faced (Hello, Joe Flacco), but he’s very low on the list. Still, he throws well, while also being able to extend plays with his feet occasionally.

At the skill positions, the Titans haven’t been able to get consistent production. If they are good at one skill position though, it’s running back. Derrick Henry is the bell-cow back, who runs between the tackles 20-25 times a game. He may not have the best breakaway speed, but he plays with great contact balance while also having solid vision to see cutback lanes. Dion Lewis is their receiving back, who only comes in on obvious passing downs.

At receiver, the Titans haven’t been able to find consistent production from anyone besides Corey Davis. Davis is slowly turning into a very good player, who runs well in space and can be a weapon with the ball in his hands. Still, he’s not unbeatable, and we should be able to defend him by bracketing him. A.J. Brown is the young rookie receiver on the other side, and while I love his potential, he hasn’t put it all together yet. Taywan Sharpe is their #3 receiver, and while he’s played better since Tannehill has came in, he isn’t a serious threat.

At tight end, Delanie Walker still holds down the position. Walker may not be able to run very well anymore, but he still has consistent hands, converting many first downs at the sticks. He’s still a threat against our linebackers.

The offensive line of the Titans isn’t terrible, but they aren’t exactly good. At tackle, Taylor Lewan holds down the left side, with Jack Conklin the other. As their careers progress, they continually get worse for some reason, with neither being at their peak in 3-4 seasons. Rodger Safford plays left guard, Ben Jones is the center, with Nate Davis playing right guard. This unit has a lot of noticeable names, but they really struggle against blitzes and stunts, and the interior line struggles in the run game.

Moving on, let’s look at the tape to decide if Tennessee is a difficult matchup.

How to Defend Tennessee’s Run Game

One thing that’s a core staple of the Tennessee offense is jet motion. I didn’t chart their snaps, but at least 30-40% of their snaps had some sort of jet motion incorporated into them. This helps them pull the linebackers against the run, so they can run pitch or zone to the opposite side. Since the linebackers are keying sweep, the tackle can pull easily, with help from the receiver sealing the defensive end, and there’s a lot of green grass to run through.

Eye discipline is going to determine the outcome of this football game. If the Chiefs can watch the offensive lineman and see them pulling off the snap, they will be able to scrape to the edge easily, and be able to blow up plays immediately.

Another snap, another jet sweep, but this is their more common play off of it, where they will run Iso but don’t necessarily assign a hole for the running back to run through. Instead, Tennessee relies on the patience and vision of Derrick Henry to see a hole and hit it. Henry isn’t Marlon Mack, but he will make you pay if you aren’t gap-disciplined.

I know, I’m cheating, since this is a pass, but I put it here to recognize that Ryan Tannehill definitely can run. While he has a big body, he can move around and create yards with his legs. He’s very similar to Alex Smith in the sense that when there’s pressure in the pocket, he’s going to scramble and escape. The Chiefs would be smart to try and keep a QB spy on Tannehill at all times, since he will create many yards with his legs if you don’t.

How to Defend Tennessee’s Passing Game

The Chiefs have struggled out of empty formations this season, putting themselves in sub-optimal positions with linebackers in man coverage. Unfortunately, the Titans run a lot of empty formation with Ryan Tannehill.

Their favorite passing concept out of empty formation is to have the two guys on the trips side run curls, and either the #2 or #3 receivers run a dig across the middle of the field. On the weak-side, the RB out wide runs a whip route, and the WR runs a 9 route downfield. The main goal out of this concept is to get the linebackers to bite on the curl routes, and opening the middle of the field for Tannehill to deliver an easy throw to the dig route. He doesn’t here, but if he does, the receiver has a lot of green grass to run through.

Similar to Minnesota, the Titans run a ton of play action with Tannehill, hoping to give him easy throws instead of complicated reads. The process by how they do it is different though. As I mentioned above, the Titans run a lot of jet sweep, hoping to pull the linebackers to the motion. Then, they run play action, but they don’t develop the long routes like Minnesota does. They prefer to throw it quick, usually with curls and slants.

I think the Chiefs should try and press a lot more this week, considering that Tannehill doesn’t like to hold the ball for very long. He wants to dump it off quick. If they can defend the quick slant they can try and make him progress through his reads, where he struggles more.

The Titans run a lot of screens, but they run some misdirection off of it. Faking the bubble screen to the Z receiver, the running back leaks out for the second screen, having a ton of green grass to run through.

Screens terrify me this week. The Chiefs have really struggled to defend them 2 weeks in a row, since the linebackers have been so aggressive against the run. It’s going to have to be something they practice a lot during the week, because Tennessee will destroy you with their screens, if you let them.

Something the Titans offensive line really struggles at is against stunts from the defensive line. Carolina ran a lot of Tex stunts against Tennessee, and they really struggled to pick them up. A Tex stunt is where the defensive tackles cross upfield, then the defensive ends loop to the A gap, forcing the center to make a decision. Since the guards can’t communicate the switch on the defensive tackle, it leaves one free rusher who can make a play very quickly, without a blocker available to pick him up.

I’ve personally felt the Chiefs have been pretty conservative with their stunts this year. They’ve ran them a decent amount, around 18% on the snaps I’ve charted, but the type of stunts haven’t been creative yet. They may be wanting to keep them for the postseason, but this may be a week to get a little more creative with them.

Conclusion

Not going to lie, I talked up the Titans quite a bit in this article. While they don’t have the personnel of the Vikings, they are a very sound schematic team, with a solid play caller who puts his quarterback in very successful spots to make plays.

Unfortunately for them, Tannehill just doesn’t make those plays. He isn’t terrible, but he just doesn’t throw consistently enough to make every throw possible. That hurts Tennessee’s ability to push the ball downfield, which puts extra defenders in the box.

If the Chiefs keep proper eye discipline and don’t bite on the fakes the Titans present, they should have a very successful week on defense. With Patrick Mahomes (probably) coming back, I expect a very motivated defense on Sunday, trying to prove they can play well, even with Mahomes around. With great offensive and defensive performances, I’m predicting the Chiefs to win comfortably, 37-21, improving to 7-3.

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CHIEFSandSABRES

Any chance we see DOD on the field this week?

MisterCDavid
MisterCDavid

You mention that the Titans run a ton of jet-motion…who are they using with that motion? If the guy is fast enough couldn’t you block pitch to the opposite side and run the jet sweep? If the LBs were “disciplined” they would key off the guards, take false steps and would have no chance to recover granted the jet sweep man was fast enough.