Chiefs vs Titans: Initial Thoughts on Matchup

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Nate shares his initial thoughts on the AFC Championship game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tennessee Titans

We’re moving on to the AFC Championship! After a complete roller coaster of a game against the Texans, we have a chance to continue our revenge tour against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday! While I’ll have a scouting report out about them later in the week (along with a Texans review), let’s talk about some of my initial thoughts about the matchup, just like a week ago.

All Starts With Derrick Henry

Whenever you talk about Tennessee, it all starts with their running back, Derrick Henry. Since December 1, Henry has 982 scrimmage yards in 6 games. He’s been an absolute force, not just running the ball, but in the passing and screen game, as well. In the past two weeks, 64 carries, 377 yards, 3 catches for 29 yards, a passing and a rushing touchdown. Everything they want to do, whether schematically or just to impose their will, starts with Henry.

Expect Kansas City to go into a lot of heavier fronts, with Reggie Ragland, Derrick Nnadi, and Mike Pennel as base players. If we can prevent Henry from breaking the long runs, with our offense we should be fine. This is the week where run defense really matters. Have the Chiefs improved, or was it all a smoke screen?

A.J. Brown and Play Action Game

The problem is, when you stack up against the run so much, you can get beat deep by Tannehill. When they aren’t running, the Titans run play action. Tannehill makes a living off of it, throwing to A.J. Brown and others deep downfield on some of their deep Over and Post routes.

For the Chiefs, eye discipline is important. If they are going to play a lot of single high coverage and man underneath, they can’t afford to lose track on receivers, or Tannehill will beat you. Make him beat you on 3rd down.

Amazing Run Blocking OL

Over their last 8 games, the reason why they’ve had such a resurgence besides Henry is the fantastic offensive line of the Titans. They aren’t necessarily great in pass protection, but they are awesome when they run. Taylor Lewan and Rodger Safford are elite on the left side of the line, and Ben Jones, Jack Conklin, and Ben Davis are maulers in the run game. In their inside zone/counter blocking scheme, they open up holes laterally, allowing Henry to run downhill into the second level uncontested.

The Chiefs interior lineman can’t be getting washed out of gaps. If they can contain these gaps and control the line of scrimmage, Henry won’t wreck your day. If you are poor upfront though, Henry will wreck you. For me, this game sits on the interior defensive lineman, Chris Jones, Nnadi, Pennel, and Khalen Saunders. If all of them are assignment-sound against the run, we’re in good shape next week.

Young Trio in Front 7

The reason why Tennessee was able to neutralize the run game of the Ravens so much was the elite trio that Tennessee has up front. Both their defensive tackles, Jurrell Casey and Jeffrey Simmons, along with young star linebacker Rashaan Evans made Baltimore completely abandon their plans at the LOS. Casey and Simmons both had a sack, and Evans did a really good job forcing Jackson to work inside out in the run game.

If our offense struggles with one thing, it’s stopping interior defensive lineman. Unfortunately, that’s where Tennessee creates the majority of their pressure. Meanwhile, Evans is everywhere on the field, and running the ball at him will be tough. If we can’t block these guys upfront, we may have a very long day in front of us offensively.

Good In The Middle of Field

Tennessee doesn’t have an elite secondary without Malcolm Butler, but they’re really good in the middle of the field. Kevin Byard is possibly the best safety in the NFL and Kenny Vaccaro is also really good on the backend. Both eliminate a lot of deep plays downfield, while also being good tacklers and having fantastic ball skills. Logan Ryan mainly plays in the slot, but he’s had a resurgence as the year has gone on as the slot defender.

Patrick Mahomes has to be careful when throwing against these guys, because they’ll get their hands on a lot of footballs. We can’t win this game with a lot of turnovers, so making sure we protect the ball is huge for this game. Also, throwing at the boundary corners of the Titans can be successful for the Chiefs. Without Butler, Adoree Jackson and Trumaine Brock can be exposed underneath.

Blitzing

One way Tennessee did have success against Baltimore is with the blitz. They were able to force Jackson off his first read, and get some crucial sacks against him. Tennessee will likely incorporate that same idea this week against Kansas City, trying to force Mahomes to drift to his right a lot, with a guy in his face.

Kansas City will have to be able to pick up what Tennessee wants to do up front, but if they can, we can take advantage behind them. Tennessee doesn’t really have the personnel to play a lot of man coverage, so as long as Mahomes stays upright and has time to make plays in the pocket, we should be able to have a lot of success against their leaky man coverage.

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trelyday03

Just gonna throw this out there. The Titans needed the Chiefs to invent a way to lose that even the Chargers would be jealous of back in the regular season. Derrick Henry and the run game low on my list of concerns

Tyrone

Just some of the stupidity from the offense that game. This does’t even include the defense. Left a million points on the field.
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SonOfaVeach
SonOfaVeach

The Chiefs need to stack 8 in the box. Zero coverage all day. Don’t let the Titans control the pace of the game. We might give up some big passes, but at least we won’t fall into TEN game plan. If nothing else, we turn this into a shoot out which I think favors KC every time. If we play cover 2 and allow Henry to get 5-7 yards a carry and control the game, we are toast.

WTF_Chiefs
WTF_Chiefs

Nnadi, Pennel, Williams and Saunders and Jones in particular, are going to have to engage blockers directly and move LOS backwards…..Stack then shed …They won’t get away with”picking a side” and get washed early in zone scheme or Henry will find the cut back……Going to have to have DeVito type effort on run downs where they enjoy directly taking on blocks and anchoring in gaps and let the LBs fit and fill with DEs setting edges

3rdnlong
3rdnlong

I’m impressed by Tennessee’s DC. He seems to always know what kind of defense to bring against different teams. This will be a lot closer than people think.

Slayer0810
Slayer0810

Maybe. But the QBs of the teams they’ve played (an old TB12 and a RB playing QB) don’t present nearly the threat that Mahomes does. PMII can make plays inside the pocket, outside the pocket, on the move, and also with his legs (though he doesn’t very often, because he’s always looking down the field).

The “make the [insert opposing team here] one-dimensional” strategy that the Titans used so successfully against Baltimore just doesn’t work with the Chiefs. We’ll be just fine if our “one dimension” includes PMII slinging the ball to Kelce, Hill, DWilliams, etc.

BleedingRedAndGold

I think it tends to get overlooked a bit, but this offense is built for comebacks, and they know it – and not just from the last game. Also, while the one-dimensional formula is cited a lot, how do you force the other team to try to beat you with a running game? The formula calls for the opposite of that.

My main hope is that the offense takes the field firing on all cylinders, but I suspect they haven’t overlooked the warning that sputtering in the first quarter sent them. Gotta come out sharp on Sunday.

WTF_Chiefs
WTF_Chiefs

With Titans getting another LB injured last week, I wonder if Andy won’t go some 21 personnel with Williams and Shady, to force Titans to run lesser LB then flex Kelce out and motion Williams out wide and then let Pat pick best matchup…..would like Williams or Shady vs 2nd LB(or even Evans if can make him have to turn hips) or Kelce if motion catches Safety running outside with back

Armychiefj
Armychiefj

If the Titans blitz in such a way that Mahomes can consistently escape to the right, the Chiefs are going to win by roughly 1 million points.

MasterChief
MasterChief

I would think their blitzes would help our screen game too.

irafreak
irafreak

I think turnovers are th big deal. The titans have played sound football. We can’t give them free possessions or henry will wear us out

DaChefs
DaChefs

Also, Mahomes is going to throw another 5 touchdowns. Mark it down.

DaChefs
DaChefs

IIRC the last time they played, they pretty much had Henry wrapped up early. Then the D began to tire out in the 4th and Henry started steam rolling. How do you counter that? How do you keep the D fresh into the 4th quarter?

Maw423
Maw423

Only way to stop Henry in the 4th is to have a big lead.

WTF_Chiefs
WTF_Chiefs

Keep offense on field once you have multiple score lead…….don’t take home run shots in late 3rd and early 4th unless you’ve already possessed the ball for 3+ minutes of game time and defense has had time to gather themselves…….much rather play prevent offense with Pat controlling the “dink and dunk” than playing a prevent defense

SuperMegaChief
SuperMegaChief

If they gang tackle Henry, they have to grab him by the upper legs and lift. I saw the Ravens start to take his legs out from under him by the end of their game and it seemed to limit his yards after initial contact.

starry1

Nice write up and I agree with all of your points. I think stopping Henry at the line is key because we can’t expect our DBs to handle all that bulk Henry has. Other than Mathieu, it would be too hard to bring Henry down.

BleedingRedAndGold

While Dirty Dan may or may not have the power to bring Henry down on his own, I doubt he’s gonna shy away from hitting him. As far as the DBs vs Henry goes, first guy’s gotta latch on so the rest can swarm to the tackle. Additionally, unlike years past this corps of DBs has willing tacklers.

Speed, power, and technique are all important in the tackling department, but will and want play a big role, too. That said, I agree with you, the front 7, DLine especially, are going to have to do the heavy lifting when it comes to stopping Henry, because that guy runs like a freight train. Gotta derail him before he gets up to speed.

ArrowFan
ArrowFan

Sounds good, this matchup will be the best against the best. The best-run slash play-action game against the best straight-up passing attack. It should be fun the key against any team that feasts on running the ball is to score lots of points forcing them out of the run game. If we can pull another multi-score 2nd quarter this game could be over before half time.

Slayer0810
Slayer0810

According to the Titans fans today, they’ll run even if they’re down by 2+ scores. We’ve got to get a lead early, then be able to answer any scoring drives they make with our own. Seems stupidly obvious, but if we’re ahead early and then match them score for score, we win.