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.
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.