Tennessee Titans Defensive Preview: Henry And Play Action

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Nate looks at what the Kansas City Chiefs defense must do to slow down Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans rushing attack

We’re back! After a long time of waiting for this moment, we’re back in the AFC Championship again! This time around, we face the Tennessee Titans, who beat us in week 10. This time, how can we get the win, and move on to the Super Bowl? We break all that down here.

Personnel

In terms of personnel it’s mainly the same, but we’ll highlight it again since it’s been a while.

At quarterback, Tennessee plays Ryan Tannehill, who’s been sort of a revelation for them. While he struggles against pressure and only had 15 completions in 2 games, he throws a beautiful deep ball and is able to stretch out teams that overcommit against the run.

At running back, it all starts with Derrick Henry. Henry is a very violent, physical runner, who when he hits the hole has elite 4.5 speed and 250 lbs of running downhill. While he’s really good in their zone blocking scheme, the earlier you hit him, the better he gets as a game goes on. Dion Lewis is the other running back, but he’s exclusively their third down back, who can catch out of the backfield. They’ll use Henry on some screens and swing routes, but he’s definitely not a great receiving back.

At wide receiver, the Titans have had to undergo a lot of turmoil. They do have one very consistent option in rookie A.J. Brown, though. While Brown only has 2 catches for 13 yards during these playoffs, he had over 1000 yards in the regular season. He’s a very good route runner, but he’s also the main vertical threat Tannehill throws to. Besides that, they don’t have a ton of guys at receiver. Corey Davis is their Z receiver, and he’s been a bust in his career. Adam Humphries is a good slot receiver, but he’s injured right now. Kalif Reymond is a deep threat, but he only runs two routes, the post and the go route. So, outside of A.J. Brown, we don’t have to worry about any of these guys on the outside.

At tight end, the Titans will play a lot of 12 personnel. Jonnu Smith is a really good, speedy tight end that honestly functions more as a receiver, but he’s also a good blocker. Anthony Firkser is a talented tight end who can block and runs an excellent slant route.

For the offensive line, Taylor Lewan is the left tackle, who’s in the Eric Fisher class of above average left tackles. In week 10, Frank Clark dominated Lewan for the most part. Rodger Safford is a stud at left guard, who they mainly use as their lead blocker in their zone blocking scheme. Having Ben Jones back at center establishes their physical tone on the offensive line. Nate Davis at right guard is really athletic. Jack Conklin, while not great in pass protection, does set a very physical tone in the run game. While these guys are excellent in their run blocking scheme, they struggle to pick up stunts and blitzes from the defensive line, which should play in the hands of the Chiefs.

Tennessee Running Game

Tennessee is an inside zone team, who moves in unison as an offensive line. Using their very athletic guards, especially Safford, they use them as lead blockers to open holes. By being really athletic and physical, they’re able to get Henry running downhill into the second level.

For the Chiefs, they need to get some of these safeties and linebackers to time the snap count well, and instantly fill a gap and get upfield. If we force Henry to stop his feet, we’re going to stop him. We can do that by instantly hitting him in the backfield. Look for Reggie Ragland and Tyrann Mathieu to try and hit Henry early and often.

One way they’re able to hit so many of these zone runs is by using Tannehill in a bootleg form, forcing the back-side defensive end to play contain on the bootleg/sprint out pass. This gives Henry one more option to hit the hole with, giving him an alley for running at a safety downhill.

When we played these guys last time, Chris Jones had to play a lot of defensive end, and he was susceptible to some of these rollouts. Luckily, this time around, we have two very intelligent and athletic defensive ends in Frank Clark and Terrell Suggs, and they won’t be fooled by this. They’ll know when it’s run or not, and they have the athleticism to recover on these plays. We should be fine.

Besides zone, it’s mainly HB power out of the Titans. They’ll pull their back-side guard, in this case Safford, and run Henry behind it. Baltimore did a really good job defending this by having their safety fill the hole of the puller and their defensive end scrape across the play to get in the backfield. In Power, space is more constricted, which should play into the hands of the Chiefs.

Tennessee’s Passing Game

Tennessee’s favorite route concept, especially near the red zone, is to run some of these angle and slant routes in the red zone. Using their elite speed of their tight ends, they’re able to open up space for an easy throw for Tannehill. If they’re going to face man coverage, expect a lot of slants. This could be an easy way for Tyrann Mathieu to get a pick by robbing one of these routes.

Tennessee is a play action team. They don’t run many obvious, set passing plays with complex route patterns the way the Chiefs do, they almost exclusively use play action. How they like to do it is by bringing their Z receiver into a tight set, then using him as a blocker, then releasing on an Under route. The #1 receiver to the boundary side runs a Go route, then the tight end runs an over route across the field. While this is a low-percentage throw, they’re able to hit it because everyone is so focused on the run from Henry. As long as we take away that Over route though, we’ll get a stop.

Besides that over route, the main route they’re trying to hit in play action is the post route. This works here, because everyone, including the two deep safeties, bite for the run. As the free safety fills his alley on the run, the wide receiver runs a fantastic route, and Tannehill has an easy throw for a touchdown. Eye discipline is important this week, but Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are going to have to play excellent games on the outside, making sure they don’t get beat with their eyes.

Conclusion

Tennessee is good, guys. They’re really good at running the ball and with play action. The main way we can stop this is by blitzing and getting Tennessee into a pass-happy script. If the offense does their job, we’re going to be able to force them to play left-handed, which plays right into Steve Spagnuolo’s hands.

While Henry may have yards, if we limit the big plays, we’ll win this game. Give me Chiefs, 31-24, with the offense closing out the game for the Chiefs. This one is for Clark Hunt. Now, let’s get the Lombardi for Andy…

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alsi2
alsi2

Never did see much, if any, mention by Chiefs fans and writers regarding the Titans defense. I guess we’re confident enough in Mahomes and Co. to do as well as they’ve been doing the past couple/few games that we’re not concerned about their defense. Hope that isn’t a sign of overlooking something important that should have garnered some attention. Not that it matters what we all talk about. It’s the Chiefs coaches and players that actually do the work that matters. I suspect they’ve been preparing thoroughly.

RDD India
RDD India

Awesome read Nate! Great work! 👍👍👍 I got answers to few of my questions esp. how to stop Henry and if so, who can do it. Awesome read.

Warpath
Warpath

Thanks Nate. Good stuff.

gonzangkc11
gonzangkc11

Watch “Kansas City is bathed in red to celebrate the Chiefs’ push toward the Super Bowl” on YouTube