Who would’ve thought we’d be here?
On the morning of October 14th, 2019, the Titans were sitting at 2-4.
They were fresh off of an embarrassing 16-0 loss in Denver, Marcus Mariota was in serious danger of losing his starting job, and the defense’s outstanding play was in jeopardy of being wasted.
Fast forward 2-3 months later, Ryan Tannehill is one game away from starting a Super Bowl in his old stomping grounds, Derrick Henry is on a monstrous tear (again), and AJ Brown might be on the verge of winning Rookie of The Year.
That’s a lot to take in.
This season has been nothing short of a roller coaster for the Titans, but I’m sure they wouldn’t change it for anything.
Before thinking about the big stage in Miami, the Titans have a gigantic roadblock standing in their way.
Patrick Mahomes is still young, and is in line for many more opportunities to win championships in the future.
But surely, Mahomes doesn’t want his season to end again with a title falling just short of his grasp.
Potentially the last game of the season for these 2 talented teams, so let’s not waste any time.
1. Derrick Henry Ready to Carry The Load Once Again
This postseason run for Derrick Henry has been nothing short of fantastic.
His 377 rushing yards in these playoffs are by far first among running backs. They also sit just 233 yards away for the most ever in a single playoff run.
He’s dominating on the ground, even when teams have tried to stack the box.
With those stacked boxes, come juicy opportunities for shot plays, which can ultimately stun an opponent and take air out of a stadium.
The Titans haven’t gotten a lot of those just yet, nor have they have a lot of success through the air period, but they just haven’t needed to go through the air much.
Not when Henry is ripping through defenses like this.
If you’re looking for a team to slow down Henry, then the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t your best candidate.
The Chiefs and Titans met week 10 & Derrick Henry had 188 rushing yards.
No defense has played an easier schedule of run offenses since that game than the Chiefs.
Despite the easiest schedule in the NFL, the Chiefs allowed 14% of runs to gain 10+ yards, 6th worst.
Again, not your best candidate.
Expect 25+ carries for Henry again, especially early to set the tone and get the Chief’s defense reeling a bit, as the weather is expected to be on the extreme chilly side.
2. How Much Can the Titans’ Defense Limit Patrick Mahomes?
Every team asks this same question leading up to their game against the Chiefs.
No one has found an answer though.
Mahomes and the Chiefs employ one of the best offenses the NFL has seen in decades.
Their passing game clicks so well, it’s like clockwork.
The Titans aren’t best suited to stop Mahomes, no defense is, but their best bet is to find a way to limit the maximum impact he can have on the game.
The easiest way is obviously to get pressure on Mahomes early and often, but the Titans aren’t particularly good at the sacking the quarterback thing.
They usually send 4 or less most of the time, sitting in zone and asking opposing quarterbacks to find the holes in coverage.
Thing is, when the Titans and Chiefs last met, Mahomes absolutely shredded zone defense.
Last meeting vs KC, Mike Vrabel’s defense made a big halftime adjustment.
1st half: 70% zone coverage
Mahomes also tore up man coverage, not as well as zone, but still at a high clip.
2nd half: 64% man to man coverage
Long story short, there’s no way to stop Mahomes, there might not even be a way to limit his impact in a way that it’s noticeable.
But if the Titans can somehow find a way to do so, then Derrick Henry and that ball control Titans offense will put the Chiefs in a LOT of trouble.
3. Special teams Battle Will Be Ultra Important
Playoff football is where special teams can make or break you.
Just take a look at last weeks’ divisional round game between Kansas City and Houston.
Today’s game is no different.
Let me throw some stats at you.
The Titans haven’t attempted a field goal in 4 games.
Kicker Greg Joseph, who was signed to the team late in the regular season, has only seen action in kickoffs so far for the Titans.
Even though the itch to kick might be great for Joseph, to combat it, he’s had the opportunity to show his willingness to tackle.
Which might not be much, but seeing any kicker tackle well is pure entertainment.
It’s selfish by me, but hey, I want what I want.
Moving on from my selfishness, I’ll throw a normal stat at you.
The Chiefs were 6th in the league in kickoff return average during the regular season.
A high kickoff return average is dangerous in the playoffs, as the riches of field position becomes even more precious during playoff time.
It’s especially dangerous when a speedster like Mecole Hardman is handling return duties.
The Titans got a personal look at Hardman’s game changing play, courtesy of a ridiculous Mahomes jump pass.
If Joseph, and even Brett Kern, can’t keep the ball out of Hardman’s hands, the Titans could be on the wrong end of the crucial special teams battle.
Bonus Outlook: The Tales of Speaking Ill of Derrick Henry
Today, we woke up to see ANOTHER opposing player speaking ill of Derrick Henry.
If you’ve followed along with the Titans’ postseason journey, speaking wrongly of the Titans and/or Henry hasn’t gone well.
We had Kyle Van Noy’s “revenge tour” talk during the week of Titans-Patriots.
We had Earl Thomas talking down the difficult of tackling Derrick Henry.
That resulted in Thomas becoming a meme.
Earl Thomas: “Those guys didn’t seem too interested in tackling [Henry]. I think our mindset is a little different.”
Also Earl Thomas: pic.twitter.com/9lrp7P3ulh
— Justin Graver (@titansfilmroom) January 12, 2020
Today, we found out Frank Clark of the Chiefs went down the same road as the 2 examples above, even speaking the same language as Earl Thomas.
Oh lord, the full quote just adds fuel to the fire. #Titans
— TreJean Watkins (@TreWatkins099) January 18, 2020
When will they ever learn?
We’ll see how Henry reacts to the talking, but based on the last 2 times, you can bet on Henry taking that talk and running all over it.
Stats for Chiefs’ Run Defense & Titans’ Secondary Via Warren Sharp
Flip the page for my prediction of the game