This Sunday the AFC Championship Game will feature two of the NFL’s hottest teams when the Kansas City Chiefs face the Tennessee Titans. The No. 6 seed Titans and No. 2 seed Chiefs will face off at Arrowhead Stadium with the Lamar Hunt Trophy and a spot in Super Bowl LIV on the line.
In week 10, the Chiefs traveled to Tennessee to take on the Titans, with the Titans defeating the Chiefs 35-32. This week 10 game was the return of the 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes after missing roughly 3 games due to a dislocated kneecap. In his return, Mahomes looked fantastic, going 36/50, for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns. The 446 yards were the second-most yards thrown in a game in his career. Also in the game, wide receiver Tyreek Hill caught 11 passes for 157 yards and 1 touchdown. In total, the Chiefs racked up 530 total yards, which is the highest mark of the season and the fourth-highest mark under Andy Reid. The Chiefs would give up their early lead and end up losing, but it wasn’t because of the Titans, it was themselves, due to multiple mistakes.
The first mistake in that game were penalties. In that game, the Chiefs were flagged 9 times for 80 yards, one of which cost them points in the first quarter after only scoring a field goal, instead of a touchdown after a strip sack that gave the ball to the Chiefs on the Titans 20-yard line. The four points could have been the difference as the Chiefs lost by three.
Another mistake was a Damien Williams fumble, which led to a scoop and score for Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans which gave the Titans a 13-10 lead.
For most of the first half, the Chiefs contained running back Derrick Henry. Before the two-minute warning, Henry only had 23 yards rushing, but after the two-minute warning he would go on to finish the game with 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. The non-containment of Henry was a huge mistake by the Chiefs as it was his second career game with 180-plus rushing yards to date.
The last two mistakes revolved around special teams and the kicking game. With about a minute and a half remaining in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs lined up to kick a field goal to extend their lead to 8 points, 35-27, but there was miscommunication between long snapper James Winchester and holder Dustin Colquitt, leading to Colquitt throwing the ball out of bounds and being penalized for intentional grounding which gave Tennessee great field position.
The field position led to Tennessee scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion, taking a 35-32 lead. The Chiefs got down the field in two plays and lined up for a 52-yard field goal to send the game to overtime, but the field goal was blocked and Tennessee captured the win.
Let’s flash forward to now. The Kansas City Chiefs have won 7 straight games and are one of the NFL’s hottest teams. Mahomes is the healthiest he has been since the start of the season. The defense has stepped up and is playing the best they have all year, averaging 10.4 points per game allowed in the month of December. The Chiefs are coming off of a comeback win over the Texans, where they fell behind 24-0 in the second quarter and finished the game outscoring the Texans 51-7, including 41 straight unanswered points. Mahomes and the dominant offense, who ranked fifth in total points scored and sixth in yards per game in the regular season, will go against a Tennessee defense led by former Chiefs linebacker, Mike Vrabel. On the defensive side, the Chiefs have stepped it up and ranked 6th in pass coverage according to DVOA. The Chiefs are playing their best football at the right time and are hosting their second straight AFC Championship Game. The Chiefs lost in heartbreaking fashion last year to the Patriots and are on a revenge tour to get to the Super Bowl, which they haven’t won in 50 years.
Looking at the Tennessee Titans, they are another one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now. Derrick Henry is on a tear as he has three straight games with 180-plus yards rushing. In their two games in the playoffs, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has thrown for under 100 yards in each game. Derrick Henry has accounted for 65% of the Titans total yards in the playoffs and is on pace to set the record. The only other player to account for 60% of a team’s total yards in the playoffs was Eric Dickerson, who accounted for 63%. Derrick Henry is the workhorse back that is the engine for the Titans offense. In each of these games the Titans are killing time of possession, putting pressure on offenses to throw the ball heavily. The Titans are the cinderella story of the NFL Playoffs and season. The team started the season 2-4, and in week 7 Marcus Mariota was replaced with Ryan Tannehill, who helped the team fight back to 9-7 and squeeze into the playoffs as the 6 seed. In the playoffs, the Titans upset the defending Super Bowl Champion, New England Patriots on the road and then upset the No.1 seed Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore. The Titans have a chance to make their first Super Bowl since 1999 and capture their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history.
Keys For The Titans
- Continuing the Dominance of Derrick Henry
The Titans success revolves around Derrick Henry. The 6 foot 5, 250 pound running back is one of the hardest runners in the league and is hard to bring down. The only way to stop him from gaining any yards is to stop him behind the line of scrimmage, which rarely happens. Henry ran all over the Chiefs in their first meeting, including a 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. The Chiefs defense allowed 128.2 rushing yards per game, which ranked 26th during the regular season. Derrick Henry is going to be given the ball throughout the entire game, but the offensive line is going to have to get him holes for him to dominate the Chiefs defense.
2. Own Time of Possession
The one way to defeat the Chiefs offense is to keep them off the field. In the Chiefs two losses against the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts this season, they were dominated in time of possession. The key is for the Titans to get Derrick Henry the ball early and often, as they have done throughout their first two games in the Wild Card and Divisional Round games. Running the ball with Derrick Henry constantly will tire out the Chiefs defense, leading to holes for him to get into open space for long runs. Keeping Mahomes and the offense off of the field limits the scoring opportunities the Chiefs have. If the Titans can win the time of possession battle, they will have put themselves in a good spot to win the game.
Keys For The Chiefs
- Get Out To An Early Lead
The Chiefs need to get out to an early lead in this game. Getting an early lead puts pressure on the Titans, leading to them throwing the ball earlier than they want and more often than they want. The Chiefs ranked 6th in passing defense in the regular season according to DVOA, so the Chiefs feel confident that making Tannehill throw more will lead to better results. Also, getting an early lead puts the Titans offense at a fast pace of play, meaning they will struggle with time of possession. If the Chiefs can force the Titans to throw the ball it will put them out of their comfort zone.
2. Contain Derrick Henry
I know it is way easier said than done, but the Chiefs defense has to contain Derrick Henry to win this game. There is going to have to be some creativity in doing this, but it is possible. A scheme that could work is a 6-1 scheme for the front seven, which the Patriots used in the Super Bowl last year. Rush 6 guys at the line of scrimmage and leave one linebacker in the natural position. Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens said that this week “you have to take out the engine,” meaning you have to take Henry down by his legs. Again, that is easier said than done, but the plan is put in place, just the execution needs to match it. Also, have Tyrann Mathieu blitz more. He has a unique talent to blitz as a safety, so Spagnuolo should use the raw ability he has. There is no way to completely stop Henry, but if you can contain him to under 140 yards and 1 touchdown, the Chiefs can call that a success.
3. Do Not Take Your Foot Off the Gas Andy!!
Throughout his tenure with the Chiefs and his career, Andy Reid has been known to take his foot off the gas when he gets a lead. You saw this happen in the first meeting and the last team these two teams met in the playoffs. Last week was different. Once the Chiefs got the lead over the Texans, there was no looking back. Reid kept his foot on the gas, putting up a total of 51 points in the decisive comeback victory. Reid has to do the same thing this week. The more of a lead you have on the Titans, the more pressure they feel to pass the ball and not win the time of possession battle. Keep showcasing the dominant offense that is built around Mahomes and don’t give the Titans any hope of a comeback.
The loudest stadium in the world, Arrowhead Stadium, will be rocking this Sunday as the Chiefs host their second straight AFC Championship Game and the realm does not plan on having their revenge tour end at the same point their season did last year. The Titans cinderella story continues this week, but do they survive another week and pull off another upset? This AFC Championship Game will be the first game of the two on Sunday, with a chance to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV.