Travis Kelce vs. Titans linebackers and safeties
The Titans’ struggles with defending tight ends is well documented. They’ve gotten tattooed by the likes of Jack Doyle, C.J. Fiederowicz, and Ryan Griffin, to name a few. They gave up a 5-57 stat line to A.J. Derby last week. They’ve coughed up good games to Kyle Rudolph, Eric Ebron, and Antonio Gates. But they are yet to face a tight end of Kelce’s caliber. For those who aren’t aware, Kelce is in the midst of a true breakout season. He’s already accumulated 70 catches, 916 yards, and three touchdowns, and has topped 100 yards in four consecutive games.
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If we judged this matchup on paper, Kelce is in line for a field day. Making matters worse is the absence of Sean Spence, an athletic outside linebacker that has been decent in coverage for the Titans. Wesley Woodyard is hit or miss in coverage and Avery Williamson is a liability there. I think the Titans’ best option would be to stick Kevin Byard on Kelce. While Byard would be at a size disadvantage, he has shown to be one of the Titans’ best and most aggressive defenders in both tackling and coverage. It would be a mighty tall task for a rookie, but I don’t see other better ways for the Titans to minimize Kelce’s damage.
Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford vs. Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin
This is the matchup that will probably decide the outcome of this game. The Chiefs defense prides itself on turning the ball over, and much of those opportunities come by way of their effective pass rush. Their ability to get pressure on quarterbacks leads to poor decision making, which leads to turnovers. It’s easy to get plenty of pressure through your pass rush when you have this trio of players at your disposal. While Houston has missed most of the year, he is now back and has racked up four sacks and a forced fumble in his first four games of the season. Ford had been a godsend for the Chiefs in Houston’s absence. He had recorded 10 sacks and forced a fumble. Hali is getting up there in age, but he can still bullrush as good as anyone in the NFL.
The good news for the Titans is that Lewan and Conklin have been arguably the best left-right tackle duo in the league this year. They’ve neutralized some of the best pass rushes in the league, limiting the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears, and the Miami Dolphins to a combined five sacks. If Titans receivers are going to get open, they’ll need time to do so. And if Marcys Mariota is going to find them, he’ll need time as well, which means Lewan and Conklin will have to hold up in one of their toughest tests of the year.