Titans Win Over Chiefs Proves They’re a Playoff Caliber Team
By Luke Worsham
After winning two games in a row against the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos, the Titans headed into Kansas City to face the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs. Though they turned the ball over three times and allowed two plays of 40+ yards to the Chiefs’ offense, the Titans proved on Sunday that they are not only a team that has a great chance to win their division, but a team that can compete with any team in the NFL come January.
Let’s start with the bad, and there was a good bit of it. The Titans gave up a 68 yard rushing touchdown to the explosive Tyreek Hill, a 44 yard deep bomb to Jeremy Maclin, and turned the ball over three times. Those kinds of mistakes don’t usually equate to winning in the NFL, especially against a team as good as the Chiefs.
When looking at these mistakes, it’s easy to say that the Titans got lucky against the Chiefs, but luck had nothing to do with it. In the second half, the fourth quarter specifically, the Titans were the better football team. Starting in December, you win football games by running the football on offense, stopping the run on defense, and pressuring opposing quarterbacks. The Titans followed that formula to perfection.
For the second week in a row, the Titans imposed their will in the ground game. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined to rush for 147 yards on 27 carries, an average of 5.4 yards a carry. Take away safety Ron Parker’s incredible one-handed interception and Marcus Mariota had a respectable day through the air, completing 19 passes to five different receivers.
He did fumble in the first quarter, but Rishard Matthews had an impressive game nonetheless, hauling in four passes for 105 yards. Matthews also made a highlight reel play on Sunday, something that’s become commonplace for the first-year Titan. Early in the second quarter, Matthews went up over All Pro safety Eric Berry to catch a 46 yard pass from Mariota off of a flea flicker.
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Defensively, the Titans rebounded after a rough first quarter. If you take away Tyreek Hill’s 68 yard scamper, Kansas City managed only 90 rushing yards on 27 carries, a poor average of 3.3 yards per carry. Brian Orakpo recorded his eleventh sack of the year and rookie CB LeShaun Sims jumped in front of Jeremy Maclin in the end zone to intercept Alex Smith. Most importantly, the defense stopped the Chiefs after the two-minute warning to give the offense a chance to drive and kick a game winning field goal as time expired.
When you think about the last five teams to win the Super Bowl—Denver, New England, Seattle, Baltimore, and New York—you don’t remember explosive offenses that put forty points on the board, or speedy playmakers that stretch the field. Those teams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy because they followed the aforementioned formula; they ran the ball, stopped the run, and got after the quarterback. Additionally, each team was led by a star quarterback that played one of the best stretches of football in their respective careers (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Joe Flacco, & Eli Manning).
On offense, Marcus Mariota, November’s AFC Offensive Player of the Month, has shown that he can get hot and perform at the level of a top five quarterback in the league. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry can wear down a defense and impose their will on the ground. Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin are Pro Bowl caliber tackles who have completely shut down star pass rushers such as Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and Justin Houston. Delanie Walker continues to command coverage in the middle of the field.
On defense, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are the NFL’s best statistical pair of pass rushers. Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard have improved week by week at inside linebacker. Jurrell Casey is the most productive and disruptive interior defensive lineman in the NFL. Rookie DB’s Kevin Byard and LeShaun Sims continue to make plays in every game.
Do the Titans have visible weaknesses? Of course. Do they have a receiver on offense that can stretch the field? Not really. But here’s the deal: stats don’t win championships. I am most certainly not saying that I think the Titans will need to measure for ring sizes in February, but they are just as talented and will be just as competitive as any team in the postseason hunt.
If the Titans can turn the ball over three times and still beat the Chiefs, the most opportunistic team in the NFL, they can beat anyone when they don’t turn it over. Instead of finding ways to melt down and lose, they find ways to win. That, not statistical excellence, is what champions are made of.