The Tennessee Titans travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face a well-rested Kansas City Chiefs team. What should the Titans’ game plan be to eliminate the AFC West champions?
The Tennessee Titans are a few days away from opening up the NFL playoffs. Can the Titans win at Arrowhead Stadium two years in a row?
The short answer? Yes. However, Tennessee has to clean up their play, avoid head-scratching mistakes and get hot early.
While the Kansas City Chiefs had the luxury of resting their key players in Week 17, the Titans were facing the league’s top ranked defense. Jacksonville was not in a “must-win” scenario, but Head Coach Doug Marrone made it clear before the game that the Jaguars’ goal was to eliminate the Titans from postseason play.
Tennessee has to keep that “must-win” mentality to advance to the Divisional Round.
Derrick Henry started in DeMarco Murray’s absence, but it was Marcus Mariota who led the team in rushing. Henry did not have a rushing touchdown, but instead took a screen pass to the house. Henry led the team in receiving, and was 47 yards ahead of the next-closest receiver.
The Titans could not get anything going in the passing game. When the opportunities were available, dropped passes were drive killers. Excluding Henry’s screen pass touchdown, Tennessee receivers amassed 11 receptions for 68 yards.
Eric Decker had two critical dropped passes that would have not only added yards, but kept the chains moving and the clock ticking. Drops at inopportune times have plagued the team throughout the season. The receivers need to use this week to refine their focus on the basic duty of their job: catching the football.
It’s uncertain whether Murray will be ready to go on Saturday, but Head Coach Mike Mularkey remains hopeful.
As long as Murray’s health doesn’t compromise the offense’s functionality or execution, his return could help. Henry didn’t have the day on the ground many envisioned, but his lone offensive score was the difference in winning the game. Granted, his miscommunication with Mariota was nearly the catalyst for a titanic collapse.
The Titans need to do a better job of setting the run up for Henry. He struggles when contact is made behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in negative yardage. The problem is the Titans’ offensive predictability. The tight, bunched-up, congested formations are a dead giveaway that a run is coming. By running more spread out sets, Henry could be afforded more space to work with.
Against the top pass defense in the league, the Titans did about what was expected in the passing game. The Chiefs are not a top defensive unit. Losing Eric Berry was a critical blow, but Kansas City still has playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
Kansas City ranks 29th in passing yards allowed. The Chiefs have given up a tremendous amount of yards, but rank ninth in interceptions. Marcus Peters leads the team with five of the team’s 16 picks. Peters missed a game due to suspension and was held out last week in the finale against Denver. Mariota must be aware of where Peters is at all times.
Mariota went 19/33 for 241 yards in last year’s game game against the Chiefs. He didn’t throw a touchdown, but he did throw an interception. Mariota targeted Delanie Walker on the pick, but Chiefs safety Ron Parker made a tremendous one-hand interception. Parker has two picks on the season, behind only Peters (five) and Terrence Mitchell (four).
Mariota won’t be facing the top ranked defense, but he is facing a defense that can get turnovers. He has to have another turnover-free performance when throwing the football. His receivers should have a better chance to create separation this week. If Mariota puts the ball in the receivers’ hands, the drops cannot happen.
Kansas City finished the season ranked 25th in rushing yards allowed. The Chiefs rank 28th in rushing touchdowns allowed, giving up 15 on the year. Henry rumbled for two rushing touchdowns against the Chiefs in 2016 and was a key factor in the Titans pulling off the upset. He’ll have a chance to do some damage once again.
The Titans have to run the ball in the right situations. This is where the game plan will be critical. Mixing in some Run-Pass-Option and Play Action on first down can really help the offense get moving. Too often, the Titans have run themselves behind the sticks on first down. Tennessee has to strive for a 2-3 yard gain on 1st down. The RPO is the best option to achieve that.
Even not at 100%, Mariota on the move is critical to the offense finding a groove. He forces the defense to account for him as a running threat. Mariota has demonstrated his smarts by sliding prior to contact, but proved he’s capable of delivering a stiff-arm if needed to gain necessary yards on critical downs.
Mariota’s drive-sustaining run electrified teammates and fans. He’ll need to bring that same unwavering tenacity to Arrowhead. His energy will be contagious to his teammates, especially in a playoff game.
Titans Defense Remains Consistent
The Titans defense has been the life raft that has helped carry the team into the postseason. On games where the Tennessee offense couldn’t get touchdowns and settled for field goals, the defense answered the call.
Veteran Jurrell Casey will get his first taste of postseason play. He’s one of a few Titans players that have been there through the arduous years. Casey and company have to continue their sustained success and elevate their play to the next level in order for the team to stay in contention.
Rookie Adoree Jackson continues to prove naysayers wrong. The once “questionable” first round selection has weathered his growing pains and become one of the top defensive players on the team. Punching out the football on Sunday for a forced fumble was just one example of the plays he’s capable of making.
Jackson will continue to develop, and having playoff experience under his belt in his rookie season is not too bad. Teammate Kevin Byard, despite his Pro Bowl snub, continues his Pro Bowl play. He heads into the post season with a league-leading eight interceptions.
The Titans have a nice blend of youth and experience on the defensive side of the ball. The unit must continue to blossom under the blitz-happy scheme of Dick LeBeau.
How the Titans defense contains the Chiefs’ big three could be the difference in ending the season on Saturday or living on to play another week.