This week we travel to Nashville, and I do mean we - Amateur Hour Postgame will be coming to you LIVE from the road. We're hitting the streets of Nashville to talk to Titans fans and of course our fellow travelers. We're also entering the "friendly" confines of LP Field but I'll have more on that later.
We promise to bring you the most unique coverage in Kansas City this week, so tune-in at 6:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time on Sunday after the game and catch the Dirkness and I do the damn thang and recap our time in Nashville.
Tennessee is 3-1 with wins against Pittsburgh, San Diego and the Jets and their one loss coming on the road against Houston. Their head coach is Mike Munchak, who has spent the last 31 years in the organization - 12 as a player for the Oilers and the remaining as an offensive line coach. Munchak was promoted to head coach after Jeff Fisher was fired in 2011.
The coordinators are Dowell Loggains (offense) and Jerry Gray (defense), both of whom are former assistants that have made some noise in their first opportunity at this high a position.
Jake Locker was starting to come into his own before a hip injury in last week's game against the Jets sidelined him for what should be at least a month. Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick, a QB that Chiefs fans know all too well from his days with the Buffalo Bills. During his time in Cincinnati and as a starter in Buffalo, Fitzpatrick went 4-1 against the Chiefs with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It's worth noting however that he threw four of those 8 TDs in the 2011 game the Bills won 41-7... his 4 TDs over the other four games are what I like to call "pedestrian" numbers. Believe it or not, he actually did most of his damage on the ground: 23 carries for 123 yards over five games, with countless drive extending runs.
Protecting a new quarterback can be tricky, but longtime starters Michael Roos and David Stewart are a criminally under-rated pair of bookend tackles. The interior of Tennessee's line was completely revamped during the season with the signings of high-priced free agent guard Andy Levitre, veteran center Rob Turner and 10th overall pick Chance Warmack from Alabama. They're still gelling, but this is arguably the best unit in the AFC and maybe one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
Tennessee is loaded with skill position talent but their key contributor from the past few years doesn't really look like himself so far in 2013. Chris Johnson was one of the most explosive players in the league a few years ago but he's only averaging 3.3 ypc right now. He was so ineffective last week, he basically split carries with the one and only Jackie Battle.
For my money, the Titans' leading receiver Nate Washington is the best player in the league that nobody knows about. Kendall Wright is in his second season and still a bit rough around the edges but he flashes immense talent on a fairly regular basis. Tight end Delanie Walker was signed away from San Francisco in the offseason and has played a key role in the offense's efficiency. Justin Hunter, a rookie flanker from the University of Tennessee, has two catches (for 2 TDs) on the season and may see quite a few more reps this week as Kenny Britt is once again battling both injury and immaturity.
How to Defend Them
I have a sneaking suspicion that Tennessee will commit to the run on Sunday. Given that it's a much more conventional attack than what we saw against Philly (allowed 260 rushing yards), I really like this matchup. Granted, the Titans' strength on offense in that punishing line but the Chiefs front seven is also one of the best in football. This defense has allowed 4 TDs in four games and only 12 third down conversions (22 percent) overall.
Brandon Flowers' status is still up in the air, which could prove to be a problem. I really like the skill players for Tennessee and their offensive approach is very methodical, much like the Chiefs. It's a given that Bob Sutton will send extra bodies at the quarterback but he may want to employ a spy on occasion to prevent Fitzpatrick from getting loose.
Jerry Gray has a fast paced, attacking defense that likes to press receivers and get after the QB. Sound familiar? They were last in scoring in 2012 (29.4 ppg) but somehow ranked in the top 10 in both interceptions and sacks. Much like the Chiefs, this is a predominantly young group. Given their results so far in 2013, it looks like they're beginning to mature rather well in their 4-3 defense.
The defensive line lacks household names, with the most likely candidate being Kamerion Wimbley -- but his snap count must be pretty low considering he has one sack on the season and that is his only tackle. Many of us will be sad to see former Chief Ropati Pitoitua dawning Titans colors on Sunday ... oh Ropati, we hardly knew ye. The other starting defensive end is former first round pick Derrick Morgan. He hasn't lived-up to his potential quite yet but he's been pretty active so far this season and the talent is there. Jurell Casey is having a tremendous year -- he's leading the team with 3 sacks already, an impressive number for a defensive tackle. Sammie Lee Hill starts next to him inside and does most of the dirty work but it looks like they're leaning toward making him inactive this week due to injury. Karl Klug is quite a handful as a pass rusher and can play both end and tackle. He always sees a lot of snaps in rotation but may have to start in Hill's place on Sunday.
The linebackers in Tennessee aren't well-known either but they've had a tremendous 2013 campaign. Moise Fokou (a former Eagle under Any Reid) starts in the middle and is having his best season as a pro. Akeem Ayers is a player Chiefs fans may remember being tossed around as a potential draft pick in 2011. Last year, Ayers lead the Titans with 110 tackles and tallied 6 sacks. His fellow OLB Zach Brown has flashed some serious playmaking ability this year and looks to have a very bright future.
According to Pro Football Focus, Alterraun Verner is allowing the lowest QB Rating for any corner in the NFL through four games (12.9). Opposite him is Jason McCourty, another name you probably don't know despite how well he's played. Coty Sensabaugh is a second year player and a pretty decent nickel corner that really gets after it on special teams.
The safety tandem of Michael Griffin (2010 All-Pro) and former Chief Bernard Pollard is pretty impressive. They also have George Wilson, who made a decent name for himself in Buffalo over the past few seasons. There's a ton of experience and leadership between those three guys and they tend to set the tone for the rest of the defense.
How to Attack Them
Tennessee's defense is full of young, blossoming players. They've been pretty sound in their assignments so far, but that may have to do with Jerry Gray allowing them to play downhill so often. They're blitzing (five or more rushers) on 44 percent of pass plays, resulting in 14 sacks. All five of the Titans' interceptions occurred when sending an extra defender as well.
Let's not get it twisted -- Andy is going to pass the ball early and often. I keep calling for the screen game to get going but it still hasn't played much of a factor. Against an aggressive team, it's a wise counter that aims to get your opponent out of position. The Chiefs will likely run a number of quick patterns toward the middle of the field in hopes of running into the abandoned spot a blitzer came from but Alex will need to be careful with such savvy veteran players at safety. Verner could be on Dwayne Bowe for much of the afternoon, so the Chiefs best receiver may revert back to being more of a decoy this week.
Frankly, I doubt you'll see any astonishing wrinkles against the Titans. The pace is still going to be a factor but the play-calling will be conservative and methodical offensively with a few very selective intermediate throws from Alex. This will be one of those games where the Chiefs likely don't chew-up big chunks of yardage, rather relying on patience, execution and ideal third-and-short situations.
And well ... you know ... Jamaal Charles.
Key Advantages for the Chiefs
1. Field Position - The Chiefs have the best average starting field position in the NFL on both sides of the ball. Their starting point on offense is at the 36-yard line while the opponents are starting at the 20. Think about that: the Chiefs average drive starts at the 36, best in the league by four full yards. Meanwhile opposing offenses start their drives at the 20, a full three yards behind anyone else. That 16-yard gap in AFP is 8.5 yards superior to the second best ratio. This speaks to Andy Reid's willingness to be patient offensively ... but mainly, it's because of the Chiefs remarkably effective special teams units. Hashtag Toubious.
2. Pass Rush - Wait ... the Chiefs are leading the league in sacks?! Did you know that they've been so effective at getting to the quarterback, the defense is actually tallying a sack on 10 percent of all pass plays? Yeah you read that right - one of every 10 drop backs results in an awkward dance of some kind from a member of our talented front seven. Hashtag PuffPuffPassRush.
3. Ryan Fitzpatrick - Forget the 4-1 record against those atrocious Chiefs teams of the past few years. Come on ... we're talking about Ryan freaking Fitzpatrick, guys. The knock on him is that he turns the ball over way too often -- something the Chiefs defense has been making look pretty easy so far. Teams are averaging three turnovers a game against KC. I repeat: teams are averaging three turnovers a game against the Kansas City Chiefs defense. Tennessee didn't turn the ball over once in their first four games -- I say the Chiefs make up for that on Sunday and pick this guy off like four times. Agreed?
Key Advantages for the Titans
1. Home Sweet Home - Look, it's not like LP Field is known for being a hostile environment. Since we're attending the game, I read some reviews online and every single visiting fan spoke about how pleasant their experience was ... which isn't exactly a compliment. Why the advantage, you ask? This is the Titans' third straight game at home and a pivotal one to their future. Missing Jake Locker will be tough, but going on the road to face Seattle next week will be tougher. This is a must-win if the Titans have plans of staying on pace for the playoffs.
2. Run Offense - They may only be averaging 3.5 yards a carry right now, but Tennessee likes to run the ball and isn't afraid to punch you in the mouth. If the Chiefs don't grab an early lead that forces Tennessee to start passing more often, I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to move the chains by simply gaining 3.5 yards at a time.
3. Big Play Potential - Chris Johnson can score in an instant. If Kenny Britt actually plays, that gives them four very explosive receivers. The Chiefs employ an aggressive brand of defense that will always be susceptible to the big play. In a game that should prove to be tight from start to finish, one long touchdown could be the difference.
Each team is +9 in turnover margin but the Titans have ZERO giveaways after four games (tying an NFL record). The Chiefs had each of their first three turnovers last week but still managed to beat the Giants by 24 points. Problem is, the Tennessee Titans are not the New York Giants ... but they probably aren't the Kansas City Chiefs either. None of the three turnovers against New York seemed to have an effect on the Chiefs. Will the Titans be able to handle in-game adversity? It's damn near certain that Tennessee will give one (or more) away this week, but it's how they handle the ensuing possessions that will ultimately decide their fate.
I got the Red Team this week, folks. We're probably looking at a nail-biter here but the difference in the game should come down to the quarterbacks and Alex Smith is supposed to beat Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Chiefs 23 - Titans 17 - Ryan 9 (articles of Chiefs clothing I'm packing for a three-day trip)