AP: Why are the Titans successful running the ball? Is that their plan on Saturday?
MCM: They haven’t been nearly as successful running the ball this year as they were last year. The raw numbers still look good because they run it a million times a game (slight exaggeration). The offensive line has struggled to get the same push this year that they did last year. They have also continued to give carries to an ineffective DeMarco Murray. That won’t be an issue in this game as Murray won’t be playing, but Derrick Henry struggled last week in the feature role.
But a struggling running game and a franchise quarterback who would thrive in a spread offense are nothing to deter this team from running the ball 30 times a game. That will be the plan on Saturday. Hopefully it will actually work this time!
AP: Are the Titans turnover prone? Why so many interceptions for Mariota?
MCM: Mariota has been turnover prone this season. We all wish that we could figure out the reason why. I will say that he has looked better in the last three games minus one terrible throw in the Rams game in Week 16. He hasn’t been comfortable all year. Sometimes it looks like he decides where he is going to throw the ball before the ball is snapped. That appears to be what happened in the Rams game. There are other times where he just sails the ball because he doesn’t step into a throw. That could be as a result of the injury last year or the hamstring injury he suffered earlier this season. Then there are times where he isn’t on the same page with his receivers. The combination of all of those factors have led to his issues this year.
AP: What can we expect from the Titans pass rush?
MCM: The Titans pass rush has been up and down this season. They have some talented pass rushers in Jurrell Casey, Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan, but they have had trouble getting to the quarterback at times when they haven’t blitzed. Dick LeBeau has done a great job of adjusting in game to dial up more blitzes when they haven’t been able to get home without it. There is no better example of this than the Monday Night Football game against the Colts. Jacoby Brissett was carving them up in the first half. They went after him in the second half and shut him down.
I would expect the plan early in this game to be to try to get pressure on Alex Smith without bringing extra guys. The Titans are going to need as many people as possible to try and stop guys like Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, but if that doesn’t work, LeBeau isn’t afraid to send people from everywhere.
AP: Who are you stopping: Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce?
MCM: That’s the thing that scares me the most about this game. The plan in the playoffs has to start with stopping the run, right? The Titans have been good for the most part against running backs this year. The only guy to rush for more than 100 yards against them was Todd Gurley in Week 16. (In that game, Gurley went for over 100 rushing AND receiving.) I am sure Andy Reid has spent a lot of time watching that tape, and hopefully Dick LeBeau has as well. They will have some of those issues fixed.
The guy that scares me the most is Travis Kelce. He is a match-up nightmare for just about anyone. The Titans do have the best young safety in the game in Kevin Byard. He will be able to hold his own when matched-up against Kelce, but the problem is the Titans haven’t used Byard in that way. They have let Byard and Johnathan Cyprien rotate between playing free and strong. If the Chiefs can dial up a way to get Kelce matched-up with Cyprien a lot, Kelce could hate 150 and 3 TDs.
AP: What’s your score prediction and why?
MCM: Chiefs 20 Titans 13. The Titans will try and play ball control with Derrick Henry to keep the Chiefs’ offense off the field. I just don’t think they will be able to do it with the struggles they have had on the offensive line.