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Five things to watch as the Chiefs play the Titans

With the MVP quarterback returning for the Chiefs, there are plenty of things to look for in Week 10.

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The issue of opposing fans invading Arrowhead Stadium has been an interesting topic this week. Kansas City Chiefs players have talked about it. Fans have strong opinions on it.

I find it funny how divisive this issue has become — especially considering how big a presence Chiefs fans will likely have in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans this weekend. Good fanbases travel well. Instead of bashing Chiefs season-ticket holders, let’s give credit to the fans who will make the trip. If you’re a Chiefs fan heading to Nashville this weekend, represent well — and have fun!

Here are five things they — and the rest of us — can watch during the game:

1. Protecting Mahomes

BRONCOS VS CHIEFS Photo by Joe Amon/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes is set to return to the field in Week 10 after being a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday. While the organization can be trusted to only put Mahomes out there if he is healthy enough, the offensive play-calling should emphasize keeping him out of harm’s way.

Head coach Andy Reid should not be shy about throwing the ball — but it should come behind as much protection as possible. In recent weeks, Reid has helped backup quarterback Matt Moore by letting him drop back with maximum protection — meaning that there are seven players in to block for him. It would be smart to continue that trend with Mahomes.

The Titans’ pass rush is the strength of their defensive unit. They are eighth in the NFL in sacks and will get creative with blitzes. Starting cornerback Logan Ryan has four sacks this season.

I also don’t want to see any quarterback sneaks. When Mahomes got hurt in Week 7, I had no issue with the play-call. Now that the coaching staff has seen that happen, I would hope that in such situations, they hand off to fullback Anthony Sherman or one of the running backs. Keeping the franchise quarterback protected should be a priority in the game plan for the Titans.

2. Dealing with the Titans’ backfield duo

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Tennessee offense has been far from impressive this season. After putting up 43 points on the surprisingly bad Cleveland Browns in Week 1, they have averaged just 15.6 points per game. They are 26th in the NFL in both points scored and total yards. They swapped out Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, but it has only minimally improved the team’s offensive output.

Their best bet for putting up points on the Chiefs will be their run game. Running backs Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis could not be more different in their size and play style. Henry is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound giant who doesn’t necessarily play like his physique would suggest; he shows far too much finesse for someone his size. Lewis is a quick, shifty back who can make defenders miss in space and can also work in the tight areas between the tackles. But together, the two average an unimpressive 3.9 yards per attempt.

They are utilized in the passing game as well. Henry averages 14.9 yards per reception on 11 catches — a stat that is inflated due to a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run on a screen pass in Week 1. Lewis sees more receiving opportunities than Henry, but only averages 3.8 yards per target on 25 targets.

With the Chiefs linebackers’ recent issues covering running backs, the Titans will be making a mistake if they don’t try to take advantage of that weakness. Watch to see how the linebackers play in those situations — and we’ll see if the run defense is up for another chance to prove they’re legitimate.

3. Exploiting the Tennessee secondary

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While I do want the Chiefs to be smart with their game plan and protect Mahomes, that should not come at the cost of big plays in the passing game — especially with Titans starting cornerback Malcolm Butler going on injured reserve this week.

The Chiefs’ best targets have been playing at a very high level in recent weeks. The highlight has been the incredible performance wide receiver Tyreek Hill had against the Minnesota Vikings — but the roles others have played should not be understated. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins is once again looking healthy — yet his hands may have been the most talked-about part of his game the last two weeks.

After this bad drop against the Green Bay Packers, Watkins bounced back with a few spectacular catches against Minnesota. He finished with the most catches — and the second-most yards — he’s had since Week 1.

Tight end Travis Kelce may have the toughest matchup out of the group. He will be going up against safety Kevin Byard — a former first-team All-Pro player who often matches up against tight ends in man coverage. For the season, he has three interceptions and seven passes defensed, allowing a passer rating of just 80.3 on 21 targets in coverage. On the other hand, Kelce is coming off a couple of nice performances against tough defenses. With the speed threat of the receivers on the outside, the middle of the field may open up for him.

With their MVP quarterback throwing to them once again, watch for the three-headed monster of pass-catching weapons to extend their recent performances.

4. Continuing to pass rush effectively

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

While the play against the run has been the story of the recent defensive resurgence, the Chiefs pass rush has impressed as well — even with multiple starters out in each of the last two games.

Against the Vikings, defensive tackle Chris Jones came back from injury in a huge way, with seven total pressures and a sack. He exploited a bad interior offensive line against Minnesota — and he may be facing another one against the Titans.

The Titans have given up the most sacks in the league this season, averaging 4.2 sacks per game. A lot of their issues in pass protection stem from the quarterback holding the ball too long — but the offensive line hasn’t played well, either.

The Chiefs may still be without defensive ends Frank Clark and Alex Okafor. Okafor has not practiced in any capacity this week because of his ankle injury — and Clark’s participation has been limited. Even without these two starters, the Chiefs have had good performances from everyone on the defensive front. Look for that to continue against the exploitable pass protection the Titans will field.

5. The coaching matchup

Tennessee Titans v Carolina Panthers

It was cool to hear the praise Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had for Andy Reid in this week’s media availability.

A former Chiefs linebacker, Vrabel has brought the aggressiveness he displayed in his playing days to his coaching style. It is most notable in the Titans defense, but it’s part of all facets of his team. Don’t be surprised to see a special-teams fake — or another creative way to get an advantage.

In Week 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Titans ran a fake field goal while they were leading by four points. It failed miserably — almost costing them the game — but it shows that Vrabel isn’t afraid to take some chances. Don’t be shocked if he makes similar decisions on Sunday.

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