This isn’t about a traditional defensive struggle with Tennessee winning a low scoring game. We’re going to see a lot of points regardless, but the Titans offense is sufficiently explosive to hang around. We saw them run a two-minute offense around just Derrick Henry, and his ability to pick up big chunks of yards will be critical to a potential Titans upset.
On the other hand, if the Chiefs’ offense looks like it did last week against Houston in the second, third, and fourth quarters, I don’t know if Tennessee can score nearly enough in this one. The Chiefs offense struggled in a big way, particularly against the run in the early part of the season. We’ve seen significant improvements in recent weeks, and that might be enough to take care of business on Sunday. They can’t completely shut down Derrick Henry, but if they can keep him int he 4.5 to 5.0 yards per carry, instead of 5.5 to 6.5 he’s had in recent weeks, I don’t think Tennessee can keep up.
1. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
Mahomes’ greatness in Kansas City boils down to three things:
a) the ability to avoid pressure in the pocket and extend plays long enough for even the stoutest coverage to break down,
b) an innate connection with his game-breaking wide receivers and tight end, who know exactly where to find holes downfield once Mahomes is forced to go off script, and
c) a cannon arm that can hit tiny targets in the pocket, on the run, or even while he’s in the process of being tackled.
1. Derrick Henry breaks AFC title game rushing record
Derrick Henry has been steamrolling through every defense he’s faced over the past eight weeks, so it only makes sense to start our bold predictions off with a bold prediction for the Titans running back. Predicting Henry to have a big game definitely isn’t bold, but predicting him to break the AFC Championship record is, and that’s because he would need rush for at least 207 yards on Sunday against Kansas City to break the record, which has stood for 56 years.
Key matchup: Titans’ deep-ball play-action vs. the Chiefs’ secondary. Even if the Titans do control tempo with Henry, the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes will still get eight or nine possessions. So the Titans need points in this one, and explosive-play opportunities off play-action offer an opportunity. Look for Tennessee to dial up some shot play throws for Tannehill here. Bring in your big-boy personnel, sell the run and push the ball over the top to Kalif Raymond or A.J. Brown.
Back in Week 10, Tennessee beat Kansas City 35-32 despite getting shredded on defense. The Chiefs offense gained 530 total yards, their highest total of the season, and Patrick Mahomes had 446 passing yards, the second most of his career. Kansas City moved the ball effortlessly, and the main reason was that receiver Tyreek Hill caught a career-high 11 receptions for a season-high 157 yards. The Chiefs targeted Hill 19 times, the most of his career and the second most any receiver saw in a single game this season. That many targets is almost unheard of for an Andy Reid offense. Reid has been a head coach for 363 games across 21 seasons, and the only player on a team of his with that many targets in a game was Terrell Owens in October 2005. Why did Reid like Hill’s matchup against the Titans more than anything he’d seen in almost 14 years?
Orlovsky breaks down each of them for The Post:
“Mahomes is our modern-day Dan Marino right now just talent-wise. He’s the most talented guy I’ve ever seen at the position. And he had married talent with brain. He’s one of those players where you can be in the right play call as a coach and you can have all 11 guys on your defense execute that right play call perfectly — and it doesn’t matter. Because he can make throws that you should not be able to make. He can see things you shouldn’t be able to see and just makes plays that you shouldn’t be able to make.”
“It’s an amazing accomplishment, first off, to be in the AFC championship. I mean, at the beginning of the season, you have all these goals and it’s a process,” Mahomes said. “Obviously, we’re very excited we get to play in the AFC championship and get to play it at home with the home fans. But now we’re just going into it with the mentality of not coming up short.”
It’s becoming a trend for Pope Francis to receive NFL QB jerseys — he received a custom Ravens jersey signed by Lamar Jackson back in December.
The Pontiff’s collection just got a nice MVP addition ... with the bishop of the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph gifting it to him in Vatican City on Thursday.
Now, the Pope is an avid soccer fan ... but the dude might start watchin’ some good ole American football now that he’s got a closet full of jerseys.
We should note ... it may not be necessarily good luck for Mahomes, considering Jackson’s Ravens got booted from the playoffs.
“David was an incredibly kind man with a huge heart for Kansas City sports. He was a supportive partner and a gracious host who welcomed us to Kauffman Stadium many times over the years. I will always remember his poignant and thoughtful invitation to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day the season following my father’s passing. Our family and the entire Kansas City Chiefs organization would like to offer our heartfelt condolences to the Glass family and the Kansas City Royals.”
Around the NFL
“Obviously if we left the game with eight points and lost by 20s or whatever it was, obviously the plan wasn’t good enough,” Adams said. “That’s not a knock on Matt or anybody. The execution obviously wasn’t good enough too, so those go hand in hand, though. The plan, so far what I’ve seen, I really like, and I think it’s a better way to attack this defense.”
“I think I could,” Murray told the Arizona Republic. “Athletically, I think, yeah, I could do it. I’ve been playing both my whole life. I would love to add that to the résumé.”
3) Let either or both walk
While one never knows exactly how things will play out, this option is not advisable at this point. Without Tannehill, the Titans were a 2-4 outfit struggling to stay relevant in the AFC South. Without Henry, they’d have just 166 yards over two offseason games. Per Over the Cap, the Titans are currently projected to have plenty of space. Rather than searching for a quarterback or running back who fit with this offense as well as Tannehill and Henry do, why not keep a good thing going?
Whatever remains of the Titans’ season could, obviously, change things, with injury and potential playoff heroics standing as factors that could alter the equation. But for right now, the team should try to lock up this winning combination for the long term.
In case you missed it at Arrowhead Pride
The Chiefs offensive line was very sound in their protection of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The gunslinger was only hit twice and sacked once — which aided him in his obliteration of the Texans’ defense. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz rendered Houston defensive end J.J. Watt ineffective while the interior of the line sealed the front of the pocket well. It may be a tougher challenge in the AFC championship.
The Titans pass rush is strong overall — but it starts on the interior. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey had six pressures and two sacks against the Ravens last week. He is paired with the explosive first-round rookie Jeffery Simmons and veteran DaQuan Jones — who had four pressures in the Divisional round. Edge rusher Harold Landry had the second-most pressures of his season against Baltimore with six — including a sack.
SB Nation’s Fan Pulse (after the Divisional Round)
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