Final score: Tennessee Titans 27, Kansas City Chiefs 3
Offense (Ron Kopp)
After starting the season with incredible production — despite turnovers — the Chiefs combined their continued lack of ball security with generally bad offensive play against the Titans.
The most glaring issue was the ineffectiveness of the passing game. Even as they faced a very injured, under-talented secondary, they could not find any holes for big pass plays; they had no completions of over 10 yards in the first half.
The pass protection earned blame. There were an unbelievable number of breakdowns that turned into sacks and forced incompletions by both offensive tackles and right guard Trey Smith. It was the worst pass-blocking performance of the season — but that’s not to place the blame solely on the offensive line.
It has become a continued theme: quarterback Patrick Mahomes has inconsistent pocket presence, sometimes dropping back too deep and moving his eyes from downfield to avoid the rush. He’s been lacking the natural feel to maneuver the pressure while still looking for a receiving target. It seems to come and go; sometimes, he’ll hit the perfect depth on his drop, have calm footwork and make a well-balanced throw even with pressure — but at the worst times, it seems that his footwork breaks down, allowing the pressure to get the best of him.
It also appeared that Chiefs receivers weren’t getting open downfield. Even as Mahomes had time, he was coming off his reads and throwing checkdowns, being sacked or forced to scramble. If they weren’t getting open, that’s unacceptable play from Chiefs receivers — but blame should also go to play-calling. The offense didn’t produce any big passing plays within play designs; their big plays came with Mahomes out of structure.
Getting into a hole so quickly, the Chiefs weren’t able to establish an impactful rushing attack — but they had some important runs from running back Darrel Williams. With only five attempts, he earned 20 yards — with an 11-yard run as the highlight. A well-designed reverse to wide receiver Tyreek Hill was the best run of the game, gaining 18 yards.
Offensive Player of the Game: Wide receiver Byron Pringle
Pringle was the team’s leading receiver by yards against the Titans, averaging 14.6 yards per reception and making two of the only downfield receptions; one early in the second half on the only Chiefs drive that drove deep into Tennessee territory — and another incredible, contested catch in traffic on a fourth-and-9 in garbage time.
Defense (Talon Graff)
The defense was challenged with stopping the league’s top running back: Derrick Henry. Many — including myself — assumed stopping Henry would equate to stopping the Titans offense. That was not the case. Ryan Tannehill picked apart the Chiefs’ secondary. In fact, he didn’t throw an incompletion until the second quarter.
Early on, the Chiefs struggled with penalties; two big ones on the opening drive allowed Tennessee to get an early lead that they never gave up. Yet again, the defense struggled in limiting big plays. A.J. Brown was the biggest factor in the passing game, ending with eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown. Throughout the game, the secondary played relaxed coverage — and Titans receivers were consistently finding the open spots in the zone coverage.
Getting off the field on third down was a big issue; the Titans were 8-for-12. It is backbreaking to continuously be put in “get off the field” situations — but then give up a first down with either a penalty or big play. That needs to be a big area for the defense to try and focus upon.
The defensive line is deserving of some kudos. They did a nice job controlling the line of scrimmage. Derrick Henry was held to only 86 yards — his lowest total since Week 1. It also ended Henry’s streak of 100-yard games at five — and for only the third time this season, he was kept out of the end zone. Henry did, however, throw a touchdown pass.
Nick Bolton stepped up in a big way. He should be considered to be the major reason Henry was pretty much kept in check. He flew around, showing no hesitation or intimidation when attacking the hole. The first-year linebacker has flashed — but this was, by far, his best outing yet.
I have a feeling this defense will look a lot different next season. A number of needs exist — the most pressing being an edge rusher who can actually produce pressure. With every passing week, certain offseason cap casualties are looking more likely to happen. And when does the defensive coaching staff get put under a serious microscope?
Defensive Player of the Game: Linebacker Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton was the best player on the field for the Chiefs’ defense. He made multiple backfield stops on Henry — and was in on plenty of plays. The rookie from Mizzou finished with 15 tackles (nine solo and four for loss). Let’s hope the youngster has turned a corner.