Andy Reid is smarter than your average bear. A brief recap is in order:
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the season opener, Reid focused like a laser on the weak offensive front five of the Jaguars, crushing their line, and allowing the Chiefs to hide big portions of the offensive game plan in a blowout. The result? A 28-2, decisive win.
Against the Dallas Cowboys, Reid let Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant get his yards but shut down everyone else, relying upon his defense for a 17-16 win against a very good Cowboys team.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles — at the time, one of the most hyped, intriguing teams in the NFL — Reid discovered the soft spot in the Eagles defense: the underneath pass, which Donnie Avery capitalized on, and then kept Chip Kelly’s offense off the field with total domination of possession time, resulting in a 26-16 victory.
Against the New York Giants last weekend, Reid dialed up defensive pressure against an already suspect Giants offensive line, and softened up the defense with more long pass attempts from quarterback Alex Smith.
In the meantime, he has gotten more out of Dexter McCluster, Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs’ offensive line and the entire special teams squad than any coach in recent memory. Reid has been a game-planning genius.
This Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs meet the Tennessee Titans. What makes this game particularly hard to plan for is that the Titans are essentially a mirror image of the Chiefs. The challenge for Andy Reid is, how do you defeat yourself?
To wit: both team are coming off terrible seasons last year but promising starts this year. Both teams have elite tailbacks (although I would take Jamaal Charles over Chris Johnson ten times out of ten). Both teams have superb wide receivers in Dwayne Bowe and the promising Justin Hunter. Both teams, to date, have had great and error-free quarterback performances, using both arms and legs, in Alex Smith and Jake Locker. Both teams have moved to an aggressive, blitzing, press-style defense, led by Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and his counterpart on the Titans, Gregg Williams of bounty-scandal fame. Both teams have great defensive lines and very good offensive lines, with first round picks Eric Fisher for the Chiefs at tackle and Chance Warmack for the Titans at guard. Finally, both teams have absolutely destroyed the turnover differential at +9, two ahead of defensive juggernaut Seattle. Just for kicks, the Titans also have several former Chiefs players – Jackie Battle, Bernard Pollard and Ropati Pitoitua.
So again, how do you defeat yourself? Well, for anyone who has truly looked in the mirror, it’s difficult. It takes brutal honesty. Some imagination. And a bit of risk-taking. This game is going to be difficult. Maybe our most difficult thus far. Even with Locker out, this Titans team is performing in all phases. They are playing as a team, they are young and aggressive, they have talent and they are playing at home. Their recipe for success is the same one Reid has used.
With such an evenly matched set of teams, if I were Andy Reid this week, I would focus on key, individual match-ups that the Chiefs can exploit over and over again.
Thus far, the Titans’ secondary is an area of strength. They rank 15th in the league, giving up just 6.9 yards per attempt (by way of comparison, the Chiefs are first at 5.8 yards per attempt). Titans corner Alterraun Verner is tied for the league-lead in interceptions, with four. While the secondary may seem an odd place to focus, the individual match-ups may prove otherwise.
Verner is clearly the Titan’s top cornerback. He’ll be on Dwayne Bowe. Verner stands 5’10”; Bowe is 6’2”. That leaves 6’0” Jason McCourty on the Chiefs’ second receiver, Donnie Avery. But here’s where Reid can gain the advantage. I think we play the 6’1” Junior Hemingway early and often, forcing McCourty to cover Hemingway and leaving third corner Coty Sensabaugh to cover Avery. This one simple move would leave both Bowe and Hemingway with height advantages and Sensabaugh covering the much faster, and better, Avery. Coupled with the fact that Verner and McCourty are converting to press-style coverage for the first time and Alex Smith has already begun experimenting with longer range passes, the Chiefs’ offense can really take advantage here with fade routes, stop-and-go’s and complicated crossing routes. Additionally, for Addicts who are old enough to remember, we know that a bit of play-action will fool Titans’ safety and former Chief Bernard Pollard.
By playing Hemingway, the Chiefs can create favorable match-ups — particularly for Bowe and Avery — which may be the path to victory on Sunday.
Addicts, Andy Reid has been a master of the game plan. What’s your best strategy for stopping a very good Titans team?!