The Chiefs’ explosive aerial offense should bolster them vs. the run-heavy Titans. That hardly means the Titans should be overlooked.
All week long, I’ve been hearing a similar narrative about how the Tennessee Titans can beat the Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans have to run the ball like crazy, pound the ball with Derrick Henry and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field for as long as possible. If you can keep Mahomes off the field, you can beat the Chiefs, they say. Simple as that.
This “recipe for success” couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, I argue that the Titans’ identity as a run-first, ball-dominant offense is simply not equipped to keep up with the Chiefs’ explosive, pass dominant offense.
Against the Ravens, the Titans ran the ball 37 times and passed the ball 15 times. In the Wild Card game against the Patriots, they ran the ball 40 times and attempted 16 passes. This kind of offensive gameplan led to victories in two consecutive playoff games. I think this rush-centric style of play presented an unfavorable matchup vs. the Patriots, but it won’t for the Chiefs.
Against the Patriots, the Titans only scored 20 points. If you take away the pick-six at the end, they only scored 14. That’s a sign that the victory was largely due to the Patriots’ offensive ineptitude. In fairness to the Titans, their ball-dominant style of offense was a major advantage against the Patriots. The Titans had drives that lasted 6:58 and 8:01. The 6:58 drives was their opening drive, and the 8:01 drive occurred at the end of the game.
Both of these sustained drives occurred at critical parts of the game. The Titans were able to immediately dictate the game with a statement in the first quarter 7-minute drive, and likewise ice the game toward the end with their 8-minute drive. In comparison, the Patriots’ longest drive was 5:44. These sustained drives in key situations allowed Tenessee to dictate the flow of the game. The Patriots’ offense, geared to short passes and runs, never found footing, because they aren’t built to score quickly. A rush-heavy, ball-control offense was successful against the Patriots because it narrowed the Patriots’ margin for error and capitalized on their weakness.
In the divisional round, the Titans safe ground-and-pound offensive found a favorable matchup against Baltimore. The Ravens simply came out and stubbed their toe. They turned the ball over early and played four quarters of lackluster football. The failed to convert two 4th and shorts, and their receivers dropped plenty of balls. Derrick Henry had a monster game, and the Titans ended up crushing the Ravens. Here, the Titans’ rush-centric offense allowed them to take advantage of a slew of Raven’s miscues. The Titans started two drives within the Ravens’ 40-yard line. The Titans’ brand of football—turnover-free, rush heavy football—was the perfect answer for Baltimore’s sloppiness.
It’s apparent that the Titans’ style of football is most successful against turnover-prone teams and teams without much spark on offense. That’s not to diminish the Titans in any way. Rather, it’s a way to characterize the Titans’ strength: they are a running football team, built to dominate defensive lines and sustain drives. The Patriots and Ravens were examples of the types of teams the Titans are built to thrive against. They outmuscled the Patriots and took advantage of Baltimore’s turnovers.
However, the Chiefs are an unfavorable matchup for the Titans. The Chiefs’ offense can rack up points at will. In fact, they lost the time of possession battle vs. Houston by nine minutes, a game in which they scored 51 points. The Chiefs recovered from miscues, including a fumbled punt return and a trio of drops, and delivered 28 points in the second quarter alone. Last Sunday’s game demonstrated how quickly the Chiefs can overcome deficits and mistakes. If a player fumbles and the Titans capitalize, it won’t take the Chiefs much time to respond.
The Ravens struggled to respond after turning the ball over. The Titans made them pay. If the Chiefs can demonstrate the kind of offensive resiliency they showed Sunday, it will be hard for the Titans to match that firepower. One reason why the Texans struck me as a more dangerous opponent than the Titans is their passing attack.
In fairness to the Titans, they possess a better defense than the Texans did.. Further, I think Mike Vrabel is an excellent decisive coach who deserves plenty of praise. However, the Titans defense is not equipped to stop this momentous Chiefs offense. The Titans’ chances are instead wrapped up in potential Chiefs mistakes (maybe on special teams?) or an explosive Ryan Tannehill performance. The last time these teams met, the Chiefs had a costly botched field goal/turnover, which propelled a Titans game-winning drive. The turnover was fatal that week, but last week showed that the Chiefs are response-ready, if such a thing happens again.
If the Chiefs play uncharacteristically poorly, as the Ravens did, the Titans will surely exploit them for points and maybe a victory. The key point is that the Chiefs possess a greater reservoir of offensive talent and scoring potential. The Chiefs are ready-made to erase mistakes, assuming they can carry momentum over from last week.
But that’s the whole point and challenge as a fan. The Chiefs have the potential to score 80, but football happens outside the land of potential. There is always the chance for a cursed quarter or frustrating confluence of mistakes. The Chiefs lost to the Titans in Week 10 despite being the better team on paper. Heck, they lost even though they dominated time of possession.
So, on paper, the rush-heavy, physical Titans are inferior to the Chiefs, but the Titans have thrived on other teams’ failures to perform to potential this whole postseason. If the Chiefs can reach back into whatever vortex propelled them to 51 points, they are built to respond to, and topple, Tenessee this weekend.