Pranav Ramasubramanian | January 19th, 2020
It’s incredible to think that both of these teams are at this stage of the NFL playoffs given both were teams that should’ve been eliminated last week but overcame all the odds to get to this position. The Tennessee Titans have ridden Derrick Henry and their top-five defense to this point beating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in New England then turning around and beating the number one team in all of football in the Baltimore Ravens to keep themselves alive. The Chiefs haven’t lost since Week 10, but they were close last week trailing by 24 before rallying in six minutes of game time and blitzing the Texans for 51 at home to advance and host this AFC Championship Game. This game will kick off championship weekend and will be played at 12:05 PT on CBS.
Patrick Mahomes vs Titans secondary
Mahomes has one of the best arms in the NFL and he’s gonna need it because of how tight Tennessee’s secondary is capable of covering receivers. He will need to buy extra time on crucial downs with his ability to move around in the pocket so he can give his receivers time to get open or scramble for decent yardage while zipping the ball through tight windows to keep the ball moving. The Chiefs start slow in big games and Mahomes must help the Chiefs weather the early storm with his pinpoint accuracy on his throws with patience because letting the ball go early could lead to mistakes.
Tennessee will look to be aggressive at the line of scrimmage with not just their pass rushers, but with their secondary, because Adoree Jackson can shadow Tyreek Hill‘s speed with his own blazing speed while Logan Ryan can limit gains with his quick reactive movements so he shouldn’t give up too many big gains all day. Kenny Vaccaro can read the defense well so he needs to watch the eyes of Mahomes to get an interception or game-changing play to give Tennessee a chance to dominate the game early. Rocket speed is how fast Patrick Mahomes can get the ball out with his sidearm throw, which is extremely lethal so the Chiefs should be able to move the ball well when they need to.
Advantage: Patrick Mahomes
Derrick Henry vs Chiefs front seven
The last three games have featured Derrick Henry taking over the offense totaling more than 600 yards of offense including a thrown touchdown pass to get the Titans to this position so expect the Titans to keep handing the ball over to Henry today. Henry does it with his size at 247 pounds bulldozing through everyone on the frontline while using his quick feet to weave through holes paved by the offensive line for good gains. This helps make down and distance manageable for Tennessee, which today will help them keep the football away from Mahomes.
Earl Thomas ran his mouth last week about Henry’s running and paid for it, but it seems Frank Clark didn’t care about that as he ran his mouth this week saying that Henry wouldn’t be hard to tackle. Frank Clark needs to pop through the Tennessee offensive line and shut down running gaps using his powerful first step with help from Chris Jones, who can clog up the part of the field that he is on if he ready’s to go tomorrow barring his calf injury while Derrick Nnadi can clog up the middle of the field and Tanoh Kpassagnon can shed blocks fast to wreak havoc in the backfield to create losses on plays to make down and distance difficult for the Titans. The pass rushers can only do so much and they will need the help of linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson to try and get tackles, but if Henry gets past the first level this is when the Chiefs should utilize Daniel Sorensen as he can get great open-field tackles to stop big gains.
If Frank Clark gets stiff armed or run over Saturday this will live on for eternity pic.twitter.com/XeJ7u5gIGK— SportsTalkATL.com (@SportsTalkATL) January 18, 2020
The front seven will need to be playing at full capacity for the Chiefs to even have a chance at tackling Henry. One of the worst rush defenses in the league should have their hands full all-day with Henry as he should get his way tomorrow to give the Titans a shot at the Super Bowl.
Advantage: Derrick Henry
Travis Kelce vs Kevin Byard
Travis Kelce is one of Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets because of Kelce’s size and his ability to move around the field smoothly with or without the football. The option of trying to double cover Kelce is a no-go because not only would he catch the ball anyway, but then that would open up more lanes for the other explosive receivers. It’s not just catching that Kelce excels at, but also blocking to give Mahomes more time to throw and to create holes that Damien Williams can run through.
It does help that Kevin Byard has good ball skills so he can try to anticipate the pass and knock it away or get quick tackles. He has to try and keep pace with Kelce while not backpedaling too much to give himself a chance against him. One on one to guard a player like Kelce is an absolute nightmare for Byard so Kelce will have another big game and Tennesse will have to figure out how to counter that.
Advantage: Travis Kelce
Ryan Tannehill – Not a Bust??
Ryan Tannehill was thought of to be a first-round bust never playing up to his full potential in Miami so Miami traded him away to Tennessee and even though Tannehill hasn’t done much throwing the ball he has done enough in terms of opening up the field with his play-action boots that should make the defense at least have to think about spreading out wide to cover receivers running routes. The Chiefs secondary is good at limiting yardage and getting the opponent to run the ball but in this game, they need to do the opposite by appropriately stacking the box while quickly dropping into a zone to throw off the Titans offensive rhythm. Mike Vrabel will have the defensive line ready as Jeffrey Simmons, Jurrell Casey, and Rashaan Evans need to have a sizable impact to send Tennessee to the SuperBowl. Andy Reid is notoriously bad at clock management so he needs to make sure that he and Eric Bieniemy have the right play calls set so he isn’t scrambling too much at the end of half or end of game situations. Brett Kern is a great punter so if he can pin the Chiefs deep then that could force the Chiefs into some uncharacteristic mistakes even if Damien Williams tries to bail them out. Reid is 1-8 against the Titans all-time, but Mahomes should close the deal this time with a game-winning drive to send the Kansas City Chiefs to the SuperBowl for the first time since 1969.
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs 30 Tennessee Titans 27
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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images