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Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs - Previewing the 2020 AFC Championship Game

ANALYST
Modified 01 Apr 2020, 17:29 IST
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Titans offense vs. Chiefs defense

Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill

There is no real mystery about what the Titans want to do offensively – they want to hand Derrick Henry the ball 30+ times and then fire some kill-shots off play-action. Nobody in the history of the NFL has put together more than Henry’s 377 rushing yards through the first two rounds of the playoffs even though he had to go through Bill Belichick’s number one overall defense and the Ravens’ fourth-ranked group, who had allowed just two 100-rushers all year long.

While Tennessee’s offensive line deserves a ton of credit for opening up lanes inside and allowing him to get to the edge, it’s about what the nearly 250-pound back does once he builds up some momentum. Throughout the regular season, Henry averaged 4.2 yards after contact alone and he has improved that mark to 4.7 in these playoffs. While it would seem like teams should be able to bring down someone with a huge frame like his by attacking him low, it’s the length of his arms that allows the bruising back to keep defenders off him and he is about as fast as it gets for someone his size once he can accelerate. What makes it tough to contain is that Tennessee uses their tight-end in a variety of ways, moving them in and out of the backfield, keeping the backside pursuit honest with jet sweep fakes and the O-line sustaining those double-teams pretty long.

As much as Kansas City struggled to stop the run in the middle of the season, they actually do have several big bodies they can put on the field and after Derrick Henry ran went for 188 yards on them in their prior matchup, they allowed an average of just 95 over their six-game winning streak. When these teams first met, the Chiefs D really crashed the front-side on zone runs and forced the big guy to cut back. However, we also saw what happens when that backside edge defender is too conservative and allows a lane between him and the offensive tackle when Henry went for a 68-yard score.

Defensively, you actually have to make him stop his feet and lose some of that momentum because when he gets past that initial wave and you ask your secondary to tackle, it’s time to say good night. In that week 11 game, the Titans didn’t have a lot of success running out of 12 personnel, which allowed KC to keep three D-tackles on the field shaded towards the strong side to go with Frank Clark on the weak-side edge, as well eight defenders in the box.

Tennessee was much more productive running the ball from 11, where they added in some power runs, that allowed Henry to either follow a lead-blocker or it made the backside linebacker completely overrun the play and opened up a lane from where the pulling guard left. I would also like to see them use some more shotgun and go zone read, which takes an extra defender away from Henry and create those cutback opportunities or they leave Tannehill uncovered for crucial pick-ups. What actual work well was those jumbo packages, because the Chiefs kept the same personnel out as they did against just two tight-ends, where you have a safety or even corner with gap responsibilities.

The biggest difference between the Titans offense with Marcus Mariota compared to Tannehill now is the frequency at which they hit deep balls off play-action. Their coaches do a nice job feeling the game out and knowing when to use the aggressiveness of the defense against them. Oftentimes you only have two receivers in the pattern – a deep over and an even deeper post – and if you don’t use jump calls for that middle safety and have corners with the speed to replace him, they will eat you alive with those chunk plays.

Last week against Baltimore they connected with Kalif Raymond for a 51-yard score on a post-corner-post, which had All-Pro corner Marlon Humphrey spinning around as Earl Thomas jumped on the over. As far as the drop-back pass game is concerned the Titans use a lot of simple high-low concepts but use different formations and personnel sets to run them out of. That can mean flat responsibility for one of the tight-ends and a receiver running a corner route over the top from a reduced split and then coming back to using an in-line player for the deeper route with a back coming into the flats.

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The Titans also excel at identifying man-coverage with pre-snap motions and then forcing defenders to work around traffic on routes coming back the other way or mesh-type concepts. Tannehill is much better equipped to work his way through progressions than Mariota – whose biggest weakness was the fact he oftentimes couldn’t move on from his primary read – and he is simply not afraid to let it rip. I like what Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done with changing up looks and being more aggressive with his blitz packages, but they have to stay disciplined with their rush lanes or Tannehill will tuck it and take advantage of it like he did a couple of times in the first matchup.

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Published 17 Jan 2020, 16:54 IST
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