Five intriguing storylines heading into the Titans’ AFC contender clash with the Chiefs

The Tennesse Titans are coming off an impressive 34-31 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Monday nights football. Despite all that panic and outcry from the fanbase to start the year, the Titans are currently 4-2 and are third in the AFC as of right now.

Last week, the Titans took advantage of making a statement against a Super Bowl contender, this week Tennessee has the opportunity to solidify that statement against another championship caliber team.

Meanwhile the defending AFC Champions from  Kansas City are coming to town and looking to humble a hot Titans team.

This has all the ingredients for another potential classic so let’s dive right into the five biggest storylines on Sunday. 

Will Derrick Henry take advantage of the Chiefs’ subpar run defense?

Derrick Henry is off to the best start of his legendary career. He has recorded a league-leading 783 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns through SIX games.

He’s also tallied 138 receiving yards and has a total of 921 scrimmage yards — 239 yards more than the next running back (J. Taylor) and 253 more than the top wide receiver (D. Adams).

Over Henry’s last five games, he’s averaging 143 yards and two touchdowns per game. He is on a historic pace to finish the season with over 2,200 yards and 28 touchdowns.

This week, the King gets to face the 27th ranked rush defense who is allowing over 133 yards per contest. Something else that should be in Henry’s favor this weekend: Kansas City’s rush defense struggles often amplify when they play on the road. Only the Texans, Chargers, and Giants allow more rushing yards on the road than the Chiefs do (149.3 YPG). Kansas City has also allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns this season with nine.

Henry has a solid history of playing the Chiefs as well. The last time the Alabama product faced the Chiefs at home (2019), he produced a whopping 188 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries (8.2 YPC).

Although it’s slim, there is a chance that Henry could eclipse 1000 rushing yards by the end of his 7th game on Sunday. That would tie the NFL record for fastest ever to reach 1000 rushing yards set by Jim Brown, O.J. Simpson, & Terrell Davis.

To do so, he will need to take advantage of one of the league’s worst rushing defenses by recording 217 yards — 29 more yards than his previous career-high against the Chiefs (188).

Be on the lookout to see if Henry can continue on his historic pace on Sunday.

Continued Offensive line turnaround?

All year long, the Offensive line has rightfully gotten a ton of heat for their lackluster performances. Coming into the game, no quarterback in the league had been sacked more than Ryan Tannehill (23). For perspective, he had only been sacked 24 times all of last year.

Surely the Bills and their No. 1 defense were going to take advantage of this and make Tannehill’s night miserable, right? Fortunately for the Titans, that was hardly the case. The same team that allowed seven sacks to the winless Jets ended up pitching a sackless shoutout to a Bills unit that had 10 different players recording at least a half-sack through five games.

On top of not allowing a sack, not a single Titans’ offensive lineman allowed more than two pressures on the day. The o-line as a whole only allowed a total of three quarterback hits to a top-10 unit in terms of getting to the quarterback.

Now they host the Chiefs who statistically get fewer sacks than anyone this season. Kansas City ranks 32nd with an average of 1.2  sacks per game.

The Titans are coming off two strong performances up front against Jacksonville and Buffalo. This is a fantastic opportunity for this offensive line to continue stacking great outings as a unit as they are getting healthier and more confident with each passing week 

Can the Titans’ defense impact Patrick Mahomes?

It’s no secret that Patrick Mahomes hasn’t exactly been lighting the world on fire as of late. Mahomes has thrown eight interceptions this season, seven of which have come in the last four games.

In total, Mahomes has thrown 13 interceptions over his last 14 starts. That is already more than he threw in all of 2019 and 2020. 

In fact, the Chiefs’ offense as a whole has given the ball away more than anyone (14). Them and the Jaguars are currently tied for 31st in interceptions thrown with an average of 1.3 thrown per game.

However, Mahomes has only been sacked an average of 1.7 times per game which is tied for eighth so Tennessee is going to have to be creative in how they affect the superstar quarterback.

Whether the Titans’ defense decides to get after Mahomes or to try and confuse him with complex coverages, they must be successful if they’re going to get to 5-2.

Be on the lookout to see how the Titans decide they’re going to try to defend this star-studded Chiefs’ offense.

Julio Jones’ hamstring 

One of the more disappointing storylines this season for me personally has been the lack of impact from Julio Jones. When he’s on the field, he is absolutely incredible and everything we expected. Jones averages over 17 yards per catch and makes plays that most humans simply cannot make.

The problem is the fact that Jones hasn’t finished a full game since his incredible Week 2 performance. The future Hall of Famer has had a history of hamstring problems and it seems like they are starting to nag him more than they used to when he was younger.

Mike Vrabel said on Tuesday that the Titans will “just take it (Jones’ hamstring) day by day and see how it goes tomorrow.”

There’s no denying that Jones makes this football team better both with his play and with his presence that helps alleviate the box for Henry to run through. Tennessee needs to figure out a way to get Jones healthy for the long haul and not just these short spurts.

Nonetheless, this is a massive test this week so if Jones is available in any capacity, his team needs him to be out there.

Who steps up at cornerback?

The Titans have been battling the injury bug all year long. At one point, they had 23 players on the injury report. That doesn’t include those that were already on injured reserve(IR). Arguably their secondary is the group that has been hit the hardest. Safety Amani Hooker was put on IR after Week 1. Their standout cornerback Kristian Fulton was recently put on IR after suffering a hamstring injury against the Jaguars. Then last week, their first-round pick in Caleb Farley tore his ACL and is now out for the season.

Fortunately, Hooker returned last Monday and was stout in his first game back. PFF graded Hooker with a 91.9 after his performance against the Bills. Both Kevin Byard and Hooker should be stout at safety as long as they remain healthy going forward. Unfortunately for them, however, Tennessee’s cornerback situation is far from ideal. They will need that “next man up” mentality they often preach to be true for the foreseeable future.

Be on the lookout to see which corner(s) steps up out of Jackrabbit Jenkins, Breon Borders, Elijah Molden, Chris Jackson, & Greg Mabin.

Comments

  1. Blake Beddingfield has a nice article on PK’s site, where he talks about how teams have been using pressure to force Patrick Mahomes to backup but not escape the pocket and try to throw off his back foot and in duress to avoid a deep sack. This, according to Beddingfield, is a big reason why Mahomes numbers are so poor this year. The league has figured out a way to neutralize Mahomes somewhat, and the Chiefs don’t have the ground game to compensate.

    Given the state of our secondary, I hope we will model this strategy and at least lower their production. We won that Bills game by the skin of our teeth; there is no easy win to be had here either.

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