The Ryan Tannehill honeymoon might be over.
It was a fun two weeks, much like most honeymoons, but it’s time to come back to the real world where your house payment is due, and your offensive line is still overpaid. Don’t get me wrong. In no way am I blaming Tannehill for the loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, but the offense has gone downhill each of the last two weeks after a promising performance against the Chargers to start the Tannehill era. The question is “why?” Some, including myself, have pointed to the seemingly backwards offensive approaches of the last two games. Despite Tampa Bay being the league’s top rushing defense, the Titans spent most of the first half trying to establish the run with Derrick Henry, who finished the first half with 31 yards on seven carries. Not a terrible line against an elite rush defense, but Henry picked up 34 yards on his second carry of the day. So for you math majors out there, his other six carries netted -3 yards.
Compare that to the game plan against the Panthers last week. Carolina, who ranks last in the NFL in rushing defense DVOA according to Football Outsiders, only had to stop Henry twice in the first half on Sunday.
You read that right. Against a team who has been struggling to stop the run, the Titans gave Derrick Henry two touches in the first half. It didn’t make much sense in the moment and a week of contemplation hasn’t shed much light on the decision.
The Kansas City Chiefs come to Nissan Stadium this week bosting one of the best offenses in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes is back. Jurrell Casey and Jayon Brown are out. This Titans’ offense is going to have to put up points to have a chance. I’ll talk about it more in a second, but that starts and ends with Derrick Henry.
Kansas City Chiefs (-6) @ Tennessee Titans
Game Time: Noon EDT
Location: Nashville, TN (Nissan Stadium)
TV Broadcast Crew: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson
Radio: Titans Radio, 104-5 The Zone
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Amie Wells, Jonathan Hutton, Rhett Bryan
Over/ Under: 49.5
Stat Corner with Matt:
Breaking News: The Chiefs are good at football. Now that Patrick Mahomes is healthy, Kansas City goes back to being favorites to make the AFC Championship game. I’m not sure Titans’ fans should have high hopes for Sunday, but two other AFC South teams have beaten the Chiefs already this season, and the way they did it is something the Titans *should* be able to replicate.
The Chiefs’ offense is elite. Andy Reid scored 21 and 26 points with Matt Moore as his quarterback the last two weeks. But the defense, more specifically the rush defense, has been exploited in the Chiefs’ three losses this season. The Colts, who handed Kansas City their first loss, ran the ball 29 times with Marlon Mack for 132 yards and controlled the ball for over 37 minutes. One week later, Carlos Hyde carried it 26 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, and the Texans had possession of the ball for over 39 minutes.
The Chiefs didn’t have starting defensive tackle Chris Jones during those games, which may have led to Hyde and Mack’s big days, but it wasn’t just those two games that Kansas City’s rush defense struggled. According to Football Outsiders, Kansas City’s rush defense ranks No. 28 in DVOA and No. 29 in yards per game (139.6).
The Titans can’t have this game turn into a shootout. Mahomes is the best gunslinger in the NFL. Tannehill is not. But the Titans can are built to control the clock with Derrick Henry and limit the amount of time Mahomes has the ball. Henry’s season high in carries is 27 against the Chargers, but he may need to exceed that number this week for the Titans to have a shot.
3 Things to Watch:
–Mahomes’ Return: This one isn’t good news for Titans’ fans. QB Patrick Mahomes has missed the last two games with a dislocated kneecap, but will make his return in Nashville this Sunday. Mahomes will be facing a Titans’ secondary who is missing Malcolm Buter after the cornerback suffered a broken wrist last Sunday. His backup, LaShaun Sims will be thrown into the fire this week and I have a bad feeling he, and the rest of this secondary, will get burned.
-No Jayon Brown: I really don’t mean to be so pessimistic. But another piece of bad news that dropped Friday was Jayon Brown being listed as “out” for Sunday’s game. Brown provides this Titans’ defense with speed in the middle of the field that is key when trying to keep up with Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Travis Kelce. Without Brown, look for the Chiefs to try and exploit the Titans’ lack of speed up the middle.
-Derrick Henry’s Quest for Top 5: With his rushing touchdown last week, Henry moved into sixth place in franchise history with 28 touchdowns. He’s only one behind fifth place (Lorenzo White), so with a good performance this Sunday, Henry could move into the top five in rushing touchdowns in Oilers/Titans history, a group that includes Earl Campbell, Eddie George, Chris Johnson and Steve McNair.
My Prediction: Chiefs 31, Titans 20
The blueprint is known, but I don’t think the Titans are going to be able to follow it. I think the loss of Malcolm Butler is going to be more important than we think going against this dangerous receiving core. With the bye week coming up, Titans fans are going to have a lot of time to simmer in this loss. Sorry guys. Don’t shoot the messenger.