The Tennessee Titans once again shocked the NFL world, upsetting the top AFC seed Baltimore Ravens on the road to reach the AFC Championship game for the first time since the 2002 season when they went down to the Raiders. They’ll have the chance to reach their second Super Bowl in franchise history, and that includes the strong 1990s decade the team (then the Houston Oilers) had as well as a Super Bowl XXXIV loss to the Rams in their first season as the Titans.
If they want to have any chance of beating Kansas City at Arrowhead, they’ll need to produce miracles on the defensive side of the ball. The Chiefs offence was so good in the Divisional Round against the Texans that they came back from a 24-0 first-quarter deficit en route to a 20-point win. The Chiefs might be peaking just now and that could be terrible news for Tennessee.
On the other hand, the Titans are a fairly solid defensive side that has allowed just 22 points as underdogs in both the Wild Card and the Divisional Round. The unit surrendered only 12 points to the Ravens, the highest-scoring offence in the National Football League.
However, the Kansas City Chiefs look like a bigger challenge at the moment. But the Titans are better defensively than the Bill O’Brien-led Texans and have proved to find the answers every time they need to adapt. Here’s how the Titans can sensationally slow down the Chiefs’ phenomenal offence in order to boost their chances of getting to the Big Game.
Success in the red zone
Against the Ravens, the Titans were outgained by 230 yards. Baltimore had a total of 530 yards for the game – nothing short of discouraging from a Titans point of view.
What made it possible for them to hold onto a 16-point lead despite the Ravens moving the ball more than well? Baltimore scored a TD on just one of four red-zone possessions – a second-half Lamar Jackson touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst than ended up as the lone Ravens touchdown during their Saturday playoff exit.
When they faced a hands-down worse offensive unit versus the Patriots, it was a similar story – New England was just 1 out of 3 in the red zone. Comparing the two Titans postseason victories, plus how the other team established a rhythm and whether it moved the ball downfield well or not, it didn’t matter as the Titans D has shut down their opponents 5 out of 7 times this postseason.
Keeping the Chiefs out of the endzone as often as possible when they’re inside the 20 is going to be the Titans’ main priority going into the game after KC went a whopping 7-8 in the red zone against Houston.
Exterior pressure on the QB
The Kansas City offence, when at its peak, is nearly flawless.
Meanwhile, it seems like the Titans will be closest to shutting down a dynamic air raid if they make sure their pass rush continues its impressive ways. During the regular season, DT Jurrell Casey, who has spent some time at defensive end, made just 26 tackles and 5 sacks, with Tennessee finishing in the middle of the pack in QB sacks.
Now fast forward to M&T Bank Stadium in the Divisional Round against the Ravens. Casey brought down Lamar Jackson twice while also completing two more tackles. Harold Landry III and Kamalei Correa also had a sack each. The Titans’ season-high is 5 sacks in a single game.
Landry led the club with 9 sacks during the regular season, one of which came against the Chiefs in Week 10. The Chiefs offensive line ranked third in allowed sacks but bringing in Landry or another linebacker on the outside on four-man rush situations or blitzes could make for an altered TEN game plan that might prove a surprise for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy.
Focus on the middle of the field
What’s been even more sensational than the pass rush has been the secondary for the Titans, especially Logan Ryan. A week after his pick-six sealed off a win at Gillette Stadium, he recorded 9 solo tackles, a tackle for loss and played every single offensive snap for the 16th time in 18 games.
Logan Ryan provides a potential threat to Tyreek Hill when it comes to the long ball. That was not the case in Week 10 when Hill had 147 yards through the air, but it was a unit issue rather than Ryan’s fault. He faced 102 targeted balls during the regular year and allowed a QB passer rating of just 87.7.
Ryan and Landry are the defensive leaders of the team and will probably be responsible, alongside DC Dean Pees, for how it deals with Hill and Kelce. If Ryan limits Hill significantly, the focus shifts to the middle of the field. Kelce’s involvement there makes for limited explosive plays but also gives an extra man to cover him even if Landry remains engaged with the pass rush.