The record-breaking 2018 Chiefs offense showed up last weekend at Arrowhead, where Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes and Co. became the first team in NFL playoff history to win a game by 20 points after trailing by at least the same margin.
Most amazingly, Mahomes’ four-TD outburst in a roughly nine-minute span after falling behind 24-0, and the 41 unanswered by his Chiefs en route to the 51-31 win over Bill O’Brien’s bewildered Texans, appeared as effortless as it was unprecedented.
The Chiefs now are set to host their second consecutive conference championship, welcoming the sixth-seeded Titans – the first of their kind in a decade to knock off a top conference challenger, routing the top-seeded Ravens, 28-12.
By now, readers surely are familiar with Derrick Henry’s exploits, but like Mahomes’, they certainly bear repeating: The former Heisman winner-turned-NFL rushing champion is amid a historic streak in which he’s the first-ever player to pile drive his way to three consecutive games of at least 180 rushing yards. Most incredibly, they’ve all come in sudden-death season scenarios for the Titans.
After knocking off the NFL’s only active three-time MVP, then the soon-to-be MVP, to punch their first AFC title game ticket since 2002, the Titans have their sights set on an MVP-slaying trifecta.
Titans offense vs. Chiefs defense: Henry is averaging 33 touches at 6.2 yards a pop during his ridiculous recent run. Though he epitomizes the bring-your-own-blocker run style, let’s show some love to his blockers, including the powerful left side, comprised of Rodger Saffold and Taylor Lewan, which routinely reestablished the line of scrimmage against a stout Baltimore front.
The Chiefs – who aren’t nearly as stout as the Ravens – played without their best D-lineman last weekend, Chris Jones, whose calf injury again figures to make him a game-time decision. Without him, a unit that ranked 29th in Football Outsiders’ run DVOA held Houston to 4.5 yards a pop. Of course, Deshaun Watson attempted 52 passes as the Texans amassed nearly 500 yards of total offense; the red-hot Chiefs “D” that entered the playoffs, this was not.
There’s a misconception given his insane numbers that Henry is the end-all, be-all of the Titans offense. It’s worth noting each of their first two postseason upsets began with a regular dose of NFL passer rating champion Ryan Tannehill, who has tossed all three of his postseason touchdowns on Tennessee’s first six series combined. Once the Titans build a lead, that’s when they lean on their closer. Tannehill’s best receiver is All-Rookie YAC beast A.J. Brown, but TE Jonnu Smith – who caught the game-opening score last weekend – and former No. 7 overall pick Corey Davis can create mismatches against Bashaud Breeland, Tyrann Mathieu and Kansas City’s ball-hawking secondary.
The Chiefs overcame Jones’ absence Sunday with a three-sack demolition courtesy of the relentless Frank Clark.
Chiefs offense vs. Titans defense: Among the many marvels of the Mahomes-led magic a week ago, Tyreek Hill didn’t score and contributed only 41 yards on three catches. The tall task of neutralizing him in a second straight game falls on Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson, with help from Kevin Byard, when he isn’t occupied with game-wrecking TE Travis Kelce, who was on the receiving end of three short Mahomes TD passes vs. Houston.
The Titans’ “D” (No. 10 in DVOA vs. the run and 21st vs. the pass) probably doesn’t have to worry about Mahomes leading all ball carriers in rushing again (7-53 rushing last week) but must be aware of his improve and scrambling instincts. Tennesssee also can’t count on rust contributing to a slew of Chiefs drops again either. Moreover, Mahomes’ pocket movement and throwing precision to all areas of the field last week were as sharp as they’d been all season, and Reid’s scheme helped create plenty of separation for speedsters Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman.
Can the Titans make someone other than Kelce and Hill beat them? That’s likely to be coordinator Dean Pees’ directive, but it’ll take special efforts from Jurrell Casey, Rashaan Evans and Kenny Vaccaro up the middle, in addition to youngsters Harold Landry and Kamalei Correa outside.
Special Teams: Dave Toub’s Chiefs are outstanding despite allowing a blocked punt to be returned for a touchdown, as well as a muffed punt helping dig last week’s huge early deficit. Hardman is a first-team All Pro returner, while PK Harrison Butker led the NFL in scoring. Conversely, PK Greg Joseph hasn’t attempted a field goal in four games with the Titans, while Tennessee’s return and coverage units were subpar in 2019.
Coaching: Mike Vrabel and his Titans staff have been tremendous, showing no fear but plenty of terrific execution in some daunting spots thus far in January. But Andy Reid is the best coach in the NFL yet to win a Super Bowl, and his Chiefs are fresh off one of the greater comebacks in playoff history, with an offense that appears unstoppable.