Chiefs-Titans Keys & Matchups:  Mahomes Returns to High-Flying Offense Against Run-Focused Tennessee

Regan Creswell

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) travel to the Music City in Week 10 in challenging the Tennessee Titans (4-5). The club received a boost on Friday with Patrick Mahomes declared ready to resume control as the club's starting quarterback. The Chiefs enter the contest as a six-point favorite over the Titans.

Matchups To Watch

Chiefs TE Travis Kelce vs. Titans Bracket Coverage

The Titans routinely used linebackers and safeties to bracket the Carolina tight end Greg Olsen last week, using one player to take away inside breaks and another to cover the outside. Whichever way Olsen broke, he had a defender in front of him and another trailing him. Expect Travis Kelce to receive a similar treatment in this game.

Chiefs Defensive Tackles vs. Titans Interior Offensive Line

The Chiefs’ defensive tackles face a very beatable interior offensive line for the second consecutive week. With their blend of deceptive speed, power and good hand usage, Derrick Nnadi, Khalen Saunders and Chris Jones can get push up the middle against the run and collapse the pocket when Ryan Tannehill drops back to pass.

Chiefs’ Linebackers vs. Derrick Henry

Derrick Henry is the focal point of the Titans’ offense. He is a bigger running back at 6’3 247 lbs, which means he outweighs the entire Chiefs’ linebackers corps except for Reggie Ragland. Henry is a very physical runner that wants to initiate contact or use a strong stiff arm to keep would-be tacklers at bay. It is vital that the linebackers wrap up when tackling Henry, and if they can’t bring him down, they have to hold on and slow him down until help arrives.

Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill vs. Titans Cornerbacks

Hill using his speed and explosiveness to exploit defenders is exciting to for fans to watch, but absolutely terrifying to defensive coordinators and defensive backs. The Titans occasionally use a cornerback to shadow the opponent’s best receiver with mixed results. Adoree Jackson is the best equipped to match Hill’s athletic gifts if the Titans choose to shadow him. Logan Ryan is a crafty veteran who is very comfortable in this defensive scheme. With Malcolm Butler heading to injured reserve with a broken wrist, LeShaun Sims will get more playing time in nickel packages and should get tested by the Chiefs. Regardless of whether the Titans’ shadow Hill or not, he should see corners giving him plenty of cushion. That allows him to work underneath or press corners with safety help over the top, opening things up for the rest of the Kansas City offense.

Chiefs Running Backs vs. Titans Linebackers

The Titans' front seven is built to stop the run with big bodies on the defensive line and run stuffing linebackers at the next level. Starting inside linebacker Jayon Brown is set to miss this game with a groin injury, so Wesley Woodyard and Daren Bates will look to fill that spot. Unfortunately for the Titans, their linebackers lack the ability to consistently cover the Chiefs’ running backs on routes out of the backfield or stretch runs to the sidelines.

Keys To Victory

Trench Warfare

The Titans play an old school, smash-mouth type of game. They rely on winning along the offensive and defensive lines, playing physical defense and running the football. The Chiefs have to win the trench battles on defense to slow the Titans run game. The Kansas City offensive line will have to stay strong against a powerful defensive line and outside linebacker group to allow Mahomes time to get the ball to the playmakers.

Keep Mahomes Clean

In his first game back from a knee injury, protecting Mahomes is a greater importance than normal. While the offensive line doesn’t have to contain a good speed rusher this week, they do have to take on linebacker Harold Landry, who has six sacks on the season, and a defensive line that plays with good power. They will also see plenty of blitzing from the safeties and twists along the defensive line. If Mahomes is kept upright, he should get back to his normal MVP-level play.

Contain Titans RB Derrick Henry

Henry’s strong lower body make him a tough ball carrier to bring down and his speed gives him the ability to get to the second level in a hurry. The key to limiting Henry is to force him to run laterally or dance in the backfield trying to find a hole. It takes him time to build up momentum, so if he can’t get downhill quickly, he becomes much easier to bring down by the defense. If he gets clear lanes into the secondary, it could be a long afternoon for the smaller defensive backs trying to tackle him.

Protect the Football

Tannehill took over at quarterback for the Titans, the offense is averaging just more than 23 points per game while the defense allows more than 24 points per game during that stretch. Even though the Titans normally play pretty tough defense, they should struggle to keep the Chiefs under 28 points, something that doesn't happen often with Mahomes in the lineup. Tennessee will have to run the football effectively and produce takeaways on defense if they hope to keep this game within striking distance.

Get Titans Out of Comfort Zone

Tennessee is built to play low-scoring games where they can utilize their run game. Despite Tannehill improving their quarterback play, they don’t have the weapons in the passing game to compete in a shootout. If the Chiefs can jump out to an early lead and continue piling on the points, the Titans will have to abandon the run and take to the air to keep up, something they are ill-equipped to do.

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