Snap Judgements: Drawing Conclusions Based on Playing Time vs. Kansas City

David Boclair

NASHVILLE –Tennessee Titans’ coaches figured their best bet against the Kansas City Chiefs was the nickel.

Much more often than not during Sunday’s 35-32 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the defense used five defensive backs (sometimes more), which meant a busy day for LeShaun Sims, now the third cornerback after Malcolm Butler was placed on injured reserve.

Sims was on the field for 77 of 82 total snaps by the defense (94 percent), more than any linebacker or defensive lineman. He was credited with a career-high 11 tackles, pending review of the game film by coaches, which was nearly twice his previous high (six). That was second only to starting cornerback Logan Ryan, who made 13 stops. Ryan and the rest of the starting secondary, cornerback Adoreé Jackson and safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro, were on the field for every snap.

To accommodate Sims so often, coaches went with two defensive linemen rather than the standard three, along with four linebackers. DaQuan Jones and Jeffery Simmons started up front and each was on the field more than half the time. The only other lineman who got significant playing time was Austin Johnson, who logged 34 snaps (41 percent of the total).

The impetus for that alignment was Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time All-Pro and the Chiefs’ leading receiver this season.

“It just brings you an extra DB into the game from what our base stuff was,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “… We decided how we’re going to treat this tight end based on his ability, his skillset, and do you look at it more as a receiving tight end, or would you look at him more as a blocking tight end. That’s how we make the decision.”

It was successful in that the Titans won.

It did not exactly slow Kelce or the rest of Kansas City’s passing game. Kelce finished with seven receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown. That matched his season-high for catches in a game and was his third touchdown. In all, the Chiefs threw for 433 yards, the most against the Titans since Vrabel became head coach and the most by any Tennessee opponent since Detroit threw for 442 in an overtime game on Sept. 23, 2012.

Other conclusions based on playing time against Kansas City:

Youth movement: There can be no question that rookie A.J. Brown (pictured) has become a prominent part of the offense. With Corey Davis sidelined by a hip injury, Brown led all wide receivers with 49 snaps, which was all but three of the offense’s total and the most among skill position players other than quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tajaé Sharpe (42 snaps) and Adam Humphries (34 snaps) also were on the field for more than half of the offense’s plays, which means that Davis’ workload was mostly spread among those three. But the one guy the Titans wanted on the field at almost all times was Brown, who was targeted four times (tied for second on the team) but caught just one pass for 17 yards.

• Picking his spots: Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted 50 passes, twice the number of times he handed off. That meant there were plenty of opportunities to rush the quarterback, yet Cameron Wake – Tennessee’s pass rush specialist – was on the field for just 14 snaps, two more than he played a week earlier against Carolina, which threw it just 32 times.

Wake is 37 years old and has battled a hamstring injury this year. Those things are bigger factors in determining his playing time than what the opposing offense is doing.

Making good: Josh Kalu made one of the biggest plays of the season when he blocked Kansas City’s game-tying field goal attempt as time expired. The second-year defensive back also played one snap on defense (his first of the season) and, according to Vrabel, was at least partially responsible for the fact that the Chiefs started that final possession with a 23-yard completion that got them into field goal range.

Players talk all the time about forgetting a bad play and moving on to the next one. Clearly, that is a skill Kalu possesses.

Youth movement, Part II: Linebacker David Long, the Titans’ final pick in the 2019 draft, has grown from special teams performer into a viable option on defense. Long appeared in seven of the first nine games and made just one tackle on defense. Against the Chiefs, he was on the field for 28 snaps with the defense and made eight tackles (one more than Rashaan Evans) and forced a fumble.

Expect to see more of him on defense over the final six games.