The Tennessee Titans still have a shot at the playoffs, though they need help. First things first, though — never mind what the Colts and Jags do this weekend — the Titans need to take care of their own business.
Standing in their way is a good Chiefs team, one that’s leading it’s division and trying to clinch a playoff berth. The Titans will be facing a team that’s motivated and focused.
Overview: Just call it Patriots West. General Manager Scott Pioli came to Kansas City from the New England organization and seems determined to rebuild the Chiefs in that mold. Former Patriots coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel now hold the same positions with the Chiefs under head coach Todd Haley. QB Matt Cassell, formerly Tom Brady’s backup, is now the main man in Kansas City.
Offense: Before the Chiefs’ fortunes declined a few years ago, they had one of the best offensive lines in the league, blocking for one of the top backs, Larry Johnson. However, the line grew old, as did LJ, and has been rebuilt. 2008 first-round draft pick T Branden Albert and 2010 free agent acquisition RG Ryan Lilja have transformed the line into one of the best in the league again. Football Outsiders ranks them as the second best run-blocking line, which is no surprise, and 16th in pass protection.
The line is now blocking for the best rushing attack in the league, averaging 169 yards per game. RB Jamaal Charles is averaging a sick 6.4 yards per carry, best in the league among all backs with 50 or more carries. He’s arguably one of the top five backs in the league and a serious candidate for All-Pro honors this season.
RB Thomas Jones may have been too old for the Jets’ taste but he’s still going strong in KC, giving the Chiefs a solid one-two punch in the backfield. Jones actually has nine more carries than Charles and has added six rushing TDs.
The Chiefs are only 30th in the league in passing yards but they’re very dangerous when they throw to Dwayne Bowe. He struggled some with the dropsies earlier this year, including a TD drop in a close loss to the Colts, but went on a tear afterwards. Bowe tallied 13 touchdowns in a red-hot seven-game stretch from weeks 6 to 12. And we thought Kenny Britt was hot when he had 7 TDs in five weeks.
Cassell missed week 14 following an appendectomy but returned to action last week, delivering an adequate performance in a 27-13 win over the Rams. He should be good to go again this week, and better, now that he’s healthier.
Go ahead and pencil in the name Tony Moeaki as the next mediocre or relatively unknown tight end to have a great game against Tennessee’s TE-friendly defense.
Defense: As mentioned before, Romeo Crennel is the DC, so you know what the deal is. It’s a 3-4 scheme, pretty much the same style he ran as the Patriots’ DC and in his stint as the Browns head coach.
The linebackers are a good group and worth keeping an eye on. Another ex-Patriot, Mike Vrabel, has found a home there on the strong side. After playing outside in the Chiefs’ former 4-3 scheme, Derrick Thomas has moved inside. Michael Roos will have another challenge this week, against developing star Tamba Hali, who leads the Chiefs with 11 sacks from his weakside edge rush position.
The secondary is also full of budding stars. Corners Carr and Flowers are both named Brandon and both in their third NFL season. They ought to be good for years to come, barring injury. Fifth overall draft pick SS Eric Berry will be a very familiar face to those who saw him play at the University of Tennessee. It’s extremely rare that safeties are drafted that high — the late Sean Taylor was also a #5 overall and LaRon Landy was a #6 — so Berry is a very special talent.
Keys to victory: I don’t think there’s any question the Titans need to start off well, either building an early lead, or at least staying close. Tennessee needs to make Cassell throw the ball often, which he won’t do if the Chiefs have a lead.
Given the chance, I’m sure Kansas City would love to run the ball against Tennessee, the same way the Texans and Jaguars plowed over the Titans in back to back weeks. Not only would the Chiefs love to run the ball down the Titans’ throats, they have the ability to. This all goes back to playing with a lead and forcing the Chiefs to throw.
Prediction: Chris Johnson gains 100 yards and scores two touchdowns. Kenny Britt has six receptions for 100 yards and also finds paydirt. Alterraun Verner makes a pick, Jason Babin gets a sack and Stephen Tulloch forces and recovers a fumble. It will be a “Bah, Humbug!” of a Christmas for Kansas City fans.