NASHVILLE -- The Titans face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
I fully expected the Titans to pound the football early against the Panthers, and for one reason or another, it didn't happen. So, consider this Take 2. Against the Chiefs on Sunday, the Titans need to control the football and keep it out of the hands of Kansas City's offense to be successul. The Chiefs are ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing defense, and they've allowed some big rushing yards in games, including giving up 203 yards vs. the Ravens, 186 vs. the Lions, 180 vs. the Colts and 192 vs. the Texans. The Chiefs have stiffened up against the run in recent weeks, but Derrick Henry and the Titans need to change that on Sunday.
Containing Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will return this week, but forget the woe is me attitude and the 'Why couldn't he have waited another week?' thinking. AFC South brethren Indianapolis and Houston found a way to beat the Chiefs with Mahomes in the saddle, so the Titans need to find a way to do the same if they're going to be contenders this season. It won't be easy – Mahomes is a baller, a QB who throws no-look passes, tosses with his opposite hand, and 60-yard darts while also showing great escapability. The Titans need to find a way to keep him off the highlight reel, and out of the end zone.
The Kicking Game
It's a shame this is an issue, but it is because the Titans have made it one. Titans kickers Cairo Santos (4-9), Cody Parkey (3-3) and Ryan Succop (0-3) are a combined 7-of-15 on field goals tries this season. If a few of those had gone through the uprights in games earlier this season, the Titans could be 6-3 right now instead of 4-5. After a tough week in Carolina, the Titans need Succop to be sharp against his previous employer. More on this to come, though...
A Fast Start
The Titans found themselves down 17-0 at the half vs the Panthers last weekend, and it was the continuation of an ugly trend. The Titans have been held scoreless in the first half of four of the team's first nine games. The team has been outscored 43-34 in the first quarter this season, and 95-70 in the first half of games. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have outscored their opponents 161-108 in the first half of games this season, including 107-38 in the second quarter. The Titans need to get out of the gate well and make this a game from the get-go.
Titans Pass Defense
While the Titans will aim to pressure Mahomes, the Titans secondary will be on the spot while trying to slow down some of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. And they'll be doing so without cornerback Malcolm Butler, who was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week. Enter LeShaun Sims, who will need to play well. But this will require a team effort, as the Chiefs have some scary targets in receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, along with tight end Travis Kelce. Five different Kansas City targets have at least one 100-yard game this season, including a nine-catch, 198-yard performance from Watkins.
Titans Need Touchdowns
After mentioning Succop among the things to watch just a few graphs up, I'm not going to turn around and minimize his role now. But the reality is the Titans are going to need touchdowns, not field goals, to beat the Chiefs. The Titans have been good in the red zone under quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has thrown six touchdown passes in his first three starts. The problem the Titans have had is they haven't been getting into the red zone enough. The Titans need to sustain drives and cap them off with scores.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the team's all-time series against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photos)