NASHVILLE to KANSAS CITY –** OK, it's almost time.
The long wait for playoff football is almost over for the Titans, who will face the Chiefs in the AFC Wild Card round on Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.
On the flight to K.C., I banged out the mailbag.
We're going in now …
Jay Swartzendruber from Charlotte, North Carolina
Question: Marcus Mariota's big stiff-arm run on Sunday seemed to be an eye-opening play for both national commentators and a number of Titans fans. Many questioned Marcus' quiet style of leadership and that run combined with the way he seemed to stare down Barry Church afterward changed some minds. Do you think it also changed the perspective of some of his teammates? Or from your vantage point has this Titans locker room always remained on the Mariota train even as he's played through injuries this year?
Jim: Hey Jay. Good question out of the gate. Well, I can tell you his teammates loved it. They were fired up on the sideline when it happened, and guys talked about his swagger in the locker room after the game. The team watched it all again during the week. Marcus is quiet, but he's shown his teeth before. I've witnessed the mild-mannered Mariota get fiery on occasion, but I'll admit, I haven't seen it much. While guys have always respected Mariota because they know how hard he works, and have always known what kind of a competitor he is, I do think a moment like that fires a team up heading into the playoffs.
Mark Roybal from Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Question: Hello Jim. I've been a Titans fan since they moved to the Nashville area and also very excited for this coming Saturday. Not too many Titans fans in surrounding area but we have a lot rooting for us. I have couple of questions:
- A lot of talk that Dick LeBeau might be done after this season. He has done a lot to bring this defense back up. Do we see coming back next year?
- Any talk on the new uniforms for next year?
Wish everyone the best luck
Jim: Hey Mark. Thanks for the questions. Well, LeBeau is asked about this subject every year. He was asked about it leading up to the end of the regular season, and said he hadn't really given it much thought. But he proved again this season he's still got it – the Titans showed improvement all season, and finished 13th in overall defense, including 4th vs. the run. I'm sure at some point when the season ends - hopefully in February -- he'll make a decision.
As for the uniforms, they're coming. But I can't talk about that subject here yet. The big reveal will come later.
Frank Strovel from Baltimore, Maryland
Question: Are you aware of the derogatory comments made by Jags DT Marcell Dareus about the Titans and, if so, do you know if the team is using it as bulletin board material?
Jim: Hey Frank. You bet I'm aware. And for those who missed what Dareus said, here's what he had to say after the Titans beat the Jaguars on Sunday for the series sweep:
"I would love to play their sorry a– again," Dareus said of the Titans, via Michael DiRocco of ESPN. "They shouldn't have showed me that. They shouldn't have showed me how sorry their a– is. That's embarrassing that they would call themselves any kind of an enforcer of a team. Oh, my God. When we suit up next year they better be ready because they already know what kind of a– whooping I'll hand out to them. . . . Dang, I wish we could have played them next week. That would have been an easy win next week, oh my goodness, but we've got Buffalo. I'm excited about it."
As for bulletin board material, it hasn't been talked about much this week since the opponent is Kansas City. But you can be sure guys will be reminded down the road. It kind of reminded me of Fred Taylor's comments during the 1999 season, when the former Jaguars running back kept saying the Jags were a better team than the Titans every time they lost to them. All three times.
Jay Wedel from Camden, Delaware
Question: Why is it that we had to wait for injuries to LeSaun Sims, Kalan Reed and Brice McCain before we saw play of Tye Smith? I know what game doesn't mean everything but he look to be in proper position throughout the last game while McCain was consistently caught out of position nearly every time he plays.
Why not bring Khalfani Muhammed up for a change of pace? He doesn't need the whole playbook he just needs to know a couple of run and pass plays. Get him in space with the ball. If not him then get Taywan Taylor more involved.
Jim: Hey Jay. Well, for starters, Reed wasn't hurt when Smith got the bump up. The reality is Smith paid his dues and performed well to get his chance, and the more experienced McCain hasn't done enough to hold him off of late. Muhammad is up, but he didn't get a carry on Sunday – neither did David Fluellen for that matter – and we'll have to see if he gets a chance this week. Appreciate the question.
Jay Mays from Toronto
Question: Hey, Jim. I understand the Jags aren't really a team to attack with the no huddle considering their amazing secondary. Do you think we'll see it again vs KC? It's the only time our offense has looked like an actual offense.
Jim: Hey Jay. Well, it's part of the offense, and it wouldn't surprise me if we saw some of it again vs the Chiefs. But the Titans are also going to need a dose of smashmouth football in this one to win it. The Chiefs are ranked 25th in the NFL in run defense. I thought Derrick Henry showed a lot of maturity this week when he criticized himself for running "soft" against the Jaguars. So you're going to see some run-it-right-at-them football in the plan as well with a motivated Henry toting the football. The hurry up/no huddle does seem to energize the offense, so a mix would be good.
Josh Brown from Cincinnati, Ohio
Question: There have been many, many, many hamstring injuries this season. Could this be more than just a coincidence? I understand stopping and starting in cold weather will tweak anyone's legs, but other teams are not having nearly as many hamstring injuries this year.
Jim: Hey Josh. I do look at the injury reports from other teams each week, and it's a pretty common injury in the NFL. I know the Titans have had their share, and coach Mike Mularkey has said on many occasions this year they're looking into why.
Thomas Smith from Port St Lucie, Florida
Question: How do you think the weather will factor in on what scheme Tennessee will run on offense?
Jim: Hey Thomas. I don't think weather will be a factor on Saturday in Kansas City. Looks like the kickoff temp will be right around 30 for kickoff, and in the upper 20s during the game. Cold, but not a game plan wrecker.
Asa Fitzpatrick from Lutz, Florida
Question:Alright Jim, we did it last year in KC, but now the stakes (and temperature) are higher. What do you think the Titans have to do in order to win this game in KC. Also, what is your prediction of the final score? I'm going to go with 31-27 Titans! Thanks for all you do!
Jim: Hey Asa. I don't do predictions here, but I'm expecting a good one. The Titans are going to need to run the ball well, and play solid defense. Winning the turnover margin is key. Man, I'm counting the minutes to kickoff. Should be a fun.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Go behind the scenes as the Titans travel to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs in Saturday's AFC Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Photos: Nate Bain)