NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Here's a look at six things to watch:
Derrick Henry Train
The Titans keep handing the ball off to running back Derrick Henry, and Henry keeps delivering. The Texans knew it was coming, the Patriots knew it was coming and the Ravens knew it was coming. But that didn't keep Henry from becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 180 yards in three consecutive regular season or postseason games. Henry has accumulated 377 rushing yards on 64 attempts through two postseason games, setting a new single-game franchise record in consecutive weeks. His pace of 188.5 rushing yards per game is the best in a single postseason in NFL history for players with at least two games played. The Chiefs, who finished the regular season ranked 26th in run defense, will stack the box to slow down the big back. Will Henry and the Titans be able to keep the train moving? Well, a trip to the Super Bowl is waiting at the end of the track.
More From Passing Game?
Those new to the Titans scene probably think quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been a game manager this season, a background piece who has taken a backseat to the running game since taking over as the starter in Week 7. After all, Tannehill has thrown for less than 100 yards in both of the team's playoff wins, and he's completed just 15 passes in the two games combined. But Tannehill was a consistent performer for the Titans all season, throwing for over 250 yards in six of his 10 starts, and over 300 yards on three occasions. Will the Titans need more from Tannehill and the passing game on Sunday against the high-scoring Chiefs? I think the answer to that question is "yes."
Containing Patrick Mahomes
In the first round of the playoffs, the Titans faced legendary quarterback Tom Brady of the Patriots. In round two, slowing down the league's likely MVP, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, was the challenge. Now the Titans are faced with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, last year's MVP and the hottest thing going at the position right now. Mahomes is an electrifying player, with 4,031 passing yards and 26 touchdowns in the regular season. He threw for 321 yards and five touchdowns last week vs the Texans, and he threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns in a Week 10 contest in Nashville. The Titans won't be able to stop Mahomes. But they need to find a way to limit his success, both through the air and on the ground. They'll need another solid defensive effort – and an offense that helps limit Kansas City's possessions.
Dealing with Travis Kelce
The biggest target for Mahomes will be the biggest target in stature – Kansas City's 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end Travis Kelce, who has been a nightmare to cover throughout his career. Kelce led the Chiefs with a team-high 10 catches for 134 yards and three touchdowns in last week's playoff win against the Texans. During the regular season, Kelce caught 97 passes for 1,229 yards and five scores. Kelce is a matchup problem for every team, so it will be interesting to see how the Titans defend him on Sunday — and how well their plan works.
I mentioned Tannehill and the passing game a few sections up. With the ball expected to be in the air more, which Titans targets will Tannehill look to the most? Against the Patriots, tight end Anthony Firkser came up with the money balls. Against the Ravens, tight end Jonnu Smith and receiver Kalif Raymond stepped up with some big catches from Tannehill. On Sunday, who will emerge? A.J. Brown has been relatively quiet during the postseason, and Corey Davis' touchdown catch last weekend came on a jump pass from Henry. Receiver Adam Humphries, who had the game-winning catch in the Week 10 meeting vs the Chiefs, figures to be back in the mix after returning to practice all week. Will a new hero emerge for the Titans?
When the Titans beat the Chiefs in Week 10, it was defensive back Joshua Kalu's blocked field goal that sealed the deal. When the Titans won at Arrowhead Stadium in 2016, it was kicker Ryan Succop's last-second field goal that won it. Sunday's game could very well come down to who wins on special teams. The Titans have the game's best punter in Brett Kern, the Chiefs have one of the game's most dangerous returners in Mecole Hardman. Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker has made 34-of-38 field goals, while Titans kicker Greg Joseph still hasn't tried one in four games with the team. The Chiefs had a punt blocked last week. In a game with so much importance, the hunch here is special teams plays a big role in the outcome.
Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota led Tennessee back from a 21-3 deficit to defeat the Chiefs 22-21 in an AFC Wild Card game on Jan. 6, 2018 at Arrowhead Stadium.