Can the Titans achieve the impossible?
When you watch the Tennessee Titans play, you know they’re going to run the football. You know it, because you have a pair of eyes and some kind of understanding about the game.
The Titans know it, because that’s just what they do. And the other team knows, too, because they went over and over it in their pregame plans and are now living the reality of trying to stop it.
Yet none of that has mattered too much over the past few weeks, as the Titans first rode Derrick Henry into a playoff berth, then toppled the reigning Super Bowl champion and the team many assumed would win it all this year in consecutive weeks.
Knowing that Tennessee is going to give the ball to Henry and that he is going to accelerate his molten frame towards you is one thing. Trying to effectively stop it is another. Neither the New England Patriots’ outstanding defense nor the Baltimore Ravens and their league-best record had an answer.
"I'm pretty sure Derrick Henry is pretty beat up, tired. … But he's doing all the necessary things to be OK. And now is not the time to think about pulling back on his carries. You have to put the pedal to the medal. Utilize this guy while he has the hot hand."—@EddieGeorge2727 pic.twitter.com/I4ydoke6Nf
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) January 16, 2020
“(The Titans) beat the GOAT,” NFL legend Eddie George said on First Things First. “They beat the MVP at their (own home). They are coming with a ton of momentum. That’s what makes this a fascinating matchup, to see whose will is going to outdo who.”
Next up: the Kansas City Chiefs, with a place in the Super Bowl on the line.
For head coach Mike Vrabel and the Titans, the postseason actually started in Week 17, when they had to beat the Houston Texans to be certain of getting into the bracket. They did so, which means a win this weekend would complete a piece of sweet symmetry: the Titans have already knocked over the AFC’s South, East and North champions in consecutive games; now they will try to do the same to the West.
One thing Vrabel has managed in recent weeks is to instill in his players a complete lack of awe regarding their more illustrious opponents. They weren’t fazed by Tom Brady or Lamar Jackson, and likewise Patrick Mahomes will be greeted with anticipation rather than fear.
"We know what the Titans' formula is. 'We're going to run the football and play bend but don't break defense.' They have multiple turnovers in both playoff games. … There's a reason why this defense was top 10 in takeaways." — @ChrisCanty99 pic.twitter.com/ATFlNYeBqN
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) January 17, 2020
Despite being a sixth seed with a 9-7 record, Vrabel scoffs at the notion of being underdogs. “Those of us that have been around the league long enough, that’s kind of overrated, the underdog thing,” Vrabel told reporters.
Can their run continue? Can their run game be stopped? Henry is a juggernaut and is making running the ball fashionable again. It will be the tale of two offenses on Sunday. There is Mahomes, who loves to sling it deep and aggressively at any opportunity and the Titans, who will have Ryan Tannehill hand off to Henry time and time again.
Henry is the first person in NFL history to run for more than 180 yards in three consecutive games. When Marcus Mariota was benched early in the season, Tannehill came in and threw for 300 yards against the Los Angeles Chargers. Suddenly, running lanes began to clear for Henry.
Henry is quiet and is not a great lover of the spotlight. Don’t expect from him the kind of confident predictions we saw this week from Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who tried to talk up his own team but may have lit a fuse under his opponent.
"I'm going to pick the Tennessee Titans to pull off the upset at Kansas City. I don't think they're Cinderella anymore. I think they're just legitimately the better team this Sunday at Kansas City." — @RealSkipBayless pic.twitter.com/IpwOeCS9kF
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) January 17, 2020
“I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us, and that’s no disrespect to nobody,” Hill told reporters. “That’s just the confidence that I got in myself and the wideouts I’ve got around me, including the tight ends and the running backs. I feel like no DB unit, no secondary unit, no linebacker, (no) defense can guard any of us.”
The Chiefs showed off their own offensive power by launching an awe-inspiring comeback against the Texans, going on a 51-7 surge after falling behind early. FOX Bet favors the Chiefs to win by at least a touchdown on Sunday, currently listing Kansas City as -300 favorites to advance to the Super Bowl.
For Shannon Sharpe, Hill’s words put the Chiefs on the spot.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” FS1’s Sharpe said on Undisputed. “But come Sunday, you are going to have to back that up. The Chiefs lost four games. So guess what? Somebody did. (Somebody) stopped all of you. So you can be stopped.”
.@ShannonSharpe on Tyreek Hill saying nobody can guard the Chiefs:
"I don't have a problem with it, but come Sunday you're going to have to back that up. You know I did a lot of talking, but ole Shay backed it up." pic.twitter.com/yvQywupS7f
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) January 16, 2020
Perhaps the bigger conundrum is who is going to stop Henry, and how? Not everyone is convinced by his performances, but he is on an absolute tear and the Titans are riding him for all he is worth.
“Derrick Henry is not the greatest RB in league history,” Nick Wright said on First Things First. “People are just giving him 95-100 yards in the first half. I don’t know if he is going to be able to do that in four consecutive games.”
Henry was able to do it the last time he faced the Chiefs, in Week 10, when he charged for 188 yards and two touchdowns and was instrumental in the victory that effectively saved the Titans’ season.
Running the ball is old school and for an offense to rely on it so heavily is unheard of these days. But rest assured the Chiefs defense is hearing about it during their preparations this week. Whether they’ll be able to stop it remains to be seen.
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) January 17, 2020