Opponent Preview: Kansas City Chiefs
Happy weekend, Titans fans! Let’s take a moment to preview this weekend’s opponent: the Kansas City Chiefs.
Andy Reid offenses have always been centered around the principle of mistake free football. The Chiefs don’t really blow anybody away offensively, but the unit is full of gritty players who get the job done week in and week out. Leading the charge is first-year Chief Mitchell Schwartz, who the team signed as a free agent in the offseason. Schwartz has established himself as one of the best right tackles in the NFL and joins forces with former first overall pick Eric Fisher to protect quarterback Alex Smith.
Though Smith isn’t known for picking apart defenses or being a star, he is far from simply a “game manager.” Smith is a high-percentage passer who doesn’t turn the ball over and who has the athleticism to escape the pocket when necessary. Over the last few weeks, Smith has seemed more willing to push the ball downfield, averaging a season high 10.5 yards per completion in his last two games. Part of this is due to the return of established receiver Jeremy Maclin, and the emergence of Tyreek Hill.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates after scoring during the first half against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Hill, a speedy rookie who ran a 4.29 forty at his Pro Day, was taken by the Chiefs in the fifth round of April’s draft; his draft stock plummeted due to a 2014 arrest for domestic violence. In the Chiefs’ last three games, Hill has found the end zone five times in four different ways: a rush, a punt return, a kick return, and through the air.
After losing Jamaal Charles early in the season to an ankle injury, the Chiefs have turned to the powerful Spencer Ware in the backfield. Ware’s running style is reminiscent of a bowling ball, and he is complimented by the quicker Charcandrick West.
The only “star” on Kansas City’s offense is tight end Travis Kelce. In an age in which tight ends have essentially become oversized wide receivers, Kelce resembles a more traditional tight end; in addition to being a potent receiving threat and quality route runner, Kelce is a phenomenal blocker. Pro Football Focus has Kelce rated as the third best tight end overall in the league, behind only Rob Gronkowski and Greg Olsen. The Chiefs’ offense may not seem scary on paper, but they are potent nonetheless. They have a nice habit of always doing just what’s necessary to earn a victory at the end of the day.
Though not quite as talented top-to-bottom as the defense of the Titans’ Week 14 opponent, the Denver Broncos, the defense of the Chiefs is just as productive. Like Denver, Kansas City has stingy DB’s that create turnovers, stellar pass rushers who make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable, and sure-tackling defensive linemen.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (99) during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Unlike their offense, the Chiefs’ defense is full of star players, starting with outside linebacker Justin Houston. Since returning from an injury that kept him sidelined for the first ten weeks of the season, Houston has looked like the version of himself that earned a mega contract extension following the 2014 season. His first highlight-reel game of the year came against Denver, when he sacked QB Trevor Siemian three times.
Houston is joined up front by two other very talented edge rushers: Tamba Hali and Dee Ford. After struggling to earn consistent playing time in the first two years of his career, Ford, a former first round pick, has broken out in 2016; he has 10 sacks through twelve games. Hali, a member of the Chiefs since 2006, continues to be a playmaker in the run game.
Kansas City’s secondary also boasts two star players: safety Eric Berry and cornerback Marcus Peters. Both reigning AP award winners (Defensive Rookie of the Year & Comeback Player of the Year), Berry and Peters have continued to make game changing plays in 2016 with their impressive ball skills and ability to go the distance anytime the ball is in their hands. The two players have combined for eight interceptions and two defensive touchdowns this season.
The Chiefs’ defense is also made up of several other talented players, such as safety Ron Parker and forceful nose tackle Dontari Poe. Against the Titans, however, the Chiefs will be without defensive captain and incredibly solid inside linebacker Derrick Johnson; he did not practice this week due to a ruptured achilles he suffered against the Raiders and has subsequently been ruled out.
Kansas City’s extremely tough defense is what allows their offense to take more of a ball control approach. Anytime you have a defense that can be relied upon to not only keep opponents out of the end zone but put points on the board themselves, you will win football games. The Chiefs have won 25 out of their last 28 games, including the postseason, and their defense is a big part of that.
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