The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 17, 2020 1:00 am

AFC Championship Game

Chiefs, Titans contrast in style

BARRY WILNER | Associated Press

The Tennessee Titans haven't been to the Super Bowl since 2000. That's barely a blip on the football history screen. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't been there since 1970. One of them is headed for the big game in Miami.

Here's how they match up for the AFC Championship Game, 3 p.m. Sunday at Kansas City:

When Titans have ball

Run. Then run again. Derrick Henry has been sensational in the postseason after leading the league in rushing. Powerful and fast, elusive enough and versatile, he's a defensive nightmare. The Titans will stick with him until the Chiefs prove they can slow him down, something they never did in Week 10. That onus will fall on a D-line led by Chris Jones and Frank Clark, LBs Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson and, likely, safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorensen.

The Chiefs like to go with five defensive backs, but they might need more bulk on the field against Henry. Dealing with a blocking unit paced by LT Taylor Lewan, who is a stud when he isn't collecting far too many penalties, veteran LG Rodger Saffold and RT Jack Conklin will be a chore for KC.

QB Ryan Tannehill is 2-0 in the postseason despite barely throwing the ball. When he has – he led the league in passer rating at 117.5 – Tannehill has been effective enough.

Also intriguing will be the Chiefs' improved secondary against a group of somewhat obscure wide receivers led by rookie A.J. Brown. Tannehill plays no favorites and also targets any of his three tight ends. He needs to watch out for ball-hawking Mathieu.

When Chiefs have ball

Expect fireworks. Maybe not the kind that led to 41 consecutive points against Houston after the Chiefs fell behind 24-0, but some explosiveness for sure.

The catalyst, naturally, is QB Patrick Mahomes, who was slowed by injuries this season. Now that he's healthy, Mahomes is looking like the 2018 league MVP.

Given time – and Tennessee has not displayed an overwhelming pass rush – Mahomes can pick apart any defense, even one as resilient as the Titans. His symbiosis with TE Travis Kelce keys the attack, but he also has game-breaking WRs Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins.

Damien Williams handles the bulk of the run game, and Tennessee has been formidable against the rush. Not just stopping fourth-and-1 plays, either. The Chiefs' best blockers, RT Mitchell Schwartz and LT Eric Fisher, need to control the trenches against underrated DT Jurrell Casey.

Harold Landry led the Titans with nine sacks, and Kamalei Correa, who had five, has a quick burst to the quarterback, while Tennessee might have the league's top secondary with safeties Kevin Byard and Kenny Vaccaro, and cornerbacks Logan Ryan and Adoree' Jackson. It will be tested Sunday. Ryan had 113 tackles, four picks and four forced fumbles this season.

Special teams

Titans All-Pro Brett Kern is the league's best punter, kicking them high and far. Greg Joseph hasn't attempted a field goal since joining the team in December.

The Titans didn't have a touchdown on any kick returns, nor did they yield any. They did block the Chiefs' sixth field-goal attempt to clinch a November game.

Kansas City started its comeback against the Texans when Mecole Hardman broke free on a kickoff run-back. He had a 104-yarder in the regular season. Hill fumbled a punt return that led to an easy score for the Texans last week. Harrison Butker is a reliable placekicker with good range. And veteran punter Dustin Colquitt had a kick blocked by the Texans for a TD.


Andy Reid has something close to a Hall of Fame résumé, and a second trip to the Super Bowl – he lost with Philadelphia in 2005 – certainly would enhance that.

Reid has been masterful in his handling of Mahomes and the schemes that make KC's offense as dangerous as any.

Mike Vrabel has created a no-fear culture in Nashville. That has been evident in the past three weeks, when the Titans would have been done with a loss. Offensive coordinator Arthur Smith is wise enough to stick to the run. 

AFC championship

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs

When: 3:05 p.m. Sunday

Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.


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