3 keys for AFC Championship game.
This game is massive contrast in styles of play. The Chiefs are the explosive air attack that is never out of a game. The Titans are riding the hottest running back in the game, Derrick Henry is running over everyone right now and is the hardest player to prepare for in the playoffs. There are multiple things that will decide Sunday's game but here are three things that i think will decide who goes to Super Bowl 54.
1. Control the pace of the game: For me this is the biggest key of the game. The Titans are going to try to shorten the game with long drives with heavy dosages of Derrick Henry. The Chiefs are going to try to make this a quarterback duel and a passing game with a near-unstoppable pass attack. Not only is it key for both offenses to play to their strengths, the defenses will need to either force the opposing offenses into the opposite style game or dare them to beat them at their own game.
For the Chiefs defense I see two options. Either they load the box with 8 defenders or they play with 6 defensive backs throughout the game and dare the titans to run the ball. I see the second possibility happening if the Chiefs grab an early lead, then the Titans may choose to run the ball but it will cost them valuable time while they are trailing.
The Titans will need to play with extra defensive backs. Moreover, they may want to play a bend but don't break defense. That is they let the chiefs get the check downs and across midfield but tighten up when the chiefs are in scoring position and force Kansas City to settle for field goals. This would shorten the game while also keeping the game close.
2. It's a 60 minute game: If last week taught us anything, the game isn't over no matter how big the lead is. The Titans may go ahead early but they can't think the game is over especially if Patrick Mahomes is still on the other side. The Titans need to play for 60 minutes.
I used to think that Andy Reid was terrible at clock management. This was before he had a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes. Now we've seen the chiefs never be out of a game and able to score in even the shortest amounts of time.
3. Get the quarterbacks in open space: This is more import for the Titans. Ryan Tannehill has been most effective as a second running back. If he can scramble and find space to run, the Titans are going to keep drives and their offense alive. Ryan Tannehill can make the throws if needed, but he is more effective running the ball. The read-option will be a deciding factor in the game Sunday.
The Chiefs will not only need to contain Tannehill in the pocket but avoid giving him the edge. When the Titans run the read-option, the Chiefs need to force the Titans hand. The defense will take a Henry run into a swarm of bodies over a Tannehill run with open field ahead of him.
The Chiefs would love to get Mahomes in space. Throughout the season we've seen the difference in the Chiefs offense when Patrick Mahomes is healthy and when he isn't. This is even more important when considering the Chiefs offense with a mobile quarterback.
When Mahomes is in space, the Titans need to stay in man coverage. The problem of course is that when they are in man coverage they won't see Mahomes if he chooses to run. This is why it is more important to keep Mahomes in the pocket for the Titans.
At the end of the day, it will come down to clutch quarterback play. Ryan Tannehill hasn't been known for stepping up big in close games but he'll probably have his chance to do that on Sunday.