NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans (5-2) kicked the Kansas City Chiefs’ (3-4) assess on Sunday. With Patrick Mahomes quarterbacking the opposition, that is not ever a sentence I thought I would write.
Any given Sunday, I guess.
Not hardly, in this case. The stated goal of Tennessee’s offseason was to re-tool their defense. Their two best front-seven defenders, Jeffery Simmons and Harold Landry, were not alone to make up for blatant deficiencies at every level.
Bud Dupree was brought in from the Pittsburgh Steelers, heralded as the savior of the Titans pass rush. That narrative may carry more weight as the 2021 season carries on.The presence of fellow free agent Denico Autry has made the biggest difference through seven weeks.
Titans pass rush dominates
Make no mistake: Landry and Simmons have been exceptional this season for Tennessee.
The Titans defense came into Sunday’s game against Kansas City with 13 sacks. They racked up a season-high four to keep the Chiefs at bay. Their 17 on the season is just two shy of tying the 2020 regular season total. Contributions from all four of the aforementioned Tennessee defenders and rotational snaps from Ola Adeniyi, Teair Tart, Naquan Jones and Larrell Murchison showed the formula for making this team a legitimate contender.
The Titans got pressure with four, scored first on offense and buried a top competitor in the AFC.
Three fumbles were forced, two were lost and an interception was thrown. A Tennessee defense that, to its credit, has steadily improved but still came with a few question marks held Kansas City without a touchdown for the first time in the Mahomes Era.
“I think we are just trying to chart and track attempts,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “And again, everybody’s screaming for Kevin (Byard) to hammer it, and it was only a matter of time before he got over there and did that. But just have to keep going after the attempts. You have to keep staying on your feet when you rush and the quarterback pumps it, but that’s the guy we’ve got to take it away from. That’s got to be the No. 1 target every week.”
Titans offense uses first half to bury Chiefs
Getting after the quarterback is made exponentially easier when you know your opponent has no choice but to throw.
Tennessee’s offense racked up a 27-0 lead heading into the half. For a team that perpetually starts slow, no opportunities were missed. Derrick Henry threw the game’s first touchdown and finished with the best quarterback rating (127.1) of any player who had an attempt on Sunday. A.J. Brown and Ryan Tannehill found their stride right where it left off six days earlier in the fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills.
Brown accounted for 73 yards and the Titans second touchdown drive that began at their own 3-yard line. He finished with eight catches on nine targets and 133 yards receiving.
“For me, personally, I was just trying to make a play each and every time the ball came to me,” said Brown. “You know, we try to just keep going and wear guys down at the end of the game. We got out to an early lead so, unfortunately, Derrick (Henry) can’t break a long run like we would normally see, but he definitely has carried the team and he’s going to continue to do that.”
When the 2021 season schedule was released, the four-game stretch Tennessee is currently in the midst was noted as its toughest test. The two games remaining in Indianapolis and Los Angeles look infinitely more palatable with two AFC wins already under their belt.
The top of the conference looking infinitely less stable. This Titans team appears to just be rounding into form.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.