Chiefs’ keys vs. Titans: Protect The Franchise (Mahomes is starting), sack Tannehill

The Kansas City Chiefs square off against the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Nissan Field.

This might not be an easy one for the Chiefs given the history between the two clubs.

The Chiefs (6-3) hold a 29-23 edge in the all-time series, including the postseason. The 4-5 Titans, though, have won six of the past 10, including three in a row, against the Chiefs.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid, one of eight coaches in NFL history to win 200 or more games, holds a 1-6 record against the Titans, split between his time with the Philadelphia Eagles and Chiefs.

There’s something about the Titans that signals Sunday won’t be a walk in the park for the Chiefs.

Here are four key areas to monitor for the Chiefs as they seek to improve to 7-3.

Protect the franchise

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is making his return to the lineup for the first time since he suffered a dislocated right kneecap in Week 7.

The Chiefs’ offensive line must protect their franchise signal-caller. And that protection carries added importance considering the Titans’ defense has generated 25 sacks, tied for eighth-most in the league.

The Chiefs wouldn’t expose Mahomes to game action unless they felt it’s safe to do so. He might be shaking off some early rust, given his lack of activity the past two games, but getting Mahomes in a rhythm with short to intermediate passes is key.

Chiefs’ defense vs. Ryan Tannehill

The Chiefs won’t be facing quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was benched after Week 6 in favor of Ryan Tannehill.

The move has worked in the Titans’ favor over their past three games, as evidenced by a 2-1 record in that span. Tannehill has energized the passing game with two 300-yard efforts.

But the Chiefs are surging on defense, especially when it comes to getting after the quarterback. Over their past three games, the Chiefs have totaled 15 sacks and 25 quarterback hits, and this is good news for the defense.

The Titans’ protection has been horrendous this season with a league-high 38 sacks allowed. Since taking over as the full-time starter, Tannehill has been sacked nine times and hit 16 times.

Tannehill, a former college wide receiver, is athletic, but his mobility now won’t be compared to Mariota’s anytime soon.

The Chiefs appear in good shape to continue their terror on opposing quarterbacks, and this should be a priority.

Contain Titans RBs Henry and Lewis

The Chiefs come off a game where they limited Dalvin Cook, one of the NFL’s best running backs, to 71 yards rushing. A duplicate performance is needed against a two-back attack that the Titans utilize with efficiency.

Henry is the main ball carrier and leads the Titans in rushing with 644 yards and six touchdowns on 164 carries. He’s also sneaky-effective out of the backfield, totaling 11 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 14 targets.

Lewis provides a change-of-pace look. He has 173 total yards from scrimmage so far.

Knowing their offensive line has struggled in pass protection this season, the Titans might lean heavily on the running game to take some pressure off Tannehill. But the Chiefs can help themselves by following up last week’s performance and shutting down the run to set up their pass rush.

Keep Landry in check

Tough defense has been a Titans trademark. This edition, coached by defensive-minded Mike Vrabel, has building upon that image since taking over in 2018.

One of the players personifying everything Vrabel desires from his defense is second-year outside linebacker Harold Landry. Landry has become the game-wrecker the Titans envisioned when they used a second-round draft pick on his (41st overall) in the 2018 NFL Draft. He leads the team in sacks (6) and is second in quarterback hits (7) behind fellow outside linebacker Cameron Wake (9).

The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Landry has added 44 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a pass defensed and two forced fumbles this season.

The Chiefs must keep an eye on Landry because he often moves along the defensive line, sometimes lining up over the right tackle or left tackle.

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