ReFo: Chiefs @ Titans, Week 5
Ben Stockwell analyzes a pair of AFC teams off to surprisingly good starts in his review of the Chiefs-Titans game.
ReFo: Chiefs @ Titans, Week 5
It wasn’t convincing and it wasn’t clinical but the Kansas City Chiefs keep rolling on in the win column to keep pace with the Denver Broncos at 5-0 atop the AFC West. The defense turned in a stellar display at every level to further its case as being the league’s best unit at the start of the season while the offense continued to do just enough to win but failed to fully capitalize on the defense’s performance against the Locker-less Titans.
Those Titans slide to 3-2 on the season now, ahead of where many would have had them by at least one game, getting used to life without the much improved Jake Locker under center. The defense turned up and ensured that the Chiefs’ conservative dink and dunk offense couldn’t pull too far away from their offense but late mistakes from that offense and big plays from the Chiefs ensured they took the game away from the Titans. The nine-point margin might put the Titans behind by more than a score but how different could the game have been had the Chiefs not got that early freak special teams touchdown? Without that score, the Chiefs may well have been chasing the game late and having to show an aggressive, pressing side of the offense that we didn’t really get to see in this game.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Making his Presence Felt Up Front
This performance was almost all about the defense for the Chiefs and it started up front with Dontari Poe who turned in one of the best games of his young career (+4.6), if it wasn’t his best. After last week’s blip against the Giants, he was back to his destructive best against the run and registered a season-high with four pressures (one sack, three hurries) in the passing game. His work as a pass rusher was highlighted by his sack quickly disposing of the Titans’ first-round guard Chance Warmack at the line of scrimmage to take down Ryan Fitzpatrick before he had any time to set and find a target. For the most part, Poe split his work against Warmack and Robert Turner in both run and pass game only working off of Andy Levitre at left guard for one clean-up tackle early in the game. The Chiefs have had standouts all over the defense this season and this Sunday was no different with Poe leading the way inside.
Still More to Come on Offense?
For the flying start their defense has gotten off to, we are still yet to see the Chiefs’ offense get into full flight this season. They are doing enough to win games but at some point we surely need to see another gear from the offense before they put too much pressure on themselves to just produce it when it counts. Now five games into the season, the Chiefs’ offense is still heavily balanced toward a conservative passing game away from a potentially explosive running game on the back of Jamaal Charles. This week, Alex Smith did at least get a couple of plays down the field with a pair of 40-plus yard gains on deep targets though the majority of targets were again within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage (22/39). The positive for the Chiefs right now is that they are doing what it takes to win and not over-burdening Jamaal Charles early in the season. After a season-high 22 carries this week (which brought about his first 100-yard game) Charles is averaging fewer than 20 carries per game so he could have more “tread on his tires” for later in the season. The question though is when and if Andy Reid will let that rubber hit the turf and allow the Chiefs’ best offensive player to take their offense up a gear rather than channeling everything through Alex Smith’s dink and dunk passing.
Strong Showing from the Secondary
The Chiefs were strong all-around in this game but nowhere was stronger than in the secondary where only Quintin Demps (with one penalty and a missed tackle) earned a slight negative grade for the game. In the starting secondary, three players (Brandon Flowers, Sean Smith and Eric Berry) earned a coverage grade of +2.0 or higher while Marcus Cooper, playing 57 snaps off the bench, racked up his second straight positive coverage grade in as many weeks. Both Cooper and Smith had comparable metrics as they each allowed two completions on eight targets with Cooper giving up a mere three more yards (21 to 18) while coming up with one interception as he took the ball away from Nate Washington on the back shoulder of the Titans’ receiver in the fourth quarter while Smith picked up two pass defenses. Inside, both Berry and Flowers got their hands to one ball each for a pass defense while Flowers was unlucky with the bounce of the ball late not to get another on a pass that bounced back into Kendall Wright’s arms. In combination with an ever-impressive pass rush, the Chiefs may be the best pass defense in the league right now.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Mixed First Start for Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick got through plenty of work in a mixed afternoon as he started a game for his fourth different NFL franchise. He made some nice plays with his legs, defying Justin Houston’s attempts to contain him on more than one occasion, and had did some nice work on short throws between the numbers (12-for-15, 163 yards, one TD) including a crafty release to Chris Johnson for his passing touchdown. However, outside of these areas he struggled with passes deeper down the field and outside the numbers both in terms of accuracy and arm strength with the two playing into each other at times. On passes across the line of scrimmage outside the numbers Fitzpatrick was 6-for-18 including one of his two interceptions left behind Nate Washington. He was 0-for-5 on deep shots including another interception this time to Kendall Wright on another throw behind his receiver that allowed one defender (Brandon Flowers) in resulting in the ball deflecting to another defender (Quintin Demps) for the interception. There were high points and low points and he wasn’t helped with five dropped passes from his receivers but with the Titans chasing the game almost the whole way there was little evidence that Fitzpatrick was ever going to successfully make the plays against this Chiefs’ defense to turn the game around.
Strong Safety Pairing Starts to Form
Both have had their struggles in the past but in this game the Titans’ safety pairing of Bernard Pollard (+3.4) and Michael Griffin (+2.4) was able to make their presence felt coming downhill against the Chiefs’ conservative offense. Both players registered on pressure apiece (a hit for Pollard, a hurry for Griffin) on rare forays into the backfield as blitzers while both graded positively in coverage and run defense. Both certainly benefited from playing against an offense that at this moment doesn’t exactly stress safeties in coverage. They were able to make their plays coming up on short routes without much fear of being caught out of position on a strike deep or down the middle of the field. The closest either safety came to a really red face was Griffin rolling over to Dwayne Bowe on a sideline route, missing his tackle and only being saved by Bowe shaving the sideline on what could’ve turned into a big touchdown. The Titans and their safety pairing face a tougher test next week travelling to Seattle but facing a misfiring Seahawks’ passing game they may yet have the opportunity to build upon this strong outing against the Chiefs.
Roos Bested in Marquee Matchup with Hali
In one of the better one-on-one matchups of the week, Michael Roos had to accept second place against Tamba Hali in his one of his worst performances in pass protection since 2011. Roos surrendered seven pressures (one hit, six hurries; five including the hit to Hali) with most of the pressure coming abnormally to Roos’ outside shoulder. Also surrendering one false start, Roos’ single game grade of -2.3 is his worst since Week 15 2010 (-3.6 at home to Houston) as a mark of how relentlessly consistent he has been in recent seasons for Tennessee. Opposite him, David Stewart had a rough outing as well with a poor game as a run blocker, surrendering three stops to Tyson Jackson and Dontari Poe, and, in pass protection, surrendering three hurries to Justin Houston and a hit to Allen Bailey. The Titans’ tackle pairing, especially Roos, has been one of the most dependable in the league. For Roos especially, this performance against arguably the league’s best pass rush at the moment is almost certainly a rare blip. Roos will get the chance to better this performance against a strong Seattle pass rush next week.
– In a game featuring the league’s two best blocking fullbacks through the first month of the season, both Anthony Sherman and Collin Mooney played a season low with 17 and six snaps respectively in this game.
– You don’t see batted passes caught often in the NFL yet there were two in the space of five minutes in the second quarter; Ryan Fitzpatrick caught his own pass off of a batted ball by Allen Bailey before Dwayne Bowe nabbed a sliding grab for no gain off of a deflection by Ropati Pitoitua.
– Prior to leaving the game with a reported shoulder injury, Derrick Morgan was the Titans’ most productive pass rusher (+2.8) with four hurries on 19 pass rushes.
PFF Game Ball
Really a case of pick a player of your choice from the Chiefs’ defense for this game; we’ll go with Poe who got things started up front ahead of the defensive backs feasting on Fitzpatrick’s wayward throws downfield and outside the numbers.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.