By: Ryan Cooley
Once projected to finish with a 3-13 record by NFL Network analyst Adam Rank, the Tennessee Titans are one win away from playing in Super Bowl 54. Through the first six weeks, Tennessee was 2-4, and many fans had already given up on the season. Then came a change at quarterback.
The Titans traded for Ryan Tannehill last offseason on March 15th for a fourth and seventh-round draft pick. His final year with Miami was one to forget with Pro Football Focus giving him a 45.3 grade. Most didn’t put too much thought into the trade as he was set to be Marcus Mariota’s back up. However, after continuous poor play by Mariota, head coach Mike Vrabel flipped the switch and inserted Tannehill in the starting line up. Due to his lack of success at that point, no one had high expectations for him.
He ended up being the highest-graded QB in the league by Pro Football Focus. His 92.5 grade was higher than both Drew Brees and Russell Wilson’s, who both had a 91.2. Through 10 ½ games in the regular season, Tannehill threw for almost 2,600 yards, 19 TDs, and only 5 INTs.
Even though Tannehill has played lights out, the heartbeat of this team is their 6’3 240 lb, RB Derrick Henry. In the last eight games, he has averaged 159 yards per game and scored 11 times. He took home the rushing title this season when he shredded the Texans defense for 211 yards in week 17. Henry has taken the league by storm and has been playing like the best RB in football. He is also averaging 5.9 yards/carry in his two postseason games.
On Sunday, the Titans will look to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999 when they lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Rams in Super Bowl 34. The Titans will have their work cut out for them playing against the Chiefs, who put up 51 points in three quarters against the Texans. Most have picked Kansas City to win this game, but I believe the Titans can pull off yet another upset.
How can a defense stop an offense as explosive as the Chiefs? Truth be told, they can’t. The only way a defense can stop them or at least slow them down is if Kansas City beats themselves, which is very unlikely. The only way to do it is with your own offense. Mahomes and company cannot score if they are not on the field.
Luckily for the Titans, their offense is set up to do just that. Henry is averaging 32 carries in his two playoff games. I would not be surprised if he gets 35-40 carries Sunday. Running the ball is the best way to dominate the time of possession. The Titans don’t have the weapons to beat the Chiefs in a shootout, so slowing the game down and keeping the ball out of Mahomes’ hands is their best option.
Much of America will be rooting for the Titans in this AFC Championship because everyone loves an underdog story. However, are the Titans that much of an underdog? Since Tannehill took over, they are 9-3. The defense has played well, and the offense is putting up 31 points per game. They have beaten the league MVP from two years ago, the MVP of this year, and will be looking to put down the MVP from last year. This is a team that is playing with no fear and nothing to lose, which makes them extremely dangerous.