They’ll face a completely different beast Sunday in Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs can score 13 points in the time it takes Buddy the Elf to make four snowballs.
Andy Reid’s explosive offense puts defenses in a conundrum. Play zone and get picked apart or try man and get burned by the QB’s arm and legs. For most, it’s a lose-lose proposition.
Most teams deployed man-to-man coverages on Mahomes more than other QBs. The Chiefs signal-caller faced man at the second-highest rate in the NFL this season (44.4 percent), per Pro Football Focus.
The Titans have employed man coverage on 35.5 percent of passes this season, 10th-highest in the NFL, but it’s been their zone coverages that have been mostly picked on. Tennessee allows an average target separation of 2.3 yards in man coverage, with 29.5 percent open throws (3-plus yards of separation), while their zone allowed 4.3 average target separation and 63.3 percent open throws, per Next Gen Stats.
If Tennessee plans to run man coverage Sunday to pressure the Chiefs wideouts, Kansas City isn’t afraid of being slowed at all.
“I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us, and that’s no disrespect to nobody,” receiver Tyreek Hill said Wednesday. “That’s just the confidence that I got in myself and the wideouts I’ve got around me, including the tight ends and the running backs. I feel like no DB unit, no secondary unit, no linebacker, any defense can guard any of us. So man-to-man is just easy for us to beat. If you just allow us to run through zones, it’s even easier.”
The stats bear out Hill’s confidence. Mahomes averages 3.1 yards of target separation (0.3 yards more than any other QB) and a 42.2 percent open throw percent (highest in NFL) when facing man coverage this season, per Next Gen Stats. The QB averages 4.4 yards of target separation and a 63.3 percent open throw percent versus zone coverage (both are 2nd-highest in NFL).
In English: Chiefs receivers get open with relative ease.
The Titans have been stingier in the playoffs, allowing 40.6 percent open targets the past two games, compared to their 48.7 rate during the season, but still ranks 7th-worst of the 12 playoff teams.
When Mahomes gets open targets, he rarely misses. On passes with 3-plus yards of separation this season, the QB generated 15 TDs, 0 INTs and a 123.1 passer rating. Mahomes led the NFL with 3-plus yards of separation on 51.8 percent of his throws and an average target separation of 3.8 yards.
In Kansas City’s Week 10 loss to Tennessee, Mahomes returned from his knee injury and blasted the Titans for 446 yards and 3 TDs. Tyreek Hill went for 157 yards with a TD on 11 catches and 19 targets. Travis Kelce generated seven catches for 75 yards and a score. And Mecole Hardman corralled a 63-yard bomb TD. On that afternoon, 60 percent of Mahomes throws were to targets with 3-plus yards of separation, and 34 percent had 5-plus yards of separation. The QB threw into tight windows (less than one yard of separation) on just 12 percent of his passes.
Even with that explosive offense, the Chiefs still came up short, falling 35-32 on a last-second blocked field goal.
In the rematch, K.C. will need more than open receivers to best a rolling Titans squad. The improved defense must corral Derrick Henry and slow Ryan Tannehill‘s explosive passing game. Do that, and Mahomes & Co. will have more time to feast in the AFC Championship Game.