(CBS Local) — The Kansas City Chiefs saw their season hit bumpy roads in early October. After four wins to open the season, the Chiefs hosted the Indianapolis Colts, expecting to push that total to five. It didn’t happen.
The Colts came into Kansas City at 2-2, still a bit of an unknown after the preseason retirement of Andrew Luck and four close games to open the regular season. They contained the high-flying Chiefs, limiting Patrick Mahomes to just one touchdown pass on the night. The Colts’ win was followed by two more and, in hindsight, looks now like the moment the rest of the NFL realized the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts could contend.
The Chiefs’ loss was followed by another and then the loss of Mahomes to injury in a Week 7 win over the Denver Broncos. They’ve since dropped a game to the Green Bay Packers and escaped the Minnesota Vikings. That Week 5 loss to the Colts now also seems like the moment the rest of the NFL realized the Chiefs were mortal.
The Chiefs, now 6-3, will face the Tennessee Titans in Week 10. The big news for Kansas City is the return of Mahomes. The risk of dislocating his kneecap again remains, but that risk has diminished enough for him to take the field. Reconstructive surgery remains an option, but that will have to wait until the off-season. The team has handled the injury conservatively, and given playoff aspirations, wasn’t going to rush a mid-season return that jeopardizes his health.
Mahomes’ presence on the field tilts the balance in this game very much in favor of the Chiefs. He’s the reigning NFL MVP, and ranks near the top of the league in multiple categories again this season. He’s one of only four quarterbacks to average over 300 yards passing per game so far and has already tallied 15 TD passes despite missing time.
Backup quarterback Matt Moore has kept the Chiefs’ offense moving in two tough matchups, going 24-36 for 267 yards passing and two touchdowns against the Packers and 25-35 for 275 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. Damien Williams came alive in Week 9, picking up 125 yards on 12 carries and making him the team’s first 100-yard rusher of the season. However, most of that came on a 91-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which means, outlier aside, he picked up only 34 yards on 11 carries. So it’s not like the Chiefs’ running game has turned a corner or anything.
The Titans have also had some success lately with a new quarterback. Ryan Tannehill took over for the struggling Marcus Mariota partway though their Week 6 matchup against the Broncos. That ill-fated game still ended in a shutout loss, but the team has since averaged over 20 points per outing. Compare that to the less than 14 points Tennessee averaged in the four games since their opening-day blowout of the Cleveland Browns. Tannehill has put up 279 passing yards and two TDs per game since taking over starting duties as well. The Titans are 2-1 in that span.
Running back Derrick Henry, the strength of this Titans offense, has also benefited from having a reliable passer in the backfield. He’s gained 4.5 yards per carry over the last three games, a full yard better than his 3.5 yards per carry over Mariota’s last three games before being benched. That increase in production should continue, with defenses now having to respect a consistent passing attack. Henry, with eight touchdowns so far (six rushing, two receiving), also knows how to find the end zone.
Henry and the Titans should find more success on the ground this week, given the Chiefs’ inability to stop the run. The Kansas City run defense ranks among the league’s worst, yielding 139.6 yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry. They have, however, been better of late, limiting NFL rushing leader Dalvin Cook of the Vikings to 71 yards on 21 carries last week.
The Chiefs’ pass defense is better, though it can still be exploited. Look no further than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Jones, who lit them up for seven catches, 159 yards and two touchdowns. That’s in addition to his 67 yards on 13 carries. Tannehill and Henry will certainly have their opportunities this week.
The Titans’ defense is among the NFL’s better units in terms of points allowed, giving up just 18.3 per game, the sixth-fewest. And that average was even lower before the Carolina Panthers came up with a season-high 30 against them in last week’s loss. These Titans simply don’t give up a lot of points. They do, however, allow teams to move the ball through the air. Giving up 236.3 passing yards per game puts them right around the NFL median. Both Jameis Winston and Philip Rivers have topped 300 yards in recent weeks.
Can a rusty Mahomes surpass those totals for the Chiefs against an underrated Titans defense? Will Derrick Henry continue his surge for the Titans against a vulnerable Chiefs run defense?
The Chiefs play the Titans Sunday @ 1:00 p.m. ET on CBS.