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All-22 Review: Titans defense makes just enough plays to survive against a red hot Patrick Mahomes

Young linebackers lead the way.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The All-22 Review is a recurring feature here at Music City Miracles breaking down the tape from the previous week’s Titans game. The focus will vary depending on where the action on the field takes us, but the idea is to bring insights that may have been missed on the TV broadcast.

The Titans gave up 530 yards, 28 first downs, and over 37 minutes of possession to the Chiefs in this game. Patrick Mahomes dazzled in his first game back from injury, going 36 of 50 for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a few of the “how the heck did he do that” throws that the reigning MVP has become known for.

The 530 yards allowed is the 12th most in the history of the Titans/Oilers franchise according to Pro Football Reference and the 5th most since the team moved to Nashville over 20 years ago.

This wasn’t a great performance from the Titans very good defense overall, but there were some bright spots. Rookie linebacker David Long played a season high 28 snaps and recorded 8 tackles and a forced fumble that Rashaan Evans scooped and scored with early in the game. Harold Landry picked up his 7th sack of the season and his third in the last three games as he continues to pick up steam as a pass rusher.

The Titans also did a good job of forcing the Chiefs to attempt 6 field goals during the game. A couple of those tries were late in the game, but forcing kicks from an offense as explosive as Kansas City’s should be considered a win on most possessions.

Ultimately, the defense did just enough to give the offense a chance and Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill made it count (you missed the All-22 for the offense, you can check that out here) with a big assist from Joshua Kalu.

So let’s jump into the tape from this game and see what the Titans did well and where they struggled against Mahomes and the Chiefs.

David Long and Rashaan Evans made a couple big plays and lots of little ones

Rookie sixth round pick David Long got some run in this game with Jayon Brown sidelined with a groin injury and he made the most of his opportunity. Long recorded 8 tackles on 28 snaps, a ridiculously efficient rate of production.

His scouting report coming out of West Virginia was as an undersized, but instinctive linebacker with a knack for making plays. I’d say that the early results from him as a pro make that scouting report pretty spot on.

Long is quick to recognize and react to developing plays and does a really good job navigating traffic to put himself in position to make plays. This first clip is a good example of that. Long triggers and gets into the hole so quickly that Chiefs left tackle Cam Erving doesn’t have time to get off his double team block to pick him off. He gets an assist from Kenny Vaccaro who finishes the tackle, but Long’s penetration that makes Darrel Williams stop his feet and change directions immediately make this play happen.

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Here’s another example. Long’s quickness to close is really fun to watch. You can see it as he sifts through traffic and then puts his foot in the ground and explodes into the ball carrier once he sees daylight.

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Of course Long’s biggest play of the game was the turnover he forced that resulted in a Rashaan Evans touchdown. The funny thing is that he initially overruns the play, but he gets bailed out by Austin Johnson who does a great job of shedding his block and peeling back to stop Damien Williams. While Johnson has a hold of Williams, Long hustles back and punches the ball free for Evans to scoop and score.

Evans himself does a fantastic job of scoring with this recovery. It’s incredible how quickly he plucks the ball off the ground and turns into a running back, making a nifty juke move to send Patrick Mahomes to the ground and get him into the open field.

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While Long was really good — especially for a rookie — Evans was the true star of the linebacking corps in this game. He was all over the field, showing off his excellent sideline to sideline speed as he does here.

Also, check out DaQuan Jones making a quick move to get into the backfield and take away any hope Darwin Thompson might have had of cutting this run back. He continues to play really well for the Titans inside.

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This was another huge play by Evans and Vaccaro. This is a 3rd and 9 just outside the red zone and the Chiefs set up a screen beautifully. They have three blockers out front and just two Titans defenders have a chance to make the play short of the first down marker. Evans and Vaccaro both work to beat blocks and close in on Williams, getting an assist from Kevin Byard who comes in from deep to help stop the Chiefs and force the field goal.

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While the touchdown return was clearly Evans’ biggest play of the game, he made another play later that was nearly as important. This is 3rd and 2 on the Chiefs second to last offensive drive of the game. There is 1:36 on the clock and the Titans are down 32-27 with just one timeout left. If the Chiefs pick up the first down its over.

Andy Reid, whose never seen a misdirection play that he didn’t like, dials up a tight end screen off play action, trying to free blocking tight end Blake Bell for a little slip screen. However, the play is foiled by Evans. The Titans linebacker takes a half step towards the play action fake, but quickly recognizes the set up and closes towards Bell. Rather than risk the potential for a turnover or a clock-stopping incompletion, Mahomes looks to take off and run for it, but Evans has that covered too, cutting off the angle and getting the sack for his effort.

This is a tremendous play to recognize the sneaky little play design, snuff it out, and then hustle to close down the angle. This is a one man stop right here by Rashaan Evans and it’s the kind of play that’s worth a first round pick.

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Harold Landry’s presence continues to grow

The “other” second year linebacker for the Titans had a pretty big impact on this game as well despite the fact that Patrick Mahomes’ lightning quick release rendered the Titans pass rush useless for much of the day. Only one quarterback spent less time on average in the pocket than Mahomes’ 2.33 seconds in Week 10. Watching the tape back it was pretty apparent that the Chiefs had no interest in having their reigning MVP sit back in the pocket during his first game back from injury.

Plays like this one were common. Mahomes processes quickly, feels the near immediate pressure from Landry, and steps up to hit Williams on a quick Texas route out of the backfield.

This is about as clean a pass rush win as you can get from Landry though. He bats down Erving’s punch to soften the edge and then immediately closes to Mahomes. Most quarterbacks take the sack here.

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Here is the sack from Landry, his 7th of the season and 3rd in as many games. Again, the biggest difference from year one to year two with him is his hand usage. Last year, Landry likely would have tried to simply dip under this punch from Erving. This year, he’s got the two-hand swipe in his tool bag.

During the offseason he talked about having different moves for high punchers versus low punchers and different kinds of sets that tackles can use. It’s quite apparent that Landry is beginning to combine his immense physical gifts with a real knowledge and understanding of pass rushing. This is a great reflection of both his own work ethic and his coaches ability to help him develop.

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A Landry pressure on the very first snap of the game almost created a turnover for Kenny Vaccaro. The Chiefs are looking to take a big shot downfield right away, but Landry’s rush flushes Mahomes from the pocket and he makes an ill-advised throw on the run against his body back into coverage.

Watching the replay, I’m pretty sure Erving gets away with a hold on Landry here too. You can see he’s clearly past him, but it looks like a tug on his shoulder from behind slows the pass rusher just enough to allow Mahomes a chance to escape the pocket.

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Landry had several very clean wins in this game, but just the one sack. Here’s another quick win for him. This time he does go to that patented dip move that we’ve seen so often from him in his first season. Again, if Mahomes doesn’t get rid of this ball almost immediately, it’s a sack and probably a fumble.

Great play on the back end from Adoree’ Jackson here as well to break up the pass to Tyreek Hill.

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Adoree’ Jackson and Logan Ryan have up and down days

Let’s start with Jackson. He was given the tough task of shadowing Tyreek Hill for most of the day and that makes for a long afternoon’s work for any NFL corner.

For the most part, his coverage was actually pretty strong — yes, Hill put up big numbers catching 11 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown, but many of those yards came against zone coverage — however his tackling was an issue early on. This was a particularly frustrating play.

It’s 3rd and 1 at the Titans 15 yard line on the first drive of the game. Tennessee has a chance to get a stop and force a — likely — early field goal attempt. The Chiefs run a “rub” route for Hill designed to pick off defenders and get him the ball on the edge. Jackson does an outstanding job of fighting over the top of the action and using his elite speed to close down as the ball arrives. He appears to have Hill dead to rights as soon as the speedy receiver turns around, but he misses the tackle and gives up the first down. The Chiefs would punch it in with a Utah pass to Travis Kelce a few plays later. Big missed opportunity from a guy who is usually a sure tackler here.

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Here is another miss from Adoree’ early in this game. This one is a 2nd and 10, and again, Jackson appears to have Hill corralled quickly, but he shakes off the tackle and picks up the first down. Instead of having the Chiefs in a 3rd and 7 or 8 type situation with a chance to get off the field, the Titans give up a new set of downs.

Hill is a tough tackle for anyone in the NFL, especially on an island like this, but Jackson missing these opportunities hurt the Titans defense early.

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However, Jackson settled down as the game went on and ended up making a few critical plays to help the Titans late. This pass breakup against Hill on the go route was beautiful coverage.

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Even Hill’s deep catch against Jackson came against pretty good coverage. This is just an absolutely perfect dime from Mahomes.

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Logan Ryan has been excellent in 2019, but this wasn’t one of his better games. He had some good moments, like the play below, but he had some busts as well.

This play is fantastic coverage against Sammy Watkins and he gets an assist from Landry and Vaccaro who are bringing the heat on Mahomes. Ryan very nearly had a chance to cut off the angle and pick this ball off, but he chose to play it safe and simply reach to knock it away.

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Here’s another nice moment from Ryan as he nearly makes a diving interception cutting underneath to make the play on the ball.

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However, Ryan had some tough moments in this one as well. It’s hard to really fault him on this play though. The Titans are coming with a zero blitz, trying to get the Chiefs backed up behind down and distance on 1st and 10 in the red zone.

The Titans have no safety help and with the Chiefs lining up with a bunch to the right side of the formation, Tennessee’s secondary cannot dictate matchups. They’re defending the routes according to bunch rules, which means that Logan Ryan — the guy lined up towards the middle of the field among the three defenders set to cover the Chiefs bunch — is responsible for taking which ever route comes inside first. That route happens to be Hill, who is effectively just running in a straight line towards the corner of the endzone. It’s a footrace and Ryan loses (as would pretty much every other player in the NFL).

Also, check out the throw from Mahomes here. He sees the blitz coming and knows exactly where he wants to go, wasting no time flinging it off his back foot without ever getting set and drops it perfectly in the bucket for Hill to run under it. His ability to be accurate off-platform is absolutely incredible.

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Then, of course, you have the other touchdown that went into Ryan’s coverage. It’s 3rd and 9 with the Chiefs up 22-20 with 12:04 left in the 4th quarter. The Titans have a chance to get the ball back and go take control of this game.

Tennessee brings the blitz again and pressure is about to get home via Cameron Wake when Mahomes jumps and tosses a pass to rookie Mecole Hardman while doing some sort of half-spin in the air. The throw is absolutely ridiculous and most QBs wouldn’t even attempt it, but Mahomes puts it right where it needs to be for his receiver to make a play.

For his part, Ryan actually has pretty good coverage. Hardman is covered, but Mahomes’ throw is in the exact spot it has to be. Ryan’s mistake is going for the ball instead of playing to make the tackle. Once Hardman escapes, he outruns a bad angle from Titans safety Amani Hooker and ends up in the end zone.

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Finally, let’s take a look at the play that nearly cost the Titans on the Chiefs final drive. With just 17 seconds left, Kansas City only has time for three or four plays at the most and they need to go about 20 yards to get into reasonable field goal range for an attempt to tie.

The Titans sit back in a deep shell, trying to force Mahomes to throw underneath and trade one of their two remaining timeouts for a minimal amount of yardage. The coverage is pretty good initially, but for some reason Ryan — who is dropping in the middle of the field — drifts away from Demarcus Robinson, even as Mahomes is loading up to throw him the ball. I’m not sure what exactly he was looking at here, but it put the Chiefs immediately on the edge of field goal range.

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The Titans missed Jayon Brown

While Evans and Long both played well and certainly contributed some big plays, Tennessee could have used their best coverage linebacker in this game.

The Chiefs picked on Wesley Woodyard frequently in coverage in this game. Here, Woodyard loses track of Kelce in the middle of the field after a Chiefs penalty had backed them up with a 1st and long situation.

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Here, the Chiefs use formation and route combination to get Tyreek Hill matched up against Woodyard on a whip route, an obvious advantage for Hill, but credit Woodyard for hustling to force him out of bounds. This could have been a much bigger play.

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Brown is such a key part of what the Titans do defensively though. He’s one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL and it makes the middle of the field much tighter for opposing quarterbacks when he’s in the game. His return against Jacksonville this weekend should be a big boost for this unit.

Jeffery Simmons didn’t make a ton of plays, but he still flashes

Simmons had a pretty quiet day overall. He played on 55% of defensive snaps, but finished with just two tackles and no quarterback hits. The tape reflected that as well.

Part of the reason for his quiet day was the Chiefs offense. It’s tough to rush the passer against this team because the ball comes out so quickly — as noted above, Mahomes had the second least average time in pocket during Week 10 — and Kansas City does so much with motions and misdirection that it really slows down the defensive line. Instead of attacking, opposing pass rushers and run defenders are reading and reacting.

Simmons still flashed at times, but this wasn’t the dominant performance we saw against the Chargers a few weeks ago. This was one of his better pass rushes of the day. Again, Mahomes gets it out quickly, but this is good work from Simmons to get free in the middle of the pocket.

(This was a touchdown that got called back due to blatant offensive pass interference)

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This was another nice rush from Simmons. He forces Mahomes off his spot, nearly pushing him into a green dogging Kamalei Correa. However, Mahomes makes a ridiculous throw and Robinson is able to break LeShaun Sims’ tackle to pick up a first down.

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There isn’t a whole lot else that was noteworthy from Simmons in this one. I will be interested to see how he plays after a week to regroup and with his partner in crime Jurrell Casey returning to the rotation.

Finally, I want to leave you with one of the most ridiculous throws you’ll see all year and then the block that sealed the game. Watch where Tyreek Hill is when Mahomes starts to throw this ball and look at the quarterback’s feet. This is a level of quarterback that we haven’t gotten to see that often. It was fun to watch him work, and even more fun to see the Titans come out on top despite his unbelievable performance.

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The Titans will face Deshaun Watson and Drew Brees for three straight weeks to end this season so it’s good to know that they are capable to taking haymakers from an elite quarterback and still coming out on top thanks to plays like this from Joshua Kalu. Absolutely perfect timing and form to layout and block this kick to win the game.

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