The Tennessee Titans have won three straight games, including the postseason, against the Kansas City Chiefs since 2014.
This time around, though, the Titans will have a different look at quarterback when the two teams meet Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
Instead of facing Marcus Mariota, the Chiefs will square off against Ryan Tannehill ... and that’s not a bad thing for the Chiefs’ defense, given these quarterbacks’ differing skill-sets.
“Mariota is more mobile; he’s a better athlete, I would say,” Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward said. “But Tannehill, I mean, he was drafted, so he’s a great quarterback, too. He’s got a strong arm, but with Tannehill, you don’t have to really worry about him scrambling too much.”
Chiefs defensive tackle Mike Pennel, the Topeka native who played against Tannehill twice a year during his time with the New York Jets in the AFC East, agreed with Ward’s assessment.
“You lose a little bit of mobility with Tannehill,” Pennel said. “Their run game has changed up a little bit in how they’re getting 33 (Dion Lewis) and 22 (Derrick Henry) the ball. Tannehill is trying to sit back and throw it a little bit more now, whereas earlier in his career, he was a scrambling quarterback.”
The Titans made the permanent switch from Mariota to Tannehill after starting the season 2-4, and it has worked in Tennessee’s favor so far. Since the change, the Titans have gone 2-1 and their offense, particularly the passing game, has picked it up. Tannehill has produced two 300-yard passing games over that span. Mariota had one 300-yard passing effort in six starts this season.
While the move to Tannehill has been good for the Titans, it could serve as an advantage for a surging Chiefs defense.
Two dual-threat signal-callers have made their mark against the Chiefs’ defense this season. In Week 3, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson totaled 46 yards and touchdown on eight carries. Then, in Week 6, Houston’s Deshaun Watson rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries.
Mariota, who holds a 2-0 career record against the Chiefs, affected the Kansas City defense with his legs in the opening round of the playoffs following the 2017 season at Arrowhead Stadium. In that matchup, Mariota caught his own pass for a touchdown and put his mobility on display by totaling 46 yards rushing on eight attempts, including a 17-yard scamper.
But with Tannehill, the Chiefs can prepare for a quarterback who has been sacked nine times and hit 16 more since he took over as a full-time starter. The Chiefs, of course, have been a terror on quarterbacks in that same span, with 15 sacks and 25 quarterback hits.
The table sets up well for the Chiefs’ defense against a traditional pocket passer like Tannehill.
“Our D-line, they can focus more on rushing the passer instead of containing the passer,” Ward said. “It creates a better pass rush when the quarterback isn’t as mobile. Tannehill, he can move now. Don’t get me wrong. He’s a good athlete, but the pass rushers can focus more on rushing.”
Defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon, who has two sacks and four quarterback hits over the past three games, pointed out a tendency that could be exploited.
“Tannehill will hold it,” Kpassagnon said. “He’s actually pretty high up there as one of the guys who holds the ball the longest. That’s a big difference. He’s not going to be running around trying to create plays. He’s really going to sit in there, so just crushing the pocket will be easier.”
Still, the Chiefs know they’re facing an experienced quarterback.
Tannehill has appeared in 93 career games with 91 starts, 88 coming with the Miami Dolphins.
While the Titans’ current quarterback might not move as well as Mariota, the Chiefs don’t want to underestimate him.
“Tannehill did play wide receiver in college, so he still has speed,” Chiefs defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah said. “He’s pretty fast ... I mean, not Mariota fast, but he is pretty fast. He’s a threat in the run game, but it will be better containing him than Mariota, for sure.”