Image edited by Brett Gering
Yes, starting quarterback Jake Locker, who was torching opposing secondaries in his third season, will be demoted to head cheerleader due to what has been diagnosed as a sprained hip. That uproots the philosophy of the Titans' offensive play-calling (more on that later).
However, when Andy Reid's Chiefs cross over into enemy territory on Sunday, they'll be tested by a physical team that flaunts a promising mixture of talented youth and veteran wisdom.
Kansas City's pregame odds will be dictated by a slew of recent injuries.
Last week, No. 1 pick Eric Fisher was crafting the best performance of his four-game career, allowing a single quarterback hurry and no hits nor sacks. His replacement, Donald Stephenson, tallied the same number of snaps (38) but permitted a hurry and hit while struggling to gain leverage in the ground game.
Brandon Flowers, who was sidelined due to knee inflammation, is the main cog in Bob Sutton's well-oiled defensive machine. Why? The defense's success stems from creatively applying pressure by overloading the offensive line (or at least hinting to), and the Chiefs' coordinator trusting that No. 24 will lock down any assigned receiver without safety help.
Due to Flowers' absence, Dunta Robinson, whose lackluster straight-line speed and average agility tag him as a liability in man coverage, made his first start as a member of the Chiefs and was subsequently torched by Victor Cruz. While Marcus Cooper did an admirable job on Cruz for the remainder of the game, it goes without saying that the rookie is no Flowers.
The Titans also covet a seemingly top-five cornerback tandem in Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner, which inflates the value of the opposition's tight ends. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, their top trio of tight ends—Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Tony Moeaki—have doubled as weekly injury-report inductees.
Excluding Moeaki, the status of Kansas City's aforementioned absences remains questionable.
Now, let's swing our attention to the key (healthy) matchups.
3. NT Dontari Poe vs. C Rob Turner
Nose tackle, especially in a 3-4 scheme, is far from a glorified position.
Dontari Poe netted 3.5 sacks throughout his first two contests of 2013. However, he hasn't enjoyed the same success in his previous two outings.
That doesn't necessarily mean that he's not wreaking havoc, though. The 335-pound mammoth in the middle still accounted for five quarterback hurries and one blocked pass throughout Weeks 3 and 4.
This Sunday, he'll line up across a center Rob Turner, whom Pro Football Focus currently rates at No. 32 overall.
More times than not, defensive tackles latch under Turner's pads and bully him into the backfield. The New York Jets' Damon Harrison illustrates:
Chris Johnson is averaging a measly 3.3 yards per rush this season, but he's still a bona fide home run threat when afforded enough open space. Like Charles, the most surefire way of stopping the elusive blur is by penetrating the backfield and forcing him to run laterally.
2. G Jon Asamoah vs. DT Jurrell Casey
It's not a secret that Jon Asamoah is the most well-rounded blocker among Kansas City's linemen.
Versus the New York Giants, Jamaal Charles averaged 6.4 yards per carry (five rushes for 32 yards) when darting through the right A-gap between Rodney Hudson and Asamoah. The fleet-footed halfback failed to top 3.2 yards per handoff in any other lane.
However, in Week 5, that gap will be regularly watched over by Jurrell Casey, Pro Football Focus' No. 3 defensive tackle.
Casey is anything but one-dimensional. He's effective no matter which technique he plays and what the offense calls.
No. 99 is normally found on the strong side of the formation, and he dictates the line of scrimmage by shedding blockers with relative ease.
He sniffs out screens and possesses enough speed to close in on halfbacks. And on a weekly basis, Casey has repeatedly proven to be a disruptive pass-rusher, stockpiling three sacks, three quarterback hits, 11 hurries and a pair of batted passes throughout 2013.
Assuming that Ryan Fitzpatrick limits his miscues, Sunday's game embodies all the tell-tale signs of a nail-biter. Despite uninspired efforts throughout the first three quarters, the Chiefs offensive line has continually dominated opponents and sealed victories in the fourth via the ground game.
If Kansas City's bulky behemoths extend the trend in Week 5, it will serve as the unit's most impressive feat to date.
1. S Eric Berry vs. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Fitzpatrick is basically a knockoff version of Alex Smith (except Smith doesn't sound like he just won Bieber tickets after tossing a touchdown).
Both are highly intelligent quarterbacks: Fitzpatrick attended Harvard; Smith graduated from Utah in three years.
However, the latter passer knows his limitations and is comfortably content in staying within his game's confines. Fitzpatrick? Eh, not so much.
Neither quarterback is known for stretching the field, but Fitzpatrick seems to almost have an inferiority complex about it. Oftentimes, he all but throws his arm out to catapult the ball downfield, which ultimately results in sloppy mechanics and inaccurate heaves.
One look at Fitzpatrick's 2012 passing chart reveals two things: He's fairly effective between the hash marks, but he's routinely victimized outside of them.
|20-Plus Yards||4-25, 125 YDS, TD, 2 INT||4-10, 131 YDS, 2 TD, INT||4-16, 158 YDS, TD, 2 INT|
|10-19 Yards||13-28, 200 YDS, TD||32-57, 570 YDS, 6 TD, 4 INT||15-32, 255 YDS, 3 INT|
|0-9 Yards||38-48, 359 YDS, TD, INT||88-129, 829 YDS, 7 TD, 2 INT||32-50, 249 YDS, TD, INT|
Pro Football Focus
Eric Berry, whether in man or zone, will be roaming the middle of the field for the majority of Tennessee's snaps.
And due to Fitzpatrick's lackluster downfield passing, Sutton will have no second guesses about torpedoing his safety through the interior on blitz packages.
In those instances, the man who will likely be tasked with halting the strong safety's progress is Chris Johnson, whom Pro Football Focus ranked as the No. 39 pass-blocking halfback of 2012. And when Fitzpatrick is pressured, his fundamentals tend to fly south.
Tennessee's aerial attack is centered around the long ball, but if offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains knows anything about his new starting quarterback, the play-calling will be tailored to Fitzpatrick's strengths.
Expect a plethora of short-to-intermediate routes and plenty of opportunities for Berry to add to his team-leading trio of turnovers.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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