Special Gap: Some of the Giant Differences Between the Titans and Chiefs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The traditional Monday comparison of the Titans to the new Super Bowl champions doesn't fly given the rebuilding situation in Nashville and all we don't know about what Brian Callahan's first version of the team will look like.

But we can certainly look at the gap between the Tenessee and the now two-time defending champion Chiefs and see some of the ingredients that are missing and sure seem needed in a Lombardi Trophy winner these days.

Feb 11, 2024; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Trent McDuffie (22) breaks up a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) in the first quarter in Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Trent McDuffie Breaks up a pass in Super Bowl LVIII/ © Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback problem

The first is Patrick Mahomes, and good luck with that. He's a one-of-a-kind quarterback and you're not finding his equal. Who's beaten him head-to-head? Tom Brady twice and Joe Burrow. Odds are better that you piece together a great defensive game, get good quarterback play, and squeak by than you outplay him at QB. Add Juwan Jennings TD' throw into what Brock Purdy did and the passing game was roughly a wash in Super Bowl LVIII in terms of passer rating.

 But Mahomes' volume was higher -- eight more attempts, 11 more competitions, 57 more passing yards -- and then there was the X-factor: nine runs for 66 yards, including the 8-yard run on fourth-and-1 in OT on what could have been the final play of a 49ers' win.

Hanging with Mahomes for 60 minutes, or 74:54, is a monumental task. I'm optimistic the Titans have their guy in Will Levis -- though we are probably a little ahead of ourselves there.

But best-case scenario, Callahan could shape him into a very nice quarterback. The odds of him being one who can outpace Mahomes are low because the odds of any signal-caller coming into the league outpacing Mahomes are super low.


A spin-off from having Mahomes. Mecole Hardiman is a nice player with good speed and quickness who can do things in space. But if he were an answer at wide receiver for the Chiefs as they turned things over at receiver, dealing Tyreek Hill in 2022, and allowing JuJu Smith-Schuster to leave after one season in 2023, they would have worked to keep him when he left for the Jets in free agency for a one-year, $4 million deal. 

They ultimately got him back for a pick swap where they gave up a sixth for a seventh. And Mahomes elevated him into the second-best player on offense for the Chiefs, per PFF, where his 75.6 grade trailed only Travis Kelce (78.9). He ran a route with reverse motion that the Chiefs used twice with success against the Eagles in last year's Super Bowl to free himself up for the game-winning touchdown. 

We can talk about how the Chiefs need to get better at receiver, and they probably will. But they just won a Super Bowl with Rashee Rice, the troublesome Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling as their receivers with over 20 catches.

The Ryan Tannehill era was a continuation of the Titans' Nashville era failure at receiver with the one biggest exception, A.J. Brown, who they saw fit to deal away. While Tannehill did a lot of good, he didn't make receivers who played significant snaps better. Perhaps that will change now with Levis, but the Titans clearly need an influx of receiving talent that gives them more explosive play-makers than Nick Westbrook Ikhine and more durable, dependable guys than Treylon Burks and Kyle Philips.

Elite corner play

Trent McDuffie rolled through the slot and outside. He's just the sort of cornerback the Titans have lacked for some time: An influential game-changer. He made three tackles, defended three passes and laid two hits on Purdy.

One of those came with the game tied 16-16 and with 2:00 left in regulation. On third-and-5 where a conversion would have put San Francisco in position to bleed the clock and kick a field goal to take a lead with very little time left, or perhaps on the last play of the game. McDuffie blitzed from the slot, got quickly in Purdy's face and forced an incompletion and a field-goal attempt. The Chiefs got the ball back with 1:53 left, plenty of time to go win or at least tie it and force OT, which is how it unfolded.

I've been saying for a while that the Titans, no matter how well they may be set up to rush with four, need an elite corner behind those rushers. A guy like McDuffie is beyond anybody they've had any time lately. He's not available. But his teammate, L'Jarious Sneed, who was not as impactful in this game but who is also quite good, is a pending free agent.

Running back balance

Isaiah Pacheco didn't put up big numbers and lost a costly fumble.

But his balanced game helped the Chiefs big time. He carried 18 times for 59 yards (3.3-yard average) and caught all six passes Mahomes threw his way for another 33 yards (5.5). He accounted for 17 percent of the team's 24 first downs.

He played 73 percent of the snaps and only three other touches in the game went to other running backs. 

While I do expect him to be the primary back, I don't think Tyjae Spears will get 89 percent of Titans' running back touches very often next season. I think it'd be great if a quarter of his touches are in the Kuharsky megaphonepassing game.

One area where the Titans do match up

Punter Tommy Townsend had a terrific game, booming his five punts for 254 yards. His gross average and his net average matched at 50.8 yards, meaning the 49ers didn't manage a punt return yard against him. They only fielded two.

We don't know the details about the ugly injury Ryan Stonehouse suffered against the Colts  Dec. 3. But he was very upbeat and optimistic when we saw him on crutches the day after the season ended. When healthy, he's capable of launching punts comparable to Townsend's. The question now is about who his special team's coordinator will be.

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