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Titans vs. Chiefs preview

9/4/2014
Jake Locker and Alex Smith hope to get their respective teams off on the right track. Icon SMI, Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans open the regular season on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are coming off an 11-5 season and a 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The Titans finished last season at 7-9.

Here, ESPN NFL Nation Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky discuss Sunday's game.

Teicher: The Chiefs had a ragged preseason. They have a few unresolved issues and don’t look appear ready for the regular season. How about the Titans? Do they look like a team ready to start well in the regular season?

Kuharsky: I think the Titans' offense is ready. QB Jake Locker has taken to Ken Whisenhunt’s new system and looks good in it. The Titans have invested a lot in a line that still needs to jell but should be much better and should rank as one of the league’s best. Their running back by committee should be better than Chris Johnson was as the bell cow. And the pass-game weapons -- receivers Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Justin Hunter; running backs Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster; and tight ends Delanie Walker and Taylor Thompson -- should be quite good. Defense is another story. The defense that started gave up a long touchdown drive to open each of the four preseason games. There was little edge pass rush and bad coverage, plus too many penalties, third-down gaffes and missed tackles.

What are the biggest lingering issues for the Chiefs?

Teicher: Their offensive line is probably the biggest issue. Eric Fisher, the first pick in the draft last year, is now playing left tackle but didn’t have a good preseason. Their left guard, Mike McGlynn, was signed only last week after being released by Washington. Their right guard, Zach Fulton, is a rookie sixth-round draft pick. Their right tackle, Jeff Allen, has been their left guard but had to switch positions two weeks ago to cover for the suspension of the normal starter. The result has been some ugly play. Quarterback Alex Smith took a pounding in the last two games in which he played, and it’s reasonable to think he won’t last the season if it continues. The starting offense didn’t score a touchdown in 16 preseason possessions. Smith threw two red zone interceptions two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings. RB Jamaal Charles didn’t play except for the preseason opener, so things could get better with him in the lineup. On defense, the Chiefs still allow a lot of big pass plays. They gave up two of more than 30 yards each on one drive in the last game the starters played. That was a problem for the Chiefs last year.

How is McCluster being utilized? Do you see him being more effective for the Titans offensively than he was for the Chiefs?

Kuharsky: The Titans envision him as Whisenhunt's new Danny Woodhead. As the Chargers' coordinator last year, Whisenhunt did well utilizing Woodhead. Now McCluster is part of a three-man backfield committee that will replace Johnson. Shonn Greene is the lead guy for now, and a power back at his best in short yardage. Bishop Sankey is a well-rounded rookie. McCluster will be used mostly as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and is also the punt returner. We'll see if they are able to do more with him.

How much will the Chiefs miss Dwayne Bowe in this game?

Teicher: He’s their best receiver, so they will miss him. The Chiefs’ offense works a lot better when he’s in the lineup and playing well. But they should be able to survive for one game without him. Frankie Hammond Jr., will take Bowe's place. Hammond, 24, is faster and has more big-play ability than Bowe. Kansas City also bases its passing game more around the running back, Charles, and tight ends Anthony Fasano, Travis Kelce and Demetrius Harris, than most other teams. Chiefs tight ends caught 53 passes last year. The Chiefs would like to see that number double.

What about Locker? How committed is Whisenhunt to him? He wasn’t drafted by Whisenhunt.

Kuharsky: Locker has responded to all they’ve asked of him and Whisenhunt has grown to like him. The coach certainly isn't committed to Locker the way a coach would be if he encouraged a team to draft a QB, but I don’t think Whisenhunt will be quick to cut to cord. Zach Mettenberger looks like a great get in the sixth round and could be a long-range answer. But his route into the lineup this year would be via another Locker injury or a terrible level of personal and team performance that the Titans can’t envision at this stage.

You’ve said the Chiefs don’t really look ready. It seems that Year 2 of Andy Reid probably won’t match up to the magical first season. You agree? How have things moved in the wrong direction?

Teicher: Given their ragged play in the preseason and a much more difficult schedule, it’s tough to picture the Chiefs being a strong contender for a playoff spot. I wouldn’t say the Chiefs are necessarily taking a step backward. It’s more that they’re being confronted this year by a different reality. Last season’s schedule over the first nine games was laughably easy. They played against an incredible run of subpar NFL quarterbacks. Remember, counting the playoff game, the Chiefs lost six of their last eight games last season. This year’s team will fit somewhere into the wide margin between last year’s 9-0 start and 2-6 finish.