Kansas City Chiefs: Tennessee Titans

Titans vs. Chiefs preview

September, 5, 2014
Jake Locker and Alex SmithIcon SMI, Getty ImagesJake Locker and Alex Smith hope to get their respective teams off on the right track.
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.

Double Coverage: Dexter McCluster

March, 12, 2014
The Tennessee Titans signed free-agent receiver and punt returner Dexter McCluster to a three-year, $12 million contract when the signing period began Tuesday. McCluster played his first four NFL seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. He caught 172 passes, including a career-best 53 in 2013. McCluster had a bigger impact with the Chiefs as a punt returner. He returned a punt for a touchdown three times, twice last season.

Here, ESPN NFL Nation reporters Adam Teicher (Chiefs) and Paul Kuharsky (Titans) discuss the signing and what it means for the teams.

[+] EnlargeMcCluster
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsDexter McCluster can be expected to boost the Titans' punt return game.
Teicher: Paul, give us an idea of how McCluster will fit in with the Titans and just how big a need a player of his skills is for them.

Kuharsky: The team hasn't announced the signing or spoken about him yet. I expect they view him as a running back and receiver and that he will be used much the way Ken Whisenhunt used Danny Woodhead in San Diego last year, primarily as a pass catcher out of the backfield. Put McCluster there, Kendall Wright in the slot and Justin Hunter and Nate Washington outside and that could be a pretty versatile four-pack of receiving options. They are into versatility and he can bring that, though I know they are projecting what they think he can do for them more than banking on a history of production. I would think McCluster will also field punts, which was a major problem area for most of last season.

He carried the ball a decent amount for the Chiefs in 2011. Was it a matter of Jamaal Charles just emerging and them not wanting to take carries away or did they lose faith in McCluster?

Teicher: It was a couple of things. First, the Chiefs weren't really sure what they wanted to do with McCluster back then. He was a slot receiver as a rookie in 2010 but they weren't happy with what they got from him there, so he moved to running back. Remember that was the season Charles tore his ACL early in the season, leaving the Chiefs to choose as their featured back between McCluster, a washed-up Thomas Jones or Jackie Battle, who wound up leading the Chiefs in rushing before eventually finding his way to the Titans. They all received work, McCluster included. The next season the Chiefs, again unsure about what to do with McCluster, moved him back to slot receiver. He's been there ever since.

Understanding the uncertainty surrounding Chris Johnson, do you think the Titans need to add more to their mix of offensive skill players or is McCluster the final piece?

Kuharsky: And now McCluster and Battle are on the same team again. I don't think this is Tennessee's last skill position move by any means. Anthony Dixon, the 49ers running back, is visiting today. I think he'd compete with Battle for a fourth back/special teams role. I expect them to draft a back who would be a big part of a committee that also features Shonn Greene. I anticipate a pretty good competition for roles amount backs. And if Damian Williams leaves as a free agent, they need another receiver.

Is McCluster a guy the Chiefs will feel they need to replace or does it just thin their receiver group a bit?

Teicher: They were thin at receiver last year even with McCluster so they have some work to do there. Specifically regarding McCluster's role as slot receiver, the Chiefs signed Weston Dressler from the CFL and will give him a look there. He put up big numbers playing for Saskatchewan. They have Junior Hemingway, a bigger receiver who seems to be a favorite of Andy Reid's. Regardless, I expect the Chiefs to sign a veteran receiver or two and draft a receiver as well.

Live blog: Chiefs at Titans

October, 6, 2013
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Kansas City Chiefs' visit to the Tennessee Titans. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.