Let’s avoid the obvious here.
The Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl champions for the third time in five years, and the answers to “how” and “why” are pretty obvious: The Chiefs have quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and the rest of the league doesn’t. Mahomes is the gold standard, the catalyst, the star-maker. The three-time Super Bowl MVP is the suffocating kind of great who lost the capacity to surprise any opponent with his talents half-a-decade ago but still manages to bewilder any time he steps on the field.
For a team like the Tennessee Titans, playing in the AFC in the shadow of Mahomes’ dominance can feel like a curse. No team can out-Mahomes the Chiefs. But while the blueprint for the Chiefs’ dynasty centers around Mahomes, it doesn’t end there.
Here are three lessons the Titans can learn from Kansas City, other than of “just have Mahomes.”
Don’t worry about making an offseason about one thing
After losing the Super Bowl to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers amid offensive line injuries and struggles, the Chiefs spent the 2021 offseason fortifying the front. They signed All-Pro guard Joe Thuney and drafted guard Trey Smith and Pro Bowl center Creed Humphrey, ensuring Mahomes wouldn’t need to worry about protection again.
After losing the AFC Championship game to quarterback Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals’ high-flying pass attack the next year, the Chiefs spent the 2022 offseason rebuilding their secondary. They signed safety Justin Reid and drafted five defensive backs, including All-Pro cornerback Trent McDuffie. In two seasons, the Chiefs went from No. 26 in yards allowed per pass play to No. 3.
Sometimes turning one weakness into a strength is more valuable than trying to plug leaks across the entire roster. Sure, it’s easier to do that when you already have a strong roster than when you’re at the beginning of a rebuild. But there’s clearly something to the idea of picking one concern and eliminating all doubt about it.
It’s time to reevaluate the offensive identity
Here are quick fact that illustrates to what degree the NFL has become a passing league: The NFL has put out a player-ranked list of the 100 best players in the league every offseason since 2011. There are 33 running backs who’ve ever ranked in the top 50. Only two went on to win a Super Bowl the season after earning that honor: Ray Rice in 2012 and Marshawn Lynch in 2013.
It’s been more than a decade since one of the NFL’s best running backs won a Super Bowl. No player who’s even finished in the top-five in rushing has won a Super Bowl that year since 2004. In the years the Chiefs won their three Super Bowls, their leading rusher has ranked No. 18, No. 25 and No. 39 in rush yards.
There’s obviously still a place in the league for running backs. Christian McCaffrey and the San Francisco 49ers were a blocked extra point away from rendering this trend obsolete Sunday. But as the Titans enter into a new era, their 25-year identity as a run-first team needs to be reevaluated, whether that means favoring more of a running-back-by-committee approach or deemphasizing the run entirely.
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Replace, but also rebuild
The Chiefs haven’t been immune to roster turnover as they’ve built their dynasty. Stars like Tyreek Hill, Tyrann Mathieu, Orlando Brown Jr., and Frank Clark have all moved on or been moved on from. And while there have been some instances where the Chiefs replaced a player with a comparable talent, like Mathieu for Reid, there are just as many instances where Kansas City used a departure to rethink their roster.
Instead of replacing Hill with another top-tier receiver, the Chiefs recast their offense as a more efficient, short- and intermediate-pass heavy attack. Instead of panicking about Mahomes’ blind side without Brown, the Chiefs signed a high-price right tackle instead and reconfigured the line to get more players in optimal positions. Without Clark’s consistency off the edge, the Chiefs went from blitzing on 24.2% of defensive snaps in 2022 to blitzing 32.9% of the time in 2023.
There’s no one way to win. The Chiefs seem less concerned with getting better “the Chiefs way” than they do with getting better by any means possible. The Chiefs don’t need to reinvent themselves, which makes the fact that they keep finding small ways to do just that even more inspiring.
Nick Suss is the Titans beat writer for The Tennessean. Contact Nick at email@example.com. Follow Nick on X, the platform formerly called Twitter, @nicksuss.