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4 classes the Chiefs have realized of their 3 earlier losses to the Bengals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Consider it this fashion: The Chiefs don’t need to be swept.

Sure, they’ve misplaced the previous three conferences in opposition to the Cincinnati Bengals, essentially the most vital occurring within the AFC Championship Recreation a yr in the past, a sport wherein the Chiefs blew an 18-point lead.

As soon as once more, the 2 groups will meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium within the convention’s title sport, the victor this time advancing to Tremendous Bowl LVII. Forward of the much-anticipated showdown, which can function famous person quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, the Chiefs have requested themselves one all-important query that may serve them effectively in constructing — and maybe modifying — their upcoming sport plan: What did we be taught from the three earlier losses?

“We all know they’re gifted in all three phases,” coach Andy Reid mentioned Monday of the Bengals. “It’s (largely) the identical guys taking part in in opposition to one another. I’m certain each groups can have changes that they make, and each groups will arduous. We’ll simply see the way it goes.”

The three earlier games between these groups do present loads of storylines and tendencies that assist clarify why the result of every assembly was the identical: a three-point win for the Bengals in a comeback effort. (Critically, all three video games have been three-point wins for the Bengals after a comeback.) In all three video games, the Chiefs had a win chance above 75 p.c coming into the fourth quarter, in keeping with Kevin Cole, who research analytical knowledge in his publication, Surprising Factors. The Bengals additionally protected Burrow effectively for a lot of the second half in every victory. And one statistic that could be a sturdy indicator of figuring out the ultimate end result between equally gifted groups — turnovers — has favored the Bengals previously two video games.

“They’ve executed at the next degree within the essential conditions,” Mahomes mentioned of the Bengals after the Week 13 matchup between the brand new rivals. “When you’re going to beat a very good staff, you’ve bought to execute all through all the sport.”

So, how can the Chiefs present enchancment in Sunday’s sport to extend their probabilities of profitable? The 4 components beneath will inform the story.

Tackling can be paramount

One of the fundamental methods for a protection to achieve success, in any sport, is to deal with the ball provider as quickly as attainable — or when a defender has a transparent angle to restrict the yardage gained.

The Chiefs’ protection, nevertheless, has but to have a sport in opposition to the Bengals wherein its tackling was constant. As a substitute, the Bengals have typically received the one-on-one matchup downfield or on the perimeter. A great instance of this was the Bengals’ opening drive in final month’s sport, wherein backup working again Samaje Perine, who performed rather than the injured Joe Mixon, broke tackles in opposition to linebacker Nick Bolton and security Justin Reid to achieve extra yards. The Bengals ended the drive with a 4-yard landing run by Burrow.


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Together with the common season and the divisional-round victory final week, the Chiefs’ protection has averaged 13.5 snaps, in keeping with TruMedia and Professional Focus, wherein the primary defender who made contact with the ball provider didn’t make the deal with. In every of the previous two video games in opposition to the Bengals, the Chiefs have had 25 such performs.

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“We have now to be somewhat bit higher (at) tackling,” Bolton mentioned after final month’s loss to Cincinnati. “I really feel like we didn’t deal with very effectively. We are able to begin (bettering) there. Perine had a hell of a sport. He’s a shorter again (listed at 5 ft 11), and he was in a position to make use of that to his benefit.”

Burrow’s first landing cross additionally featured missed tackles, as rookie cornerback Joshua Williams and security Juan Thornhill didn’t carry down receiver Tee Higgins on his 12-yard landing reception.

Late within the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had 4 defenders on the perimeter in opposition to famous person receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who caught a bubble display cross with Higgins and receiver Tyler Boyd as his blockers in entrance of him. Though Chase caught the ball behind the road of scrimmage, he was nonetheless in a position to evade Thornhill’s diving deal with try to achieve 5 yards on a essential third-and-5 play with lower than three minutes remaining.

Chase has gained a league-high 109 yards after the catch over anticipated — the distinction between precise yards and anticipated yards on a person play — in opposition to man protection this season, together with the , in keeping with Subsequent Gen Stats. Within the three matchups in opposition to the Chiefs, Chase has recorded 9 receptions on 13 targets for 138 yards and a landing versus man protection, together with 45 yards after the catch over anticipated.

If the Chiefs are higher at limiting the Bengals to minimal beneficial properties, then the offense, led by Mahomes, ought to have greater than only a season-low eight possessions, which is what occurred within the final assembly.

Count on absolutely anything from Lou Anarumo

Anarumo, the Bengals’ defensive coordinator, has constructed a powerful fame for being among the finest at mid-game changes on the subject of play calling to raised counterattack opposing offenses. Per that, Anarumo has not been afraid to vary his sport plan when dealing with Mahomes a second and third time.

“He’s accomplished an amazing job,” Reid mentioned of Anarumo. “He places his guys in place to make performs. He has quite a lot of completely different coverages and fronts that he works with. His gamers perceive him. Zones are tight. They do a very good job of man-to-man (protection), so (it’s a) well-rounded scheme that he has.”

Mahomes was nearly flawless within the first half of the AFC Championship Recreation final yr, finishing 18 passes on 21 makes an attempt for 220 passing yards and three touchdowns, with zero turnovers. However after halftime, he had one of many worst 30-minute stretches of his profession. One cause was that the Bengals used a further defender in protection (relatively than as a cross rusher), which meant Mahomes needed to be extra cautious throwing to sure spots. The extra time Mahomes spent earlier than throwing the ball served to disrupt the Chiefs’ rhythm. With eight defenders again in protection — which is how the Bengals defended 45 p.c of the Chiefs’ second-half passing performs, in keeping with Subsequent Gen Stats — Mahomes accomplished simply seven of his 13 makes an attempt for 59 passing yards. He additionally threw an interception and was sacked twice.

However within the December assembly, Anarumo known as simply 5 performs wherein the Bengals had eight defenders in protection. Mahomes accomplished simply 1 of his 4 passes for six yards in opposition to that scheme and was sacked on his remaining dropback. The Bengals additionally performed extra man protection than zone on the Chiefs’ third-down performs.

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Sunday’s sport may function extra blitzing from Anarumo, who has used cornerback Mike Hilton to generate stress on opposing quarterbacks. Maybe the one facet Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy can anticipate from Anarumo is that the Bengals can be keen to vary their technique if the Chiefs have success early.

“I’m certain they’ll have one thing (new) that they do,” Reid mentioned. “However I’m not going to chase a bunch of various issues. We must always have issues lined in our protections it doesn’t matter what.”

The Chiefs should stress Burrow — and so they can’t whiff

The Bengals may enter Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with three offensive linemen who weren’t anticipated to begin at their positions when the season started.

Hakeem Adeniji can be at proper deal with rather than La’el Collins, who tore his ACL on Christmas Eve. Max Scharping may very well be at proper guard after Alex Cappa suffered an ankle harm within the regular-season finale in opposition to the Baltimore Ravens. And in opposition to the Buffalo Payments within the divisional spherical, Jackson Carman began at left deal with for the primary time this season rather than Jonah Williams, who suffered a left knee harm within the Bengals’ wild-card win over the Ravens. That mentioned, within the Bengals’ victory over the Payments, their offensive line dominated the trenches.

The Chiefs should accomplish what the Payments couldn’t: stress, hit and sack Burrow.

The issue? The Chiefs’ defensive position, led by famous person defensive deal with Chris Jones and defensive finish Frank Clark, have struggled to generate stress and rattle Burrow. Within the final assembly, the Chiefs recorded simply three quarterback hits, and the one sack they recorded was on a play wherein Burrow gave himself up to make sure the sport reached the two-minute warning.

“I believed that quarterback beat us along with his mind, along with his arm and along with his ft,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo mentioned of Burrow in December. “I advised the blokes that. The mind half is on me. The arm and ft is on all of us. He made it actually powerful.”

Sunday’s sport can be Jones’ probability for redemption. The Chiefs’ collapse within the AFC title sport final yr included Jones lacking two attainable sacks on Burrow. Early within the fourth quarter, Jones was in a position to get his palms on the Bengals quarterback, however Burrow deftly escaped him twice earlier than scrambling for a primary down. After his diving try to deal with Burrow was unsuccessful, Jones stayed down, his face masks buried within the turf. The would-be sack would’ve been Jones’ first playoff sack in 12 profession postseason video games.

“Final yr caught with me,” Jones mentioned. “It was the driving power for this offseason.”

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Within the common season, Jones was the league’s finest inside cross rusher, accumulating 15 1/2 sacks and 29 quarterback hits, each numbers tying profession highs. The Chiefs possible will want Jones to win one-on-one matchups, whether or not it’s in opposition to Scharping or Adeniji, to create a damaging play from Burrow.

Together with the playoffs, Burrow has the second-fastest time to throw within the league at 2.4 seconds. The Chiefs haven’t been efficient in opposition to quarterbacks who unleash the ball shortly, rating twenty first in EPA per dropback when an opposing quarterback threw the ball in 2.5 seconds or much less. The Chiefs have been additionally twentieth in success charge, at 50.5 p.c, in these conditions.

The Chiefs consider they should modify their pass-rush strategies, particularly when making an attempt to carry Burrow to turf, after seeing firsthand how elusive he was within the earlier video games.

“He’s unconventional when it comes to scrambling,” Bolton mentioned of Burrow. “He strikes up within the pocket and shrinks himself down to remove a number of the space to deal with him.”

The O-line must be wonderful (particularly LT Orlando Brown Jr.)

All through this week, Reid and Bieniemy will see what sort of performs they’ll embrace of their sport plan primarily based on the participation degree and mobility of Mahomes, who sustained a proper excessive ankle sprain in Saturday’s win in opposition to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Mahomes, arguably the league’s most-talented quarterback, plans on beginning Sunday’s sport, though his scrambling and improvisational abilities may very well be hindered by the harm.



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The lineman with the largest highlight on him can be star left deal with Orlando Brown, the five-year veteran who’s answerable for defending Mahomes’ blind aspect.

The earlier assembly in opposition to the Bengals included Brown’s worst snap of the season. Within the fourth quarter, on a third-and-3 from the Bengals’ 33-yard line, Mahomes was compelled to scramble and lengthen the play after defensive finish Joseph Ossai beat Brown in lower than two seconds to generate stress. Then Brown watched Ossai, utilizing second effort to proceed his rush, document a pivotal sack by clipping Mahomes’ left foot along with his left arm.

Towards the Jaguars, Reid and Bieniemy adjusted their play calls by having Mahomes function largely from the shotgun. Mahomes was additionally supported effectively by his offensive linemen: Brown, star left guard Joe Thuney, star middle Creed Humphrey, proper guard Trey Smith and proper deal with Andrew Wylie. Within the second half, Mahomes was hit simply as soon as by the Jaguars, a play wherein Mahomes stepped up within the pocket and delivered a leap cross to receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 6-yard landing.

The Chiefs’ offensive line might need to be simply as efficient in opposition to the Bengals to permit Mahomes to search out his rhythm and succeed.

(Picture of Tee Higgins: Andy Lyons / Getty Photographs)

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