Photo by: AP Photo/Jeff Dean
It all began in the hot glow of July and now nearing its end coming in almost two weeks. With the sun now barely peeking over the winter horizon, all eyes turn to GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium as the defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals return to enemy territory to square off with the Kansas City Chiefs in the first conference title game rematch in 10 seasons since the Ravens and Patriots. After a season of ups and downs for both teams, only one game stands between them and a trip to Glendale, Arizona for the Super Bowl. In this highly-anticipated AFC Championship rematch between the two, we will see two of the most high-powered offenses from this past season clash in a game that will determine who makes the journey to Super Bowl 57. Beyond that, there are several factors that will shape this game. Yes, I released the 5 ways the Chiefs can beat the Bengals. Remember that language is different. There is a difference between “away” and “a key.” A Key isn’t just an instrument to unlock your car and belongings, it’s also defined as an adjective “of paramount or crucial importance.” Here are five keys for the Chiefs on how to win this weekend.
5 Important Keys:
1. Bring aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage on defense
One notable reason why the Chiefs finished 8th in the NFL in rushing defense this past season is their more aggressive play-calling with the addition of Joe Cullen. Their Offense should often see only three – or four–man rushes while the rest of their defense sit back in coverage. This should lead to better protection against the deep ball while also preventing big plays from occurring. But one of the best Bengals players on offense besides wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins is running back Joe Mixon. One of Mixon’s keys to success is his ability to burst through the hole at the line of scrimmage as he waits for blocks to form and running lanes to open. If Spags and his unit can be more aggressive than they usually are with how many players they have at the line of scrimmage, they will have a better chance of slowing Mixon or even Sa’Maje Perine down.
2. Continue to constant pressure often on Burrow
The Chiefs are one of the more aggressive defenses in the league down the stretch. That includes finishing in the top five in sacks, the run game, and 11th in total defense in the 2022 regular season. Led by an impressive front seven including Chris Jones, Nick Bolton, and Frank Clark, the Chiefs are not lacking in the physicality department. Their patented aggressiveness will be important this weekend going up against an offensive line that could once again be missing two to three starters and one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In Week 2 and 5, The Cowboys using Micah Parsons, and Ravens using Marcus Peters, Josh Bynes, and Jason Pierre Paul were able to get frequent pressure on Joe Burrow by using two-high shell instead of single high-man coverage, heavy blitz packages, and attacking their interior offensive line with stunts. It will be important for the Chiefs to try and replicate that performance to keep Burrow off-balance and force him into check downs, dump offs and screen passes, where he is less effective. I’ve seen him trying to do his best Mahomes dump-off impression.
3. Don’t stop feeding Pacheco and McKinnon throughout the game
This was one of the reasons why the Bills lost to the Bengals because of their lack of physicality in the running game. The Chiefs need to manufacture consistent yardage by rushing. What’s better than having a great running back on your team? Having two. Isiah Pacheco shows the ability to force defenders to be sound in their gaps. He can get to the hole too quickly just opens up cutback lanes and he does a great job of finding it. Dual-threat running backs like Jerick McKinnon not only force defenses to be ready for anything, but they allow offenses to keep their best playmakers on the field in any situation. With Cincinnati’s high-powered offense, the Chiefs may have struggled to keep up on the scoreboard. When most teams are playing from behind, they try to pass the ball more and rely less on the run game. It’ll be important for the Chiefs to keep both Pacheco and McKinnon involved and run the ball often to keep moving the chains and eating up the clock. Their contributions against the Jaguars (24 combined touches for 126 yards) were the main source of offense for the Chiefs and a big reason for getting down the field often against the tough Jaguars’ defense. The Chiefs will need to continue that success against the Bengals and their top 6 scoring defense and top 7 run defense unit.
4. Utilize double teams often on Tee Higgins
Along with star wide receiver Chase, the Bengals also have a very good wide receiver in Tee Higgins. The Chase and Higgins 2021 have had success against nearly every cornerback in the league and can be dominant in all phases of the passing game. In the regular season match-up against the Chiefs, Higgins was covered at times by Joshua Williams and L’Jarius Sneed. He was also covered by Trent McDuffie (when he shut down Chase). But with McDuffie possibly playing more in the slot (though he did have an exceptional game covering both in the meeting on the outside), we could see Jaylen Watson focusing a lot more of his efforts toward Higgins. But even as good of a cornerback as Watson has become, he will likely need help against Higgins or even Chase. With Justin Reid usually playing coverage more against tight ends, Watson will likely need help over the top from Juan Thornhill or Bryan Cook (when the team plays in their nickel or dime scheme). To have any chance of slowing down one of Burrow’s best weapons, it’ll likely need to be a team effort rather than an individual one.
5. Focus on better play from the offensive tackles
Against the Jaguars this past weekend, Patrick Mahomes was taken out during the game due to his injury to his ankle. It had nothing to do with our offensive tackles. However, most of that pressure from opposing teams was up the outside by their defensive line. While Mahomes was not sacked at all by the Jaguars in their Divisional match-up, what the Jaguars did to Mahomes is something Cincinnati will likely try to mimic including their packages that have worked in the previous games. While the entire offensive line of the Chiefs has been a solid unit this season, it did expose a few issues this past season especially when Andrew Wylie allows the most sacks by a right tackle in 2022 with 8. If they can do a better job of not allowing as much pressure on the outside, Mahomes and the Chiefs will have a much easier day this weekend against the very physical Bengals’ defense.