Going into the 2019 season, many picked the Kansas City Chiefs to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, avenging the end to their 2018 season and begin a run of dominance.
Well, it seems like other teams are catching up.
After starting the 2018 season 9-1, the Kansas City Chiefs went 3-3 to finish the season, and then went 1-1 in the playoffs; now at 4-2, that means the team is 7-5 in their last 12 regular season games (8-6 in their last 14 games if you include the 2018 postseason).
It is not fair to completely connect last season to this season, as the Chiefs have a new roster and coaches, as do other teams in the NFL; not everything automatically translates (i.e. Kareem Hunt).
However, with Patrick Mahomes under center, and Andy Reid coaching, some things stay the same.
Dating back to last season, there seems to be a formula developing with how to contain Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, putting yourself in a position to win.
Watch the Patriots
I do not want to sound biased when writing this, but it cannot be denied: teams are looking at how the New England Patriots played the Kansas City Chiefs during the 2018 AFC Championship Game, and citing it as a key reason for beating, or playing a close game against, the Chiefs this season.
Texans safety Tashaun Gipson cited this game after his team beat the Chiefs on Sunday.
It was not the first time it’s been discussed this season either.
When discussing how the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chiefs in Week 5, and if they provided a blueprint for the rest of the league to beat the KC, Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star said the following:
“Yeah, a little bit… the origin of this came in the AFC title game last year when the Chiefs didn’t score in the first half against the Patriots”
He went on to say that Colts and Lions (who lost to Kansas City by just 4 points in Week 4) exhibited similar tendencies against the vaunted Chiefs offense.
What exactly does this blueprint include?
A few things.
Win the Time of Possession battle
This is obviously easier said than done, but if you look at the Chiefs two losses this season, and their loss to the Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game, their opponent EASILY won the time of possession battle.
During the 2018 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots held the ball for a mind-boggling 43 minutes and 59 seconds (over 67% of the game). This includes 4 minutes and 52 seconds of play in overtime, but if you subtract that for their overall total, the Patriots still held the ball for 39 minutes and 7 seconds during regulation (over 65% of regulation).
When the Colts beat the Chiefs in Week 5, they held the ball for 37 minutes and 15 seconds, including over 20 minutes in the second half.
Finally, during the Texans victory on Sunday against Kansas City, they held the ball for 39 minutes and 48 seconds (over 66% of the game).
These are not just examples of winning the time of possession battle, they are examples of DOMINATING that battle.
Houston’s offense ran 92 plays against the Chiefs, while the Colts ran 81 plays, and the Patriots ran 97 plays (13 of which were in overtime).
If your offense can stay on the field that long, it does two things:
- Keeps the ball out of the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense
- Weaken the opposing defense by keeping them on the field for an extended amount of time
As evidenced by the fact the Chiefs were still able to score 31 points in just 20 minutes in 53 seconds against the New England Patriots, it’s not as simple as keeping the ball away from Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense.
You need a strategy for containing them too.
Play Man Coverage
Another strategy employed by the Patriots during the 2018 AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs, and adopted by other teams this season, was man coverage.
Patriots beat reporter Tom E. Curran described the plan used by the Patriots as one that “featured man-to-man, [and] liberal pressure.”
The Patriots double-teamed Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill the entire game with Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen, then stuck rookie CB J.C. Jackson on Travis Kelce; well, it worked, as Hill only had 1 catch for 42 yards all game, while Kelce had just 3 catches for 23 yards.
This works a bit easier for New England since they have such a strong secondary (I didn’t even mention Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty, or Patrick Chung above), but it didn’t stop the Colts from using a ton of man coverage (although they didn’t have to face Hill).
NFL Research tweeted a graphic last week about how the Colts used man coverage over 73.3% of the time against the Chiefs offense. Well, considering they held the Chiefs to 13 points, I guess it worked.
Even if Mahomes threw for over 300 yards against the Colts, it shows at best you have to try to contain him, and it’s been working.
Win in the Trenches
If you can hit Patrick Mahomes, the odds are in your favor.
This strategy worked well for the Patriots and the Colts, as they each sacked the 2018 NFL MVP 4 times in their respective games. This hasn’t worked for everyone this season, but it’s something to keep in mind.
This is something that can be pinned on the Chiefs offensive line… and it’s not the only thing they need to improve.
The Chiefs currently have one of the worst running games in the NFL.
Part of this has to do with no longer having Kareem Hunt, and part of it has to do with having lots of injuries at the position, but the Chiefs have a non-existent run game in 2019.
The past 2 weeks the Chiefs have run for a total of 89 yards.
If you look back to the 2018 AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs only rushed for 41 yards.
Kansas City doesn’t need to have a dominant running game like the Ravens or 49ers, but just SOMETHING respectable.
This isn’t just a problem on the offensive side of the ball, but the defensive line is losing in the trenches too.
The reason teams have had such success holding the ball against the Chiefs is that they’ve had success in the run game.
The past 4 games, the Chiefs have allowed the following amount of team rushing yards: 203, 186, 180, 192.
That’s 761 yards.
That’s how the Chiefs’ opponents end up staying on the field longer and longer, get easier first downs, and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field.
It’s all tied together.
How Worried Should KC Be?
My default has been you can’t be too worried if you have Patrick Mahomes, but I think we need to have a bit of a discussion about him.
No, I don’t completely blame the Chiefs recent woes on Mahomes, but he hasn’t been himself the last few weeks.
In his last three games, Mahomes is is 65 for 116 (56.03%), passing for 909 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception (89.3 passer rating). A lot of yards, but that’s it.
As evidenced by his GW drive against the Lions, it doesn’t matter when the stats aren’t pretty if you can still lead your team to victory, however, it’s hard when so much of this team’s success is built on the back of your individual success.
As we addressed earlier, the Chiefs do not have a good running game, and on the other side of the ball their rush defense is awful (their pass defense is average). This isn’t completely new, as it was the case last year. The Chiefs have always had a tendency to be a bend-don’t-break defense, and they tend to save themselves by causing turnovers, but remember, takeaway last season, and this team also hasn’t been a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and these faults in their play as a team is why.
Mahomes is good enough to turn things around, but it might not be enough to limit the shortcomings of this entire roster… and if this many teams seem to be finding a way to beat Kansas City, it might not bode well as the season progresses.
Still a long way to go, but the Chiefs are not the behemoth they were made out to be coming into 2019, not yet at least.
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