How the Cincinnati Bengals Hold Clear Advantages Over Kansas City Chiefs

Despite the point spread, it will be the Cincinnati Bengals that hold an advantage over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Patrick Mahomes has not beaten Joe Burrow yet. The Cincinnati Bengals have won the past three meetings against the Kansas City Chiefs, with one of those games being the AFC Championship Game a season ago. With Patrick Mahomes’ high ankle sprain, what would it take for Kansas City to overcome the deficiencies that have plagued them against Cincinnati recently?

Just because Mahomes is less mobile doesn’t necessarily mean that Cincinnati should change its approach toward defending him. However, Kansas City has been able to run the ball efficiently during the three-game stretch against Cincinnati, so while it feels insane to say, maybe they should creep their safeties closer to the line of scrimmage to defend the run.

And while each team will look to avoid allowing explosive plays against one another, there will inevitably be opportunities to make big plays. And one team has a clear advantage in that area.

Bengals vs. Chiefs Film Study

Mahomes’ ankle injury is the biggest storyline heading in the NFL, but even on one leg, it’s unlikely that his play will be the difference between a Chiefs win or loss. The Chiefs’ offensive structure has changed to rely less on his alien ability to escape and make plays.

Blitzing and man coverage could be the difference in the game, as could the Chiefs getting into the officiating crews’ ears early and often about a particular player’s propensity to push. But as with most games, it’s likely that trench play makes the ultimate difference in the contest.

Joe Burrow Impresses Despite a Hopelessly Injured OL

According to Sports Info Solutions, the Bills ranked 20th in pressure rate and 21st in sack rate after Von Miller’s injury. They pressured Burrow only 12 times in 39 dropbacks, but there wasn’t much they could do to improve on that number. Burrow and Zac Taylor have found the answer to attacking two-high coverages this year, and they’ve figured out how to consistently get the ball out of his hands within 2.5 seconds.

In fact, according to Next Gen Stats, 2.5 seconds was Burrow’s average time to throw in the Divisional Round against the Bills. In Week 13 against the Chiefs, Burrow’s time to throw sat at 2.55. He’s getting the ball out as fast as possible, which will again be a necessity against Chris Jones and Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz packages.

There probably won’t be too many opportunities like the above throw against Kansas City in the Conference Championship. And if the Chiefs have any hope of defending the Bengals’ passing attack, they absolutely can’t allow Burrow to sit and progress to options three and four often.

Burrow absolutely diced the Chiefs’ zone coverages in Week 13. According to SIS, he completed 14 of his 15 attempts for 166 yards against Cover 2, 3, 4, and 6. Burrow’s most significant improvement from a season ago is his ability to process and deliver attacking zone coverages using horizontal spacing concepts.

The Chiefs’ best hope is to play soft like Baltimore. They must keep everything before them and force the Bengals to drive downfield methodically. Burrow completed 10 passes at or past 10 yards downfield against Kansas City in Week 13. He completed only nine such passes in his final two games against the Ravens.

And with an utterly depleted offensive line in Cincinnati, it would probably be best to just let nature (Jones vs. Bengals interior) to take its course and try to earn some negative plays for the Bengals’ offense.

That doesn’t mean the Chiefs can’t blitz Burrow at all. It simply means that Spagnuolo must correctly time and hide the blitz to provide free rushers against Burrow. But the better plan overall would be to show blitz before spinning back into coverage. Again, that is something Baltimore found success doing against a healthier OL. Sim pressures can also confuse protections and could do that against a Bengals OL down three starters.

Run Single-High Coverages at Your Own Risk

Whether it be through schematic ingenuity or a downright talent advantage, running single-high coverages against either offense is a poor decision more often than not.

This also comes into play when deciding to blitz Burrow. When Spags decides to do so, fire zones should be his go-to call — not a Cover 1 variant or Cover 0.

MORE: NFL Power Rankings Championship Round

The Bengals’ pass catchers are too talented. Burrow can simply choose between Ja’Marr Chase or Tee Higgins to win a 50-50 sideline toss when there is only a single safety in the middle of the field. The same could usually be said about blitzing Mahomes because of his ability to escape pressure and make impossible plays with his athleticism and arm.

Unlike the Chiefs, the Bengals may want to press the receivers and play some man coverage with five or more rushers. However, Lou Anarumo is unlikely to change the formula against Kansas City. In three games and 114 Mahomes dropbacks, Anarumo has brought five or more rushers just 14 times.

Mahomes’ Ankle Injury May Change Things

Although Mahomes had a similar ankle injury in 2019, and this one reportedly isn’t as serious, it’s actually much more serious. Even if his ankle isn’t as banged up, it being his right leg makes it more difficult to manage.

When it was his plant leg and not his drive leg, he still had some escapability in the pocket. The most critical step is the first step away from pressure, and he could still do that when his left ankle was sprained. And while it hurt his overall mobility for a while in 2019, it didn’t necessarily change how quickly he was able to escape from pressure initially.

There’s also a big difference as a passer. Nobody in the NFL needs two legs to throw less than Mahomes. We saw that a week ago before his injury. However, the drive foot is far more important to most passers than the plant foot. The back foot is what generates velocity on throws, especially when it’s needed most. Injuries to the plant foot can often lead to throws sailing because a QB cannot properly finish his throwing motion.

But anyways, back to single-high coverages. Don’t run Cover 3 against an Andy Reid team. DO NOT DO IT. He’ll absolutely decimate you with Cover 3 beaters, of which there are plenty these days. He and Mahomes had so much success against the Gus Bradley Cover 3 Raiders in the past.

And the few times we see the Bengals play man coverage, Reid and Mahomes will attack that by using the screen and rub game to perfection. They’ll use the backs, tight ends, and RPOs to quickly get the ball out of Mahomes’ hands to get guys in space behind the line of scrimmage.

Chiefs Must Nag Officials About Ja’Marr Chase

The NFL loves offense. There are few more obvious statements about the league that we could make than that. The NFL average for defensive holding and pass interference per team in 2022 was 14. The average for offensive pass interference was just 1.94.

The term “always OPI” doesn’t come from nowhere. Receivers should always shove, tug, and smack defenders to separate, because the NFL doesn’t care. Chase may be the league’s foremost beneficiary of the difference in the way the league calls the game. While he can absolutely get open through his ability as a route runner and athlete, he consistently takes extra liberties.

The Chiefs need to get into the officiating crew’s ear early and often and hope they get a call against Chase in a crucial moment.

Kansas City got one such call in Week 13. There have been far more egregious instances of OPI from Chase that haven’t been called. Additionally, the Chiefs can’t count on getting these calls. But an OPI in a crucial moment can change the outcome of a close game.

Joe Burrow and Andy Reid Hold the Keys to Victory

Burrow and Taylor have the answers to the test. They can beat Cover 2, 4, and 6. Teams can’t contend with them in man coverage. Even with a depleted offensive line, the Bengals’ offense shouldn’t have many issues moving the ball. We haven’t even discussed Burrow’s ability to manipulate the pocket and use his legs as a weapon, which he will undoubtedly do Sunday.

Mahomes is an alien, and if he’s given time, he’ll likely play an excellent game, even with his current physical limitations. But what makes him one of one is his mobility paired with an innate understanding of space and time. Losing that for this game in particular is difficult to overcome.

Lou Anarumo is the most underrated defensive coordinator in the NFL. He is a tactical wizard. His pre and post-snap movement makes even the best QBs in the league take an extra tick in the pocket. Reid is the best play-caller in the league, and he’ll need to be that and more against Cincinnati. He can’t rely on Mahomes’ athleticism in the red zone, but he had at least one answer for that against Jacksonville.

The cat-and-mouse game between Anarumo and Reid, for football sickos, is better than any faux “Burrow vs. Mahomes” argument the big networks want to bring up. Reid will have to reach all the way into his bag to beat the Bengals.

Between Mahomes’ injury, the Bengals’ offensive progression, and Anarumo’s defense, it’s easy to see why the Bengals should win this game, even though they’re not favored.

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

Related Articles