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How the Chiefs offense beats the Packers defense on Sunday night

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The inside linebackers may be the weak link on the Packers’ defense the Chiefs try to exploit

Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Now that we know for certain that the Kansas City Chiefs will be without quarterback Patrick Mahomes on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, their job on offense becomes significantly more difficult. The Packers have a quality defense that is built to play with a lead — which allows their pass rush to attack.

Without Mahomes, the Chiefs will lack major firepower; they’ll have to rely on Matt Moore to be much more of a game manager. The Chiefs offense will have to slow down the game. limiting possessions for both teams — especially since the Chiefs defense will be missing Frank Clark and Chris Jones. The clear path to success will be turning this into a sloppy, ugly, low-scoring game where the team that scores the final points will win.

Winning this game was always going to be a tough task for the Chiefs — but without a phenomenal coaching job all around, it’s now bordering on insurmountable. The good news is that Andy Reid and Steve Spagnuolo can do exactly that. Reid in particular will need to do what he’s previously shown the ability to do: guide his backup quarterback to victory.

Let’s take a look at what the Packers defense has to offer — and one way the Chiefs could choose to attack them.

Packers defensive personnel

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers’ biggest offseason additions were along the defensive front — and it has paid off extremely well. Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith have joined Kenny Clark, creating a high-end three-man pass rush. These three are also good every-down players, giving the Packers the flexibility to move them around and utilize them in every package. The Packers do a good job of bringing the pass rush from multiple angles and from various looks — which keeps opposing offenses on their heels.

Green Bay runs a 3-4 defense that places both Smiths on the second level. But their off-ball linebackers at the second level — the rotation of Blake Martinez, Oren Burks, B.J. Goodson and an occasional three-safety look with Adrian Amos as a dime linebacker — are the weakest part of their defense. The group’s athletic profile is certainly up to par, but they can be late to read and react to the play in front of them, which has allowed offenses to find success by attacking them in space.

The Packers secondary is incredibly talented, but is also very high-risk and high-reward. It starts with Jaire Alexander — one of the league’s rising stars — with Kevin King across from him. With Josh Jackson and Tramon Williams also competing for snaps, the cornerback group has good depth. It’s a very aggressive group that gets a lot of turnovers and plays on the ball — but sometimes gives up chunk plays, too. Without Darnell Savage — who is unlikely to play — the safety group is short-handed; Will Redmond will be the probable starter next to Amos. The injury to Savage limits how the Packers can use a safety as a linebacker in their dime packages — something they like to do.

Attacking the inside linebackers

Green Bay has built its defense following the new age analytical model, spending capital in the secondary and for pass rushers. As a result, they have a dangerous pass defense that produces turnovers and sacks. But their rush defense is in the bottom third of the league; they are more than willing to allow teams to run the ball against them. Thanks to the stout play of their defensive line, moving the ball on the ground isn’t easy sledding, but if an offense can get through the trenches, there is often space with which running backs can work; the linebackers are slow to diagnose plays and get into the correct positions.

Here, the Minnesota Vikings are running an outside zone.

Initially the Packers do a good job setting the edge, allowing everyone to flow to the ball. But the Vikings offensive line is able to climb to the second level pretty easily — engaging the inside linebackers who should be filling the gaps — latching on to them well beyond the line of scrimmage. Dalvin Cook makes a great cut to the back side to break the run — but even if he continues to the play side, there is going to be a good gain simply because of where the linebackers were engaged.

Against the Packers, the Chiefs should lean a little more heavily on their rushing attack — which happens to emphasize outside zones and RPOs. If the offensive line is turned loose to attack upfield and get on their blocks, running backs should be able to find lanes like this on the back side of running plays — or be able to matriculate the ball down the field by just following their blocks.

The passing game can also attack the inside linebackers. Green Bay plays a lot of man coverage, which often tasks their inside linebackers to match up with tight ends and running backs, forcing the linebackers to cover the flats as well as vertical routes. The Chiefs have shown they can consistently stretch the field with their running backs both outside the numbers and up the hashes, and should target Martinez or Goodson in those kinds of matchups.

Another wrinkle that can further slant the matchup towards the Chiefs is utilizing natural pick routes. The way the Packers ask their linebackers to stretch horizontally opens them up to having to work through trash from other receivers. Especially when a running back is on a vertically-stemmed route, the natural pick doesn’t require a wide receiver to make much of an adjustment to slow down a defender who is already behind the play.

Matt Moore may not be able to fit passes to running backs into super-tight windows up the seams — like we’ve seen Mahomes do — but he’s more than capable of dropping the ball over the shoulder on these kinds of vertical wheel concepts. The Chiefs will likely try to incorporate even more of these kinds of routes to take advantage of the Packers inside linebackers — and provide Moore with some easier downfield passes.

The bottom line

With the injuries the Chiefs are currently facing on both sides of the ball, their offense may very well need some adjustment to compete in this game.

Moving the ball down the field first down by first down — rather than focusing on chunk plays — will put less pressure on Matt Moore, and should allow the injury-riddled defense to get more rest. The Chiefs should use their outside zone rushing attack, allowing the offensive line to attack the second level of the Packers defense — and also use their running backs as vertical threats to make the linebackers run.

Andy Reid has run these kinds of offenses successfully. Against Green Bay, it wouldn’t be a shock to see some play-calls right out of the time capsule.