The Chiefs offense has officially adjusted to two-high coverages.
After a 42-point outburst against a good Pittsburgh defense on Sunday night, we can now say that the Chiefs have officially made their adjustments. Sure, this wasn’t the first time Kansas City put up a big number on the scoreboard this season. But if you don’t count the games against the Raiders—and we probably shouldn’t, given Gus Bradley’s refusal to come out of his preferred single-high coverages—we had yet to see Kansas City destroy a defense with downfield passes during the 2021 season. On Sunday, we finally got one of those games.
Patrick Mahomes threw 2 TD passes targeting vertical routes (go, corner, post & wheel) for the first time since Week 12, 2020.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 17, 2022
Mahomes targeting Vertical Routes (Wild Card vs PIT)
4/5, 111 yards, 2 TD (+31.3% CPOE)#PITvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/aUg8uBNRBx
Kansas City isn’t really doing much different from how it operated over the first 11 weeks of the season. The downfield passing game is still built on getting Tyreek Hill open on deep crossing routes. But Mahomes’s newfound willingness to keep making a profit on short throws underneath has brought renewed success—since Week 12, he’s averaged 0.27 EPA per play against two-high coverages—and forced opponents to go away from the downfield-clogging schemes they deployed earlier in the year.
Now that Mahomes is willing to take those layups, defenses have to decide: Do they want to suffer a slow death and allow Mahomes to dink and dunk his way down the field with ruthless efficiency? Or do they want to tempt fate and give him those downfield opportunities? With Mahomes playing like this, it doesn’t really matter which option the defense chooses. The result will be the same.
2) Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes
Speaking of eye-opening blowouts ... Remember when the Steelers led 7-0? That was rich.
It took the Chiefs a quarter and a half to get going offensively, but Mahomes and friends eventually turned this Sunday nighter into the glorified scrimmage we all anticipated. In the end, Kansas City prevailed 42-21, leaving us angry at Brandon Staley all over again for calling that timeout and allowing the Steelers to sneak into the tournament.
Mahomes has looked mortal at times this season, but Sunday showed once again how devastatingly quick he can flip the switch. After scuffling through the first five drives of the game, Mahomes proceeded to throw five touchdown passes in 10:31 of game time. Head-spinning stuff. And just like that, the game was over.
This sets up a Divisional Round showdown between Mahomes’ Chiefs and Allen’s Bills. Can’t. Freakin’. Wait!
3. Travis Kelce made some NFL history.
Kelce was a beast on Sunday night, hauling in five grabs for a team-leading 108 yards and a touchdown. He now has 88 career receptions in the postseason, which ranks fifth in NFL history behind only Jerry Rice (151), Julian Edelman (118), Rob Gronkowski (94) and Reggie Wayne (93). Kelce also now has the second-most 100-yard games for any player in playoff history (7), trailing only Rice (8).
To make matters even more impressive, Kelce added to his stat line with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Byron Pringle early in the fourth quarter. The 2-yard toss made Kelce the only player in NFL history to catch a touchdown, throw a touchdown and record 100+ yards receiving in a postseason game.
Is the Chiefs’ defense back?
Kansas City found the perfect solution for a defense that had been underwhelming in its previous two outings: The Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody expected the Steelers to come into Arrowhead and produce anything resembling offensive fireworks in their Sunday night wild-card matchup with the Chiefs. Kansas City found a team that was even more disappointing than initially anticipated. The Chiefs didn’t allow an offensive touchdown until four minutes were left in the third quarter, and they surrendered only 257 total yards in a 42-21 win. Those numbers are more in line with the way Kansas City was dominating opponents during an eight-game winning streak, when the defense allowed 12.9 points per game. There had been serious questions about the staunchness of that unit after it struggled against Cincinnati and Denver to close the season. To be honest, there might still be some lingering doubts after the victory over Pittsburgh, largely because the Chiefs’ defense obliterated an opponent that lacked any real explosiveness at the skill positions or playmaking from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Chiefs will face a much tougher test in the Divisional Round when they meet the Buffalo Bills. The Bills enjoyed a 38-20 win at Kansas City earlier this season and just put up 47 points on the Patriots in a wild-card win. The Chiefs’ defense looked much better on Sunday. It will need to be at the top of its game against Buffalo.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the defending Super Bowl champions, still have the best numerical odds to reach the Super Bowl. According to the FPI, the Bucs have a 40.6% chance to win the NFC.
Their most likely opponent in the big game? The Buffalo Bills, who have a 33.0% chance of winning the AFC, per the FPI calculations. Right behind them are the Kansas City Chiefs at 32.4%.
Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers have the second-best odds of making the Super Bowl, with a 35.5% chance. Like last year though, the FPI doesn’t think Green Bay will be able to get past Tom Brady and the Bucs.
When the Chiefs got on a roll* during Sunday night’s 42-21 playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a fan in the Arrowhead Stadium stands behind the goal posts chucked a roll of toilet paper during an extra-point try.
It happened after the Chiefs took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter: The majestic flight of the toilet paper roll, which slowly unraveled making it look like a comet’s tail, was easy to see on the TV broadcast.
Perhaps the fan was trying to hit the ball on Harrison Butker’s kick.
After the Chiefs next touchdown put them up 21-7, the toilet paper made a return.
1st Half Offense
Stat Line: 0 points, only two first downs
If you woke up from a coma and didn’t see the game, you might look at the box score and say, “The score was 21-7 at halftime, they scored a touchdown.” You’d be right, they did score a touchdown, but it wasn’t an offensive touchdown. That was a scoop-and-score touchdown by T.J. Watt after Cam Heyward forced a fumble. The Steelers’ offense had started slow before, but nothing like this. Kudos to the Chiefs, but the Steelers seemed to try everything, but to no avail.
3rd Down Defense
Stat Line: KC 8-for-12
If there was one area where the Steelers’ defense really struggled it was on third downs. The Chiefs completed a multitude of 3rd and long situations, including a 3rd and 20 conversion. Those are plays which should never be completed, and yet the Steelers’ defense made a night of it. Getting off the field is at a premium in the playoffs, and the Pittsburgh defense didn’t do nearly enough in this regard.
Derion Kendrick DB
Kendrick is a first-round pick all day long, and he proved that again this season with Georgia after transferring from Clemson. The biggest issue for NFL teams will be off-field issues; if Kendrick has matured since his time with the Tigers, he’ll be worthy of a top 32 selection.
Around the NFL
“We have relieved Mike Mayock of his duties as General Manager of the Las Vegas Raiders,” the team said in a statement Monday. “We thank Mike for his contributions over the last three years in helping to form the foundation for the franchise to build upon in its future.”
The Raiders have already begun the process of finding his replacement, requesting an interview with New England Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Raiders also are beginning their search for a new head coach. Interim coach Rich Bisaccia said Monday he had preliminary conversations with team owner Mark Davis about potentially getting the job full-time. The Raiders also have requested an interview with Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, a source told Schefter.
Why the Cardinals lost
Simply put, Arizona failed to show up. The Cardinals had a nightmarish start to his game where they had four-straight three-and-outs that had them in the negatives in terms of total yards of offense.
After those four punts, Kyler Murray had back-to-back drives that resulted in interceptions. The first pick was unquestionably the worst of the two as the Cardinals were deep in their own end as Murray felt pressure and lofted the football to the right side of the field as he tried to avoid the safety. That ball hung in the air and was eventually picked off by Los Angeles and returned for a touchdown that extended the Rams lead to 21. At the time of that pick-six, the Rams defense now has more yards of total offense (3) and points than the Cardinals offense (-1).
For the first half, the Cardinals had just 40 yards of offense and three first downs.
While the Arizona offense couldn’t find its footing, the defense wasn’t able to stop the bleeding much either. Matthew Stafford was able to throw and rush for a touchdown on back-to-back drives that gave L.A. the 14-0 lead. That type of effort isn’t going to get you a win during a random game in Week 6 let alone in the opening round of the playoffs.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
Reid discussed some of the Chiefs’
trickdifferent plays — the ones that worked and the one that didn’t.
Some very creative offensive playcalls paid off for the Chiefs on Sunday night, including a touchdown pass from tight end Travis Kelce to wide receiver Byron Pringle and a touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to lineman Nick Allegretti.
But don’t call them trick or gadget plays. They are designed for specific teams.
“I guess it’s two-fold,” started Reid. “Other teams have to prep for it, but we do these on an individual basis for that team in a lot of cases. That pass that Kelce threw was individual for that group so we try to find whatever matchups or what we think we can take advantage of for lack of better terms and work on them and try to put a play in for that. So we trust our guys to do it, so they get a number of reps on it. [Eric Bieniemy] does a good job with all that.”
Like everybody else, Reid enjoyed the big-man touchdown by Allegretti.
“On Fridays, we do ‘pat and go’ and the linemen do their own little ‘pat and go’ kind of a breather from hitting the sled, I guess,” he said. “So, you get an idea of who can catch and who can’t so if you got a little bit of skill there, we’ll try to work with you. Allegretti, he’s got great hands, for a wrestler, he’s got great hands. He did a nice job.”
A unique look that didn’t work was a direct snap to wide receiver Mecole Hardman, who handed it off to running back Darrel Williams, who fumbled. The play led to a TJ Watt scoop-and-score. But Reid showed little regret in the call.
“Mecole has done that,” he said. “He did it all through college, high school he was a quarterback, and so we’ve worked him in there, we’ve repped the thing – it just didn’t work out. It could’ve been that Darrel wasn’t practicing a whole lot, so I’ll take that one. We trust Mecole doing that and we’ve worked on that kind of stuff for a number of weeks so.”
A tweet to make you think
Asked how winning SB informs how sees it all now, Andy put it in terms we can all understand: “If you like chocolate cake, and you eat a piece, and then you have one dangling in front of your face, you’re probably going to want to eat that, too. Not much is going to stop you." https://t.co/ZNniA5BqVI— Vahe Gregorian (@vgregorian) January 17, 2022