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Playoff X-Factors: the Chiefs' pass rush will be crucial against the Jaguars

Getting pressure on Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence will be a big factor in Kansas City’s first postseason game.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Winning NFL postseason games requires being able to rush the passer — and against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line will have a distinct advantage.

According to ESPN’s team pass block win rate metric, Jacksonville ranks 31st with a 49% win rate, while Kansas City ranks 15th with 41%.

During their head-to-head matchup in Week 10, the Chiefs recorded five sacks in their 27-17 victory. Two months later, Jacksonville continues to have problems that Kansas City could exploit.

Chris Jones

The Chiefs' best defensive player finished 2022 with 15.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four passes defended, 29 quarterback hits and 17 tackles for loss. One of his best games was against the Jaguars, where he collected 1.5 sacks of quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Jones was disruptive early and often.

Here, Jones lines up wide to the outside of right tackle Jawaan Taylor. On the snap, he comes charging out of his stance, hitting Taylor with a vicious bull rush. Taylor tries to anchor himself — but Jones is bringing too much power, so Taylor is shoved into the pocket. Lawrence — still going through his reads — feels the pressure and decides to bail, but Jones has already pushed Taylor out of the way. He finishes with a sack.

While that was an effective outside rush, Jones still made his biggest impact from the interior.

Here, he is head-up in a 4-technique on the right tackle. On the snap, he engages right guard Brandon Scherff, beating him with a swim move — which takes advantage of an offensive linemen's aggression by getting past them with a swimming motion — to the inside.

Meanwhile, Carlos Dunlap gets around the outside edge against Taylor. Jones’ penetration forces Lawrence to move in the pocket — and Dunlap meets Jones in the backfield to share the sack.

There isn’t a lot of scheme in this play. It’s simply the Chiefs' defensive line beating the Jaguars one-on-one. As the more talented players, Jones and Dunlap won — as they should have.

As seasons progress, teams can find answers for persistent problems. Sometimes they can fix them with scheme adjustments — but more often than not, superior talent will prevail.

In their Week 18 win-or-go-home matchup against the Tennessee Titans, the Jaguars ran into second-team All Pro defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons. A player comparable to Jones, Simmons gave Jacksonville problems while playing on a bad ankle.

Here, Simmons is lined up over the left guard as a 3-technique — on the outside shoulder of the guard — and works his way back inside. The Jaguars have their slide protection — a method of focusing the line against the defensive line’s strength — going toward Simmons. But he is able to split the guard and center, penetrate the backfield and force a quick throw from Lawrence.

This is good news for Kansas City. In this win-or-go-home situation, the Jaguars’ offensive line was still having trouble blocking one of the league’s better defensive tackles — even though they were scheming to stop him.

Creating one-on-one situations

Even the league’s best offensive linemen can struggle to block dominant defenders. As we just saw, one way that offensive coordinators can scheme to help their guys against interior defensive tackles like Jones is using slide protection.

This can keep a defensive tackle consistently double-teamed — leaving it up to the defensive coordinator to come up with an adjustment to beat it.

On this play from the November matchup, the Chiefs hold a three-score lead — and are trying to get the ball out of Lawrence’s hands fast. The offensive line wants to use slide protection toward Jones, but linebacker Nick Bolton walks up over the center, creating a five-on-five situation up front.

Off the snap, Jones slants in toward the A-gap, presses the guard off of him and gets into the pocket. Although the play ends in a completion, Jones is about half a step away from his third sack of the game.

Similarly — in the Jaguars' matchup against the Titans — Simmons was able to take advantage of a one-on-one situation.

But instead of having a linebacker walk up to the line of scrimmage, the Titans use five defensive linemen. Simmons also wins quickly to the inside, crossing the guard's face and penetrating the backfield. While Lawrence is able to get the ball off, its placement is off; it falls incomplete.

The Chiefs will likely not use this look, but the concept is the same as walking a linebacker to the line: the offense doesn’t have a chance to scheme protection for the quarterback, forcing him to make a perfect pass under pressure.

Supporting cast

While Jones is fantastic, it will take everyone to take home a win.

On this play, we see that while the offensive line (and quarterback) are leery of Jones and Dunlap on the right side of the line, George Karlaftis and Mike Danna create penetration with a T/E twist: the defensive tackle penetrates the B-gap looking to press the shoulder of the offensive tackle, while the defensive end loops to the inside. It forces Lawrence to make a poor throw.

On this play, the slide protection and double-team goes to Jones, leaving Khalen Saunders one-on-one against the right guard.

Saunders uses some nice hand fighting to win the B-gap — between the guard and tackle — and forces the guard to turn his hips. That gives him a better angle to get to Lawrence. Saunders sticks with the play, runs the arc and is able to collect the sack.

The play illustrates what the rest of the Kansas City defensive line must do when Jones is double-teamed. That will create pass-rushing opportunities — and the team must take advantage of them.

The bottom line

For the Chiefs to have any kind of postseason success, they must be able to rush the passer. After a year's worth of player acquisitions and development, the team has a chance to show that the defensive line has come full circle — and is a much better unit than it was a year ago.

Kansas City’s defensive linemen are bigger, faster, stronger and more talented than the offensive linemen they’ll be facing; there will be no reason they cannot succeed. Playoff games are won in the trenches — and on Saturday, the Chiefs' front four can send a message.

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