It’s no surprise to hear that this Saturday will be the first-ever postseason matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. It’s not the most expected playoff game, especially this season: the Chiefs handled them in Week 10 and sent them to a bye week with a 3-7 record — 3.5 games out of the AFC South lead.
But Jacksonville has only lost one game since and is obviously playing at a different level than they were in early November at Arrowhead Stadium. Yet, the structure of the team is largely the same, and that’s where we can learn from it to preview this weekend’s Divisional round game.
Our Nate Christensen focused his attention on how to stop the Jaguars’ offense, so I’ll look at the ways Kansas City will go at the defense of Jacksonville. It starts up front:
Managing the pocket on passing downs
Jacksonville’s most talented group of defensive players is the pass rushers they employ. At outside linebacker in their base 3-4 front, Josh Allen and this year’s number-one overall pick Travon Walker give offensive tackles a consistent battle with their length and strength.
They’ll be on the field all downs — but on third downs, the Jaguars would add reserve edge defenders Arden Key and Dawuane Smoot as two interior rushers to get four juiced-up players getting after the quarterback. They trusted them in Week 10; according to PFF, the Jaguars only sent a fifth rusher on two dropbacks.
While Smoot impacted the first matchup, he has since torn his Achilles and will not play on Saturday. They have used defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris and at times former first-round pick, edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson to still bring added juice on pass downs.
The Jaguars' pass-down packages will feature 4 DEs rushing, forcing Gs and even a C at times to be on an island against an Arden Key or Duwane Smoot— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 19, 2023
It's not in a G/C's job description to pass set isolated against a rush edge. 15 will have to help them, he did that well in Wk10 pic.twitter.com/kPdPD337GK
What that variation of the “NASCAR” package does is put interior offensive linemen on islands with edge rushers — basically turning them into a pass-setting offensive tackle in space at times. That’s not exactly in the job description for the positions, and is something that could give even All-Pro players like Joe Thuney and Creed Humphrey trouble naturally.
For any penetration allowed in these situations in the first matchup, Mahomes negated it with excellent pocket presence and a quick trigger — whether throwing it or deciding to scramble. That will be key once again on passing downs, helping his guards in what is a positional mismatch.
At the same time, the Chiefs should monitor Jacksonville’s usage of it on short-yardage third downs — looking for an opportunity to catch them on a draw or another type of inside run. The positional advantage flips in that sense, allowing the interior to plow through lighter interior defenders.
Being aggressive on early downs
On the flip side of the Jaguars’ specialized pass-rush packages are their base defenses, which feature defensive linemen stouter than penetrating for run downs.
On run downs, the DTs the Jags have on field are stout, but lack penetration. It led to tons of space in the pocket on early-down drop backs.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 19, 2023
If they want to avoid those NASCAR 3rd down rush packages, they should attack and be aggressive on early downs to get these pockets pic.twitter.com/9T2OZZTy2d
This leads to massive pockets on early downs, where the Chiefs’ great guards and center can come off and create a solid wall for Mahomes to step into. This also helps the offensive tackles, who can sell out to protect the inside, knowing Mahomes has plenty of room to step up and avoid pressure around the arch.
In Wk10, Jags' edge rusher Josh Allen exclusively rushed from LT Orlando Brown Jr's side. PFF has Brown w/ 3 allowed pressures, no QBH/sacks— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 19, 2023
I think Brown matches up well w/ the way Allen wants to win: with length and power.
But Allen has been hot down the stretch this season pic.twitter.com/9PWXEBElez
Right tackle Andrew Wylie will use all the help he can get against the elite power of Walker, who primarily rushed over Wylie in the first matchup. On the other side, Brown actually matches up well with Allen — who exclusively rushed from the offense’s left side in Week 10. Brown allowed only three pressure, none turning into a quarterback hit or sack. Allen is a long, powerful player — but so is Brown, and he’d rather deal with that than a bendier, more explosive speed rusher.
Kansas City should be aggressive on going for big plays on first and second down, taking advantage of the snaps where Jacksonville’s pass rush personnel is much less threatening than on third downs.
Taking advantage of back-end players
As impactful as Jacksonville’s difference makers are up front, they lack those types of playmakers in the back end. It’s not for lack of talent, but more so the inexperience of significant rookies like linebackers Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma. Each has a role in the defense: Lloyd plays as the second linebacker in their primary packages, while Muma comes in as the lone linebacker in dime sets at times.
In the first matchup, the #Chiefs ran plays to the sideline that directly attacked rookie Devin Lloyd's ability to get over there— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 19, 2023
The Jags have a few rookies at the 2nd level that play important snaps for them. Those are the players KC likes to attack with Toney and McKinnon pic.twitter.com/yaixQM7vo9
That matches perfectly with what the Chiefs’ offensive playcalling tends to take advantage of the most. With constant pre-snap motion and misdirection, second-level defenders like linebackers and safeties are constantly put in mental pretzels — causing hesitation that leads to failed assignments.
In Week 10, the Chiefs got three big plays when they directly attacked the responsibility of Lloyd. The two plays to Toney test his reaction time and range, which aren’t enough to cut him off on these two plays. When he was manned up on running back Jerick McKinnon, the Chiefs set him up for failure — forcing him to fight through crossing routes to try and cover the back in the opposite flat.
The attack on those linebackers will be most important in situations, like third down or the red zone. Along with these horizontal, sideline-to-sideline plays, the Chiefs’ pass plays from multi-tight end sets could be very impactful against this group.
The bottom line
There are many ways the Chiefs’ offense matches up well with the weak spots of the Jaguars’ defense. Up front, impact rusher Josh Allen may be a favorable matchup for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. — while the Jaguars’ youth at linebacker feeds into the Chiefs’ tendency to use misdirection.
If the Chiefs can avoid obvious pass downs by staying on the attack from first down on, they have all the right tools to control the game on their side of the ball.