The AFC Championship game is here, bringing a bitter rematch for the Kansas City Chiefs. As they prepare to take on the Cincinnati Bengals, looking back to the Week 13 matchup can give us a glimpse into what to expect on Sunday.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones has had a dominant season, but the first time these teams matched up this year was one of his worst games of the season. The Bengals had a brilliant game plan to slow down Jones, and it is one that we will see again this week.
At the time of the Week 13 showdown, Jones had already hit double-digit sacks with 10.0 on the season. He was coming off a six-game tear in which he recorded at least one sack in each outing. The Bengals made their mission to stop Jones at all costs, and they did just that.
During Week 13 in Cincinnati Chris Jones was double-teamed 22 times on 37 pass rush downs. The Bengals also used five-run action passes or plays where they moved the pocket. I recorded four pressures for Jones in the ten reps that he was single-blocked. He drew one holding call.— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
The only downfall of being a dominant defensive tackle is that often, it requires taking on double-team blocks and protection looks designed to frustrate and bottle up pass rush attempts before they can get going.
The Bengals preyed on the Chiefs' reliance on Jones, and once they could lock him down, it became a great day for their offense.
Feeling things out
On the first drive of the game, Cincinnati did not immediately start doubling Jones. Instead, they felt things out but displayed how they planned to attack the defense on plays that Jones was not doubled on.
The first pass of the game and Jones is single-blocked. He makes quick work of the RG swatting away the hands and getting pressure in the A gap. Burrow throws it quickly for a small gain. pic.twitter.com/5HEDYyBArL— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
The defense starts with five men walking up on the line of scrimmage. This creates a one-on-one situation across the board. Willie Gay Jr. drops from the right side at the snap, but the Bengals' offensive line cannot double Jones based on the look. Jones beats the right guard, but Burrow quickly checks it down before Jones can get home.
One play later, Jones would line up on the edge for a third downplay. He would get good penetration, but once again, the Bengals had a counter ready.
Jones has a nice rush on Williams from the edge. Uses his power to get Williams leaning, then swims inside. The RG is late but gives just enough to knock Jones off his line. Burrow delivers it to Perrine who leaked out and picks up the first on third down. pic.twitter.com/CPyP1PPBm9— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
Jonah Williams is bull-rushed and quickly gets beaten inside by Jones. The left guard is late in his slide protection to get over to Jones due to the inside rush from Mike Danna, but he gets just enough to slow him down in time for Burrow to get the ball out quickly.
Bengals running back Samarje Perine stays in the pocket to sell pass-blocking for a while, but once the rush is past him, Burrow quickly checks it down to him in space. A few broken tackles later, it is a first down.
When the Bengals wanted to get the ball out of Burrow's hands quickly, they had no issues leaving Jones blocked by one person. Burrow knows the ball has to be out fast, and he delivers often.
When the Bengals wanted to go deep or take shots down the field, they double-teamed Jones — and they used a couple of different looks to keep him guessing.
Executing the plan
Cincinnati was content to nickel and dime the ball down the field, leaving Jones one-on-one, but making sure to run plays that would get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. It wasn't until they would start to drive into the Chiefs' territory that they doubled down and started to open up the passing game.
Cappa takes advantage of Jones in the wide 3tech. He gets on Jones quick and tries to force him wide. This is when Jones will typically use his quickness to work back to the inside. He tries, but Karras slow plays his slide and attacks once Jones starts to work back to the A gap. pic.twitter.com/bcuRI0LsNN— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
Khalen Saunders lines up in a 2i technique (inside shoulder of the guard), and on the snap, Bengals center Ted Karras helps on Saunders while Jones is one on one with right guard Alex Cappa. Jones starts out in a 4i technique (inside shoulder of the tackle), and Cappa is immediately aggressive, forcing a wider rush. The wider path causes Jones to counter back to the inside.
Karras keeps his body in the A-gap (between the center and guard), giving the appearance that he will be helping the left guard on Saunders, but when Jones starts to work back inside, he quickly slides over, stopping the rush and giving Burrow time to fire the ball down the field for a significant gain.
The delayed slide from Karras gave Jones the illusion that he would have a lot of space to work back down to the inside, while the quick-set to the outside from Cappa deterred him from trying to get upfield.
The Bengals' interior would mix up their slide protections, but no matter where Jones was, they would shift the protection at the snap toward him.
Karras and Cappa slide quickly to Jones here who is in a 4i. Jones angles into the A gap, but the double stops him. This makes it 3 on 3 for everyone else. A clean pocket for Burrow leads to a big play. pic.twitter.com/hdUd3B7MoI— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
Karras and Cappa wasted no time doubling Jones, and Burrow had a ton of time to sit in the pocket and deliver the pass. With the ball going to the middle of the field, the quicker they could get on Jones, the faster they could prevent him from getting inside and getting his hands up to potentially deflect a pass.
The protection continued to harass Jones in the middle of the field, especially past the 50-yard line, but when it came time to put the ball in the end zone, they would leave him one on one again.
Jones is one on one here on the guard and has a good pass-rush rep. Knocks down Cappa's hands and wins the B gap. Burrow is too quick with the ball catching and releasing in under two seconds. Poor tackling and it's a touchdown. pic.twitter.com/xs4jRA0sAg— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
Jones wins the B-gap (between the guard and tackle) quickly, but the ball was out of Burrow's hands on the slant in under two seconds. The quick slant leads result in a touchdown.
Burrow was very cognitive of when Jones would be one-on-one. His recognition to get the ball out at warp speed was excellent and left the defense scratching its head.
Someone else has to win
The defense goes the way Jones does, and it all went poorly on this day. Burrow torched the Chiefs for 286 yards and two touchdowns on 25 completions off of 31 attempts. Only sacked once and hit once, he had all day to dissect the Chiefs' defense.
It wasn't until late in the game that any player could put some pressure on him.
Jones bumps into a 2 head up on the guard. A quick double team. Karlaftis push and pulls his way to beat the RT around the edge. Burrow starts to move around and Jones gets free once Clark works inside. Looked like Gay had eyes on for a QB run. Burrow eats it. pic.twitter.com/0NWUvicUJZ— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
After having a quiet game, rookie George Karlaftis finally beat the right tackle with a nice push-and-pull move around the edge. Before the snap, Jones moves to head up over the left guard, pretty much giving himself up for a double team. This allowed Frank Clark to win to the inside, and Jones to eventually get free on the loop to the outside.
Burrow feels Karlaftis start to head his way and does not like his prospects downfield. Thinking about taking off, Burrow heads to the left, but when Jones reappears, he decides to go down and take a sack just as Karlaftis arrives.
A few plays later, the Bengals would get a first down and seal the game.
Jones on the left bulls into Williams but is held back from Burrow when the LG slides over. Karlaftis shows a rush but stops to try to bat the pass down. T/E stunt from Danna + Clark. Dann hits the RT's inside shoulder and is a step away from a sack. Instead, it's ball game. pic.twitter.com/A9TcgCpJLU— Playoff James (@CJScoobs) January 26, 2023
Mike Danna was a step away from being able to sack Burrow, but after winning through the B-gap, loses his footing on the notorious Cincinnati turf. Burrow throws a laser beam over the middle for a first down. Ball game.
Those two plays were the only time at all during the game in which any other pass rusher was able to get home. The Chiefs knew no matter where Jones would set up, he would be doubled. They took him out wide and tied to give someone else a chance to win to the inside. Danna had the right idea, but he could not finish.
The bottom line
Jones is sure to draw a ton of attention from the Bengals, meaning someone else on the defensive line will have to step up and make a play. This could be Karlaftis, Danna, Clark, Carlos Dunlap, Saunders, Derrick Nnadi or even Brandon Williams.
The Bengals' offensive line will also look much different this time around, losing La'el Collins, Alex Cappa, and Jonah Williams to injury. Collins is out for the season, while Cappa and Williams have both missed the last few games, neither practicing on Tuesday or Wednesday this week.
Their rag-tag offensive line had no issues stopping the Buffalo Bills — allowing just one sack in the Divisional Round. The Bills, however, were a depleted unit, and without a marquee pass rusher and hamstrung by the snow, it could not get home.
The Chiefs have their marquee pass rusher, who was also a Defensive Player of the Year finalist — and he will be given the full attention of the Bengals yet again. This time, when they do double Jones, the rest of the front seven must step up around him.
Anyone on the field could be the difference between winning and losing. Championships are not individual awards. They are team awards, and to go back to the Super Bowl, it will take the full team.