In Week 9, the (6-2) Kansas City Chiefs and the (6-2) Miami Dolphins will be squaring off in unfamiliar territory: Frankfurt, Germany. It will be only the second NFL game ever played in Germany. It will take place in Frankfurt’s Deutsche Bank Park starting at 8:30 a.m. (Arrowhead Time) on Sunday morning.
The German fans are in for an exciting matchup. The Chiefs boast star players like quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and defensive tackle Chris Jones — but they haven’t been as electric as the Dolphins have been this year.
Miami wide receiver Tyreek Hill is leading the league’s most productive offense into his personal revenge game, adding a layer of motivation on top of what was already promised to be a thrilling contest.
I have five things to watch in what is arguably the Chiefs’ biggest game this season:
1. Slowing the Dolphins’ running game
Yes... even with Tyreek Hill (and fellow wide receiver Jaylen Waddle) threatening big plays, the Chiefs’ defensive game plan starts with stopping the run. In the locker room on Thursday, safety Justin Reid explained the problem.
“If we don’t stop the run — and they’re running the ball down our throats all day — we have to load the box,” Reid told reporters. “At that point, they get one-on-one coverage on the outside, which is where Tyreek takes over... You stop the run first. [If] you force them into a one-dimensional offense, you know they’re going to throw it deep — then at that point, we can have a better coverage situation to prevent that.”
This season, no team has gained more rushing yards than the Dolphins, averaging 152 yards per game and 5.9 yards on each attempt. Running back Raheem Mostert leads the NFL in runs of 15 yards or more (8), utilizing his downhill speed when the scheme opens it up for him.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo echoed Reid’s remarks in his Thursday press conference.
“We’ve got to play it honest,” he said. “Stop the run first — hopefully get them in longer down-and-distances — so we know what they’re going to do. Then [we can] try to disrupt them.”
2. Getting Tua Tagovailoa out of rhythm
The first point leads into the second point: heating up Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. But their offensive scheme can make that very difficult.
“This team has a lot of play-action rhythm passing,” noted Spagnuolo. “Everybody up front has to at least respect that it could be a run — and then, boom! All of a sudden, it’s a pass play — and he’s getting the ball out really quickly. That’s what he’s really good at.”
Tagovailoa has the league’s quickest average time from snap to throw. For that reason, he also faces the league’s lowest pressure rate. The Chiefs’ pass rush will need to continue batting passes down at the line — but a lot will ride on the back end quickly covering Miami’s receivers. Reid pointed out how the defense can flip the Dolphins’ scheme on themselves.
“If [the opposing quarterback is] a rhythm passer, you can jump some routes,” explained the veteran safety. “So there will be some opportunities there. You want to make him hold onto the ball — because when he doesn’t get it out on time, you can maybe force him into a mistake he wouldn’t make if you allowed him to be in the pocket comfortably.”
3. Cleaner execution of the passing offense
The Dolphins’ defense can present similar challenges with their secondary — including cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey. The latter made his season debut last week, returning from a meniscus injury in training camp.
“Both of them are great players,” Mahomes told reporters in Germany during his Friday press conference. “They’re physical, they’re smart [and] they’re fast. It’ll be a great challenge for our receivers and tight ends.”
The defense is led by Broncos’ former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who has faced Mahomes a handful of times.
“Coach Fangio has a great defensive scheme,” noted Mahomes. “I have a lot of respect for him. So there will be a game plan that he comes in with — that we’ll have to adjust to and continue to make plays.”
4. Getting physical with the Dolphins’ receivers
The Chiefs’ defensive backs haven’t shied away from playing aggressively this season. In Frankfurt, the speed of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle may prevent Kansas City from imposing their will in the same way — but safety Justin Reid knows it’s still important.
“A lot of them are speed guys that don’t want to have that contact and mess up their running form,” he explained. “So I think it’s important to be physical when we can. When we have an opportunity to take a shot on [a receiver] legally, we want to take every one of those. Don’t let him just slide down or go out of bounds... put him on the ground.”
Watch for the Kansas City secondary to make their presence felt on Sunday.
5. Leaning on Isiah Pacheco
Last Sunday, starting running back Isiah Pacheco had only eight carries. That was tied for the lowest mark of his season; he also saw eight handoffs in the Week 1 loss.
Even though both games were close, the Chiefs relied on the passing attack — and it didn’t work out like it typically has with Mahomes. In other games this season, Kansas City was more willing to stick to the ground — and it helped carry an up-and-down unit over the finish line to a victory.
Even if the Dolphins’ offense can generate points early in the game, I’d like to see Kansas City stick to a balanced attack. On a unit that has been begging for reliability, Pacheco has been one of the most reliable playmakers.