On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Miami Dolphins in a Wild Card playoff matchup on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Back in Week 9, the Chiefs handed the Dolphins a 21-14 loss at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt, Germany — but in that game, one of Miami’s most explosive playmakers was out with an injury.
But running back De’von Achane certainly impacted the Dolphins’ 2023 season, recording 800 rushing yards (997 from scrimmage) in just 11 games. He had four games with over 100 yards rushing — one of them with 203 — along with seven rushes of at least 25 yards and 11 total touchdowns as a rookie.
Achane did more than set a few dynasty leagues ablaze. He established himself as one of the league’s most explosive playmakers.
On Saturday night, Kansas City simply cannot overlook him.
Setting the edge
The Dolphins’ perimeter run game has been outstanding this season — and that’s where Achane has gained most of his yards.
Perimeter runs are where Achane thrives. The Dolphins toss packages allow him to show off his speed and ability to make cuts. The presnap motion gives them numbers to block up the outside. Achane makes his cut and it's off to the races. pic.twitter.com/OjvgImXdk9— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
Miami head coach Mike McDaniel’s offense is predicated on motion, misdirection and getting his speedsters into space as much as possible. The Dolphins’ offensive line is only average — but when it properly executes the team’s toss package to the perimeter, Achane is in his element.
Achane is explosive when he gets to the outside. The Dolphins induce the defense with the motion. Tua tosses him the ball and he hits the outside hard, showing off the shiftiness in space. pic.twitter.com/LxkUKfnGHW— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
Possessing elite burst, great vision and lightning-quick cutting ability, Achane can go to the house any time he touches the ball.
Running outside of the tackles also gives the Dolphins favorable blocking numbers; it allows the offense to essentially take opposing defensive linemen out of the game.
So on Saturday, the responsibility for setting the edge will fall on Kansas City’s linebackers and defensive backs. While the secondary will have their hands full with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, it will be imperative that they can also set the edge when the Dolphins run to the outside.
Having secondary players that can get to the perimeter and set the edge against Achane will be paramount this week. Just as important will be having defenders pursuing quickly from the inside to take away cut-back lanes. pic.twitter.com/DHySD1K0lX— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
Here we see the New York Jets’ secondary doing a great job at reading the pitch. The slot corner moves laterally toward the sideline, forcing Achane to cut back inside. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams also reads the play and is hot in pursuit to prevent the cutback from picking up many yards.
The Chiefs' defensive line might have their hands tied on some of Miami’s outside run looks — but their effort could prevent large cutbacks from the Dolphins’ speed back.
Plugging the middle
Achane is not a high-volume back. He’s been most effective when used as a complement to Miami’s high-powered passing attack.
For most of the season, Raheem Mostert was the Dolphins’ feature back. But after sustaining some late-season injuries, he missed some recent games. So Achane’s use increased during that time — but he is built for speed and explosion, not blasting between the tackles and picking up hard yards.
The Dolphins are average at running between the tackles, and this is not really where Achane has thrived this season. Miami tries to run power, but the run gets plugged up on the play side. Achane tries to cut back but nothing is there. pic.twitter.com/hTNxvfhveL— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
So if Mostert is unable to play on Saturday, the Dolphins will definitely miss him on the inside. He was limited in all of this week’s practices before being declared questionable in Friday’s final injury report.
If Achane does carry the full workload, it’s likely that Miami will not frequently try to run up the middle.
Linebackers in pass defense
Kansas City’s linebackers are going to be a critical part of the game plan. This is because Miami has complemented its elite passing attack with short completions to Achane that turned into big plays.
The Dolphins frequently uses traveler and orbit motions to get Achane moving before the snap and get him the ball in space. Against defenses like the Baltimore Ravens — a team that primarily plays zone coverage — he can create some big plays.
This is one of the ways the Dolphins get Achane the ball in space. A screen out of the backfield off of the motion puts him in space quickly and his vision + speed take him the rest of the way. pic.twitter.com/AQkbVVrPjz— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
On this screen play, Achane exits the backfield pre-snap as Miami sets up the screen. Because the Ravens tend to play zone defense, their linebackers are slow to react, which leads to a big play.
When teams have to account for both Hill and Waddle, it’s hard for defenses to make a commitment to stopping Achane — but the teams with linebackers who can cover Achane one-on-one have been rewarded.
LB play will be critical against Achane. The secondary will have their work cut out with Hill and Waddle. Achane motions and Quincy Williams follows him across the formation. Williams has to work over two routes but does a great job of closing in and preventing a big gain. pic.twitter.com/1w144tTkkw— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) January 10, 2024
On this play, Achane goes on a travel motion to the flat — but Jets’ linebacker Quincy Williams follows him through the motion. But to get to Achane, he must pass over two receivers who are running routes. Achane catches the quick strike from Tua Tagovailoa — but Williams tracks the play well, works over the blocks and executes a perfect tackle on Achane.
So on Saturday, the Chiefs will need major coverage contributions from linebackers Drue Tranquill, Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. One of them will have to ensure that Achane cannot create big plays.
The bottom line
Achane has quickly become one of the NFL’s best playmakers. Blessed to be in one of the league’s most potent offenses, he has thrived as a rookie.
During Week 9’s matchup in Germany, the Chiefs showed that they had the defense to compete with the Dolphins’ high-powered offense — but they did not have to face Achane.
While Miami’s offense has sputtered in recent weeks — and the frigid conditions at Arrowhead could limit its potency — Kansas City can’t overlook Achane’s potential impact.