The game continued a surprising trend from the 2023 season: the Chiefs are winning because of a playmaking defense, rather than a high-flying offense. Kansas City’s defenders believe this success comes from playing together as a unit.
“I think we played great,” defensive end George Karlaftis told reporters after the game — in which he recorded 1.5 sacks. “Our strength is playing off of each other... our chemistry... guys being selfless and coming together — and staying disciplined. [This was] a great team win.”
Linebacker Nick Bolton — who totaled 10 combined tackles on Saturday — echoed Karlaftis’ sentiments.
“I think it’s being locking in on your eyes, keys, alignments and assignments,” explained the University of Missouri product. “Keeping your eyes where they have to be [and] letting the secondary take care of the back end; we’ve got guys that can run with those guys — [even] with all the speed that they have. [It’s] just having faith and trust in our teammates to do their jobs — so we can lock in and do ours.”
Earlier in the week, Karlaftis discussed what made Miami’s stacked offense a formidable opponent — and even after the Chiefs’ dominating win, his assessment of the offense led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remains unchanged.
“They have guys everywhere,” Karlaftis reiterated. “All those skills — it’s like a track team out there. They have a bunch of fast guys. They have a great o-line and running backs. Tua is great; he can make all the throws. I think they were the No. 1 offense by all the metrics and whatnot. They’re a challenge every time you play them.”
Karlaftis credited Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Joe Cullen with a game plan that augmented the players’ strengths.
“Spags is going to dial stuff up to let the guys eat,” said the second-year player. “Sometimes that’s dropping [linemen in coverage]. It was great. Spags lets us do what we’re good at. Coach Cullen gets us prepared all week with the rush plan — getting guys in position [and] coaching guys up.”
Nowhere were Spagnuolo and Cullen’s preparation more apparent than on third downs, where the Dolphins converted only one of their 12 attempts to move the chains.
“We knew we had to go out there and stop them on critical downs — on third downs,” said defensive end Charles Omenihu. “It starts off on first and second down: stopping the run [and] the screen game. That’s what we did; that’s what you have to do in the playoffs to advance.”
Defensive tackle Chris Jones believes a concerted effort to limit Miami’s big plays — with the exception of the long touchdown by former Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill — was the key to the defense’s third-down dominance.
“I just think [it was] being detailed — not giving up anything over the top,” remarked Jones. “They beat us one time over the top early in the game with Tyreek on a fade route. I think we eliminated the big plays and forced them to take the small, short throws.”
Miami spent much of the season as the NFL’s trendiest team — particularly after a 70-point scoring onslaught against the Denver Broncos in Week 3. When the Dolphins conduct their autopsy of a disappointing postseason, their third-down woes on a cold night at Arrowhead will loom large.
“We knew we had our hands full on some of the longer third-down situations,” Miami head coach Mike McDaniel admitted after the game. “I thought we did a fairly good job on the shorter ones... [We] were in too many third-and-seven-to-eight-pluses for us to have the day we wanted to have on third down.
“I think there’s some residuals from that from first and second down. We didn’t execute the way we would have liked to. We were just a hair off here or there. There are multiple reasons that that could be the case.
“The bottom line is they out-executed us. They didn’t really throw anything at us that we weren’t expecting. It was just old-school execution — that we fell short on.”