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The 3 biggest questions of the Chiefs-Bills Divisional Round matchup

Kansas City will visit Buffalo in the AFC Divisional Round.

Kansas City Chiefs v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

In the postseason, our normal "Question of the Week" becomes a playoff preview in which we'll consider the biggest questions regarding each Kansas City Chiefs game. Let's take a look at Sunday night's Divisional Round matchup against the Buffalo Bills.

1. To blitz or to not blitz Josh Allen?

Whenever the Chiefs play the Bills, my first thought always goes to whether you should blitz quarterback Josh Allen or not. One of my first posts for Arrowhead Pride discussed whether defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was right to blitz when these teams met in 2022, even after giving up some big plays.

So, I went looking into some numbers about Allen against the blitz. Here are Allen's season-by-season stats against the blitz (since 2020).

Josh Allen vs. the Blitz

Season % of Dropbacks when Blitzed Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Scrambles 1st Downs Passer Rating
Season % of Dropbacks when Blitzed Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Scrambles 1st Downs Passer Rating
2020 40.50% 282 186 65.96% 2141 7.59 21 3 17 126 109.1
2021 34.30% 248 147 59.27% 1559 6.29 13 5 16 93 86.7
2022 33.00% 218 125 57.34% 1426 6.54 10 5 16 91 82.9
2023 34.90% 203 129 63.55% 1540 7.59 10 3 14 86 96.9

I also broke down Allen's stats by the blitz in the six matchups he's had against the Chiefs:

Josh Allen vs. the Blitz (against the Chiefs)

Game % of Dropbacks when Blitzed Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Scrambles 1st Downs Passer Rating
Game % of Dropbacks when Blitzed Attempts Completions Completion % Yards Yards per Attempt Touchdowns Interceptions Scrambles 1st Downs Passer Rating
Week 14, 2023 36.70% 17 11 64.71% 119 7.00 1 0 0 7 104.8
Week 6, 2022 40.00% 16 7 43.75% 97 6.06 2 0 2 6 103.4
Divisional Round, 2022 22.50% 9 5 55.56% 45 5.00 1 0 0 3 106.3
Week 5, 2021 40.00% 11 6 54.55% 61 5.55 0 0 1 5 70.6
AFC Championship, 2021 37.90% 19 10 52.63% 88 4.63 1 0 2 6 82.8
Week 6, 2020 48.40% 15 7 46.67% 51 3.40 1 0 0 3 77.4

While Allen has consistently shredded the blitz for years, Spagnuolo has always done a quality job getting Allen to get chaotic when bringing pressure. Allen will torch for big plays, but he'll also get his eyes in the wrong spots and make mistakes after a while.

So, for Spagnuolo, in a game where he doesn't have an offense that can make up for any defensive deficiencies, how does he manage when to bring pressure on Allen? Can he afford to give up more big plays in the hope of defensive explosives? In the past, he could trust having Mahomes bail him out, but he can't do that now.

So I'll be interested to see how he adjusts if Allen is beating his blitz.

2. What is the Chiefs' answer if the Bills incorporate Josh Allen's legs?

One point of conversation with the Bills is always how often they can press the button of utilizing Josh Allen as a designed runner in the running game. When they do it, it's devastating for defenses, but the challenges of keeping Allen healthy have always left the Bills being cautious to do it. Since Allen broke out in 2020, he's gone from 30 designed quarterback runs to 47, 26 and 21 designed runs this year. They like to save as much physical punishment from Allen as possible, so limiting it to a "break in case of emergency" strategy makes sense.

However, against the best opponents, particularly Kansas City, the Bills love calling designed runs for Allen. Including the playoffs, here are Allen's last four games against the Chiefs when the offense calls a designed run.

All data courtesy Pro Football Focus;

  • Week 5, 2021: four carries, 39 yards
  • Divisional Round, 2021: eight carries, 62 yards
  • Week 6, 2022: two carries, 10 yards
  • Week 14: three carries, 14 yards

They haven't done it as much since New York Giants coach Brian Daboll left Buffalo, but when they've done it, it's been in big spots in the fourth quarter. They're willing to let Allen play in designed run situations, and I would expect a heavy dosage of it this week against the Chiefs.

So, can the Chiefs stop it? The Chiefs have struggled to tackle Allen in space for years now, where he consistently embarrasses defenders with hurdles or stiff arms. Can they tackle him this week? Will the Chiefs be able to limit this part of their offense and get the Bills to third down?

I wouldn't be surprised if the Bills call seven or eight runs just for Allen on Sunday. The Chiefs are going to need to defend it better than they have in the past. Otherwise, the Bills might torture them.

3. Can Isiah Pacheco make a meaningful difference in this game?

Running back Isiah Pacheco was inactive when these teams faced off last time. The running backs who played in that game were Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon, who combined for 15 carries for 58 yards and one touchdown. Edwards-Helaire took most of those carries, having 11 carries for only 39 yards. The Chiefs struggled to run the football for the majority of the game, which put more on Patrick Mahomes's plate.

In many ways, the Bills defense is built similarly to the Chiefs, including the way that they defend the run. Both teams are even front, upfield teams, looking for tackles for loss and explosive plays while sacrificing some down-to-down success in the process. Against the run, the Bills rank 24th in expected points added (EPA, Chiefs rank 28th) and 11th in success rate (Chiefs 17th). The Bills give up explosive runs but make enough splash plays to negate it.

The last time these teams played, they didn't have to honor the run as much, but that's different with Pacheco back this time. Pacheco wasn't necessarily efficient against the Dolphins, only posting 89 yards and 24 carries for one touchdown. The Chiefs averaged -0.32 EPA per play with a 19% success rate, which would rank multiple standard deviations away from worst in the NFL.

For the Chiefs to win, they're going to have to find some rushing balance to beat a Buffalo defense that thrives in zone coverage and rushing with four. The Bills aren't particularly big up the spine of their defense, so the Chiefs need to take advantage.

Can Pacheco be the difference? Will we see a better-rushing output against a smaller Buffalo front?

Last week's run performance is unacceptable going into this week.

It's Game Time.

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