The sub-zero temperatures seemed to doom the Miami Dolphins' offense in the 26-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Wild Card weekend, but quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense looked unbothered by the frozen atmosphere.
Mahomes came out firing early and often, completing three consecutive passes on the opening drive — including the touchdown. The rushing attack supplemented the dropback game, leading to the Chiefs racking up 409 total yards and scoring on six of eight meaningful possessions.
The rhythm the offense found, from beginning to end, was the most encouraging performance since the Week 7 win over the Los Angeles Chargers. I looked at what made the Chiefs' offense click against the Dolphins and if they can ride that momentum into the Divisional round:
Diversified rushing attack
The Chiefs' run game didn't have its most impressive day from start to finish. Running backs Isiah Pacheco and Clyde Edwards-Helaire combined for 110 yards over 31 carries, only averaging 3.5 yards per carry.
Love the #Chiefs diversifying the run game on the opening drive. 3 different run calls on 3 straight handoffs:— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 16, 2024
- 1-Back Power Right
- GH Counter Right
- Outside Zone Left
Pacheco hits first 2 gaps hard, then maneuvers box patiently to hit it big on zone pic.twitter.com/xKjBPKNeHI
However, 39 of those yards came over four handoffs on the opening drive, setting up the Chiefs in the red zone. It was encouraging to see the Chiefs diversify the run game, using multiple schemes to activate Pacheco.
On three consecutive handoffs, the Chiefs run Power, Counter — and then an outside zone run. The first two plays are different types of gap runs, where the goal is to block for one specific lane to open up. Then, the switch to the zone run asks for Pacheco to read out the blocking patiently, which he does for a gain of 23 yards.
As the Chiefs played with a lead, the offense trusted the big bodies to pave the way for backs to gain yards and eat time of possession. A handful of times, the team ran the same Power run from 13 personnel (three tight ends, one running back).
It wasn't the team's most efficient running day, but KC trusted the OL to get it done when they needed— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 16, 2024
13p, GH Power where the front side of the OL can just focus on collapsing down the DL
Jawaan Taylor & Trey Smith bury Wilkins in the first play pic.twitter.com/A06zUn6fyr
These downhill run calls, as opposed to zone schemes the Chiefs usually rely on, can activate the nastiness of right guard Trey Smith and the rest of the line. Smith and right tackle Jawaan Taylor blow up Dolphins' defensive tackle Christian Wilkins on this first play; Smith attempts to bury a linebacker on the next snap.
Even if the team didn't have the most efficient rushing game, the heavier usage of gap runs could get the most out of players like Smith and Taylor when run-blocking.
Creating explosive plays
The Chiefs completed five passes that gained 20 or more yards against the Dolphins. The big plays were spread out among the possessions, constantly putting them in scoring position. Rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice was on the receiving end of three of them.
Great rep for Rashee Rice beating Zone coverage here #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 16, 2024
From the slot, he works the middle of the field, shuffling away from the hook-zone LB once he runs his initial route
As always, 4 finishes the run after catch strong pic.twitter.com/KXwuMsZnKB
Here, Rice beats zone coverage by reading the defense after he runs his initial route over the middle of the field. He shuffles away from the linebacker to open a throwing window, then runs strong after the catch.
Even when the Dolphins didn't blitz, Rashee Rice found space for a big gain. Just simply works past the LB into space— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 16, 2024
These are the routes Kelce has killed teams over and over on. Rice is starting to win in some of the same ways #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/E6PQpKYUPy
On a later play, Rice once again gets open by getting into open space. From the slot, he is tasked with an intermediate crossing pattern, working away from a zone linebacker and continuing into a void in coverage.
On both of these plays, I find it significant that these are the ways tight end Travis Kelce has succeeded in the Chiefs' offense. Kelce is excellent at adjusting his route to coverage, or making himself available to Mahomes as quickly as possible over the middle of the field. It's become more challenging for Kelce to consistently do with the attention he receives, but Rice is taking advantage of it.
Rice was the #Chiefs' main blitz beater against Miami, using his full head of steam run style to win on crossing patterns— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 16, 2024
Dolphins tried picking him up from depth, giving him too much cushion to get going pic.twitter.com/kRTNLC5zkS
The thing that obviously separates Rice and Kelce currently is athleticism after the catch. The Chiefs utilized that against a Miami defense that blitzed on 56% of Mahomes' dropbacks, getting Rice the ball on quick-hitting crossing patterns where he can simply run away from the defender trying to pick him up in coverage.
When teams give Rice this cushion, the Chiefs need to continue challenging them to tackle or cut him off by getting him the ball quickly.
Four of the Chiefs' drives against Miami ended in field goals, pointing to a lack of finishing possessions that get into the opponent's territory. Once Kansas City crept near the goal line, it appeared the team also got conservative.
Per PFF, Patrick Mahomes threw the ball away a season-high 7 times vs. Dolphins. Second-highest mark this year was 4.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 14, 2024
Talked about 15 leaning into this year's #Chiefs by playing conservative. This was a factor in not finishing RZ drives; he's not forcing anything
Mahomes set a season-high with seven throwaways, indicating that he was not forcing throws when he didn't have an open player. That showed up in the red zone especially. He even checked down to Pacheco when the team only had one timeout and little time remaining in the first half. It was clear that the gunslinger was keeping it in his holster.
The conservative mindset was enough to hold Miami off, but the Buffalo Bills and other potential opponents will likely score more points. The Chiefs need to find ways to execute better in the red zone, but I believe it also helps if the team could hit on a big play.
The only 2 scoreless drives for the #Chiefs before garbage time ended the same way: a missed deep shot to 12, for one reason or the other— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 14, 2024
Either way, we were very close to a 40-7 score, with 400+ yards and 4 TDs for Mahomes pic.twitter.com/PMOmXtHlWq
On the only two scoreless drives for the Chiefs, the offense's three-and-out was capped by a missed opportunity deep downfield. Both plays open up for a completion, but each falls to the ground for one reason or the other.
The missed interference call is part of it, but Chiefs' receivers have to find a way to fight through downfield coverage and turn these into catches, and potentially touchdowns. Missing on these plays is just as significant as not finishing in the red zone.
The bottom line
The Chiefs found a rhythm on offense against a depleted Miami defense and could carry that into a battle with a banged-up defense in Buffalo.
The team needs to continue to weaponize the offensive line and feature Rashee Rice. If those two aspects step up again, it'll be on the rest of the group to finish more scoring opportunities against Buffalo and other potential postseason games.