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Arrowheadlines: Chiefs can’t afford to overcomplicate the passing game

Chiefs headlines for Thursday, January 18

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NFL: JAN 13 AFC Wild Card - Dolphins at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The latest

3 Mistakes Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Must Avoid vs. Josh Allen, Bills in NFL Playoffs | Bleacher Report

Overcomplicating the Passing Game

The Chiefs simplified their passing attack in the wild-card round.

Mahomes went to his two most reliable wide receivers at a high rate and turned into a successful venture.

Rice and Kelce combined for 15 receptions on 22 targets for 201 yards and a touchdown.

No one else in the Kansas City offense earned more than three targets. Justin Watson was the only other player with multiple receptions.

Throwing to Rice and Kelce at a high rate may be predictable, but it is also effective and a strategy the Chiefs must employ because of how their regular season went.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and others had plenty of chances to prove themselves in key spots and failed.

If Mahomes strays from Rice or Kelce, expect Watson or Mecole Hardman to be the targets and no one else.

Hardman could be used once or twice on a deep shot. The Chiefs were close to converting on one of those plays against Miami.

Even with that in mind, Rice and Kelce should earn at least 80 percent of Mahomes’ targets to get past Buffalo.

Biggest questions facing eight teams remaining in 2024 NFL playoffs: Can 49ers, Ravens live up to hype? | CBS Sports

Kansas City Chiefs: Will they stay committed to the run?

Let’s be real: When push comes to shove, it’s Patrick Mahomes who’s built to propel this team, as well as the Chris Jones-led defense, whose physicality completely befuddled the Dolphins. But Isiah Pacheco has been an underrated key for their success; the Chiefs are 8-2 this year when he gets at least 15 carries, helping balance an attack also featuring an emergent Rashee Rice.

NFL playoff matchup rankings: Which divisional games are best? | USA Today

1. Kansas City Chiefs vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs? Yes, please. It’s also music to the ears of executives at CBS (and the NFL). They are on their way to becoming the late-millennial version of Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady in the AFC postseason. While each has a long way to go to catch up to those two in the greatness department, a third playoff matchup in four seasons makes the comparison to that rivalry all the more applicable.

This game was the easiest call of the week. The drama-filled postseason past – 13 seconds left on the clock still gives Buffalo supporters nightmares – makes it spicy. Mahomes’ in-game and postgame freakout the last time they played – yeah, that was the Kadarius Toney offsides game – makes it spicier. They have split their six total meetings. Allen is 0-2 against Mahomes in the playoffs, but Sunday marks the first time the Bills host the Chiefs in January.

NFL wild-card best and worst coaching decisions: Bobby Slowik, Texans solve Browns’ D | The Athletic

Chiefs’ offensive balance

Dolphins defensive coordinator Vic Fangio showed his hand last week against the Bills when he aggressively blitzed Josh Allen to offset the loss of his top three pass rushers due to injury. I think he knew there was a chance that the defense might have gotten incinerated, even in one of the coldest football games ever played, blitzing the Chiefs. But it was a chance he likely felt like he had to take because sitting back in coverage against Patrick Mahomes and just letting him have clean pockets all night might have been the worse option. At least with blitzing, there’s a chance you can create a negative play. Unfortunately for Fangio and the Dolphins, Andy Reid and Mahomes had an excellent plan for the blitz and executed it at a high level.

Fangio blitzed Mahomes on 53.3 percent of dropbacks which is 20 percent higher than their second-highest blitz rate game of the season. Against the blitz, Mahomes wasn’t sacked once and had 132 passing yards. The Chiefs attacked them with short, intermediate and deep crossing routes. They used rub routes, they sneaked the running back out and threw bubble screens. It seemed like they had an answer every time Fangio sent pressure.

AFC divisional-round predictions | Yardbarker

Kansas City Chiefs (12-6) at Buffalo Bills (12-6) | Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, CBS

Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes will play in a road playoff game for the first time in his career. He’s entering a hostile environment where Buffalo’s passionate “Bills Mafia” fan base could be a game-changer.

“The vibe, the energy, the juice that we can use from that,” Bills QB Josh Allen said of the team’s fans Tuesday, via the Associated Press. “You just can’t chalk it up to anything other than momentum, something you can’t see but something you can definitely feel. And they give that to us.”

The Bills have lost their past two postseason matchups against the Chiefs, including a heartbreaking 42-36 overtime defeat in the 2021 divisional round. Expect them to get some revenge. As of Wednesday, FanDuel lists Buffalo as a 2.5-point favorite.

PREDICTION: Bills 28-27

One free agent each NFL team should pursue in the 2024 offseason | PFF

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: DI CHRIS JONES

The Chiefs and Jones couldn’t agree to a long-term deal before the season, which led to Jones missing the first game of the year and eventually signing an incentive-laden one-year contract, setting him up for free agency again this year. He remains one of the most disruptive interior defenders in football, earning a 90.0 PFF pass-rush grade or better in five of his past six seasons. He also recorded 32 combined sacks and quarterback hits in the regular season this year.

RB Index: What’s next for Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley? Team fits for top free agent running backs | NFL.com

Austin Ekeler
Age: 28
Kansas City Chiefs

Ekeler’s production dropped off significantly in 2023, but he still offers potential suitors a versatile pass-catching weapon out of the backfield. The Chiefs need to upgrade Patrick Mahomes’ options in the passing game for 2024. And with Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire headed for free agency this offseason, Ekeler could be a legitimate third-down back for the Chiefs. With great hands and elusiveness in space, the veteran back could provide Mahomes with the kind of reliable target he needs more of.

2024 NFL Mock Draft: Eagles address aging secondary, Bears trade up after taking QB at No. 1 -| CBS Sports

Round 1 - Pick 28
Xavier Worthy WR
TEXAS • JR • 6’1” / 172 LBS

The Chiefs go with scintillating speed at receiver to re-add the consistent vertical threat to the offense.

Around the NFL

Browns make assistant coaching changes following playoff run | NFL.com

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that the Browns fired running backs coach Stump Mitchell, and tight ends coach T.C. McCartney will not be retained, per a source informed of the situation.

Rapoport added that offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt remains under contract with no other final decision made as the club goes through the offensive staff role evaluation process.

Josina Anderson of CBS Sports first reported the Browns coaching change news.

Mitchell, a former nine-year pro back with the Arizona Cardinals, has been a long-time NFL running back’s coach, including stints with the Seahawks (1999-2007), Washington (2008-2009), Cardinals (2013-2016) and Jets (2017-2018) before joining the Browns in 2019. When Stefanski took over the team in 2020, he retained Mitchell. Star running back Nick Chubb earned four 1,000-yard seasons with Mitchell as his RBs coach (injured in Week 2, 2023).

Rams’ Sean McVay says Tyler Higbee tore ACL, MCL in knee | ESPN

Higbee sustained the injury from a hit he took in the fourth quarter of the Rams’ 24-23 loss to the Detroit Lions in the wild-card round. Higbee will have surgery to repair the damage.

McVay said that he didn’t have a timeline for Higbee’s return but that, because of how late in the season the injury occurred, “I would be willing to bet you he’ll be a candidate for PUP.”

“I think you got to get that surgery,” McVay said. “The rehab ends up kind of being different based on what they end up really finding when you go in there and how the recovery and the procedure ends up going to fix that. But I would think at the minimum he’ll be a PUP guy.”

In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride

Chiefs News: Much defensive success has come from three key free agents

Two of these players are Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Charles Omenihu.

“They both have played well for us — and continue to play well for us,” head coach Andy Reid said of them when he met with reporters before Wednesday’s practice session. “But obviously, with [Nick] Bolton going down, Drue stepped [into] one of the leadership positions — the transmitter from the front side to the back side — and did a great job.

“And then Charles? Mixing him in there with that defensive line, I think, has been a nice addition. My hat goes off to Brett for the job that he did, bringing those guys in here. His insight was spot-on.”

Since he missed the first six games of the season with an NFL suspension, there had been a certain amount of skepticism about Omenihu. What was the point of bringing in a player who would miss so much of the season? But since his return, he has been one of the defensive line’s most productive players.

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