Everybody has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth. That Mike Tyson quote applies pretty accurately to the Bills Defense in the AFC Championship Game. Their plan was to play coverages that took away the deep ball and sought to limit opportunities for big plays through the air. Unfortunately for Buffalo, Andy Reid’s scheme and the 3-headed monster of Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce were not limited in any way.
The Bills utilized lots of coverages where their safeties played with an extra step or two deep. That didn’t prevent the Chiefs’ speed from being a factor, though. Against both man and zone, Andy Reid called plays that got Tyreek Hill running across the field (e.g. deep-over routes and quick-slants). on a couple of plays, they used RPOs to remove help defenders inside and get Hill the ball in space where he could run. In fact, his big-play 71-yard catch and run came on an RPO.
Below, focus on Hill in the slot to the left and the impact of the run action on Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Then watch Hill’s speed take over.
Hill is fast, but his speed and explosiveness seemed to be at a different level against the Bills. Even when Buffalo tried to protect against it, they couldn’t do much to stop it. Just look at how bad Hill made Tre’Davious White look on the below two plays. On this first one, the Bills were playing 3-under 3-deep zone. Look at the cushion White gave (bottom of the screen). And he still couldn’t keep Hill in front of him!
At the top of the screen, look at the cushion White gave Hill again. The threat of Hill’s speed nearly made White fall over.
We anticipated that the threat of Tyreek Hill and the speed of other Chiefs receivers would create opportunities for tight end Travis Kelce at the intermediate level. We just figured it wouldn’t lead to big games for both Hill and Kelce. The middle of the field was open all night, as you can see on the below play.
The Bills were in quarters coverage here. Watch how they stretched the defense vertically and horizontally to open up room for Kelce. At the bottom of the screen, Demarcus Robinson ran a go route to remove the cornerback. Tyreek Hill ultimately released from the backfield to the edge and took the underneath flat defender with him. Mecole Hardman did a great job of getting upfield with his stem and threatening both safeties. The both were ultimately held by Hardman. This created an open void for Kelce (with a little help from a Patrick Mahomes pumpfake).
Andy Reid got Kelce in the end zone on two plays where the motion and speed of KC’s receivers influenced defenders, again creating openings inside. His first touchdown came on a shovel pass at the goal line where Tyreek Hill’s motion removed linebackers from the middle. His second came on the below play. Watch how the speed from the pre-snap motion and the speed on routes that were run across the field created chaos and muddied the assignments of Buffalo’s DBs. Kelce (aligned to the right) got lost in the mix and was left all alone.
As great as Reid’s design in this game was, Patrick Mahomes was as accurate and on his game as we’ve seen all season. After a few weeks of being not quite as precise and too often playing outside of the framework of the offense, Mahomes executed Andy Reid’s offense brilliantly. The accuracy and anticipation on a throw like the one below tells you everything you need to know about the night he had.
His back foot hit the ground at the top of his drop and the ball was out before Hill had made his cut. Perfect.
That said, Mahomes’ ability to extend plays is so critical to the offense. When he had to, he bought time that either allowed Hill to run away from defenders or allowed KC’s speed to knock the top off the defense and put Kelce in advantageous 1-on-1 situations late in the down.
On the below play, the deep ball over the top was taken away. Mahomes’ ability to avoid the rush and keep this play alive gave Hill time to break free while running across the field.
The below play again saw the top of the coverage occupied by deep over-routes coming from opposite sides of the field. The Bills had this covered pretty well. That is, until Mahomes extended the play. Kelce then had the time to navigate the zone coverage underneath.
It’s difficult enough to handle the Chiefs Offense when just one of their key elements is having a good day. When all are, the task of slowing them down becomes impossible. The Bills tried to take certain aspects of the Chiefs’ passing game away, but they weren’t able to disrupt them. And that’s a key difference. The few times they were, Mahomes made some off-schedule plays that were just too difficult to defend.
The Bills have a bright future. But right now, the Chiefs are on another level.