Josh Allen looked closer to the pre-2020 version of himself in the AFC Championship Game than the quarterback we’ve seen all season. It’s tough to blame Allen for that, however. His ineffectiveness was much more tied to what Steve Spagnuolo and the Chiefs Defense were doing than any failures on his part.
Two traits have defined the Chiefs Defense this season: Man coverage and blitzes. The AFC Championship Game was no exception. Kansas City played man coverage and brought pressure early and often, enabling them to suffocate Buffalo’s dangerous passing game.
This 3rd-and-7 gives you an idea of the aggressiveness and confidence with which Spagnuolo’s unit played. That’s a Cover-0 blitz (man-to-man, no deep safety) in the middle of the field.
It takes stones to play that aggressively against an offense like Buffalo’s. You better get to the quarterback quickly if you’re going to leave your defensive backs on an island in coverage. From the end zone angle, you can see that the pressure scheme ensured KC would do that just.
First, look at the alignment up front. The Chiefs had two defensive ends, Frank Clark and Alex Okafor, aligned outside of the left tackle. With nose tackle Tershawn Wharton aligned head up on the center and middle linebacker Ben Niemann hovering over the left guard, the Bills decided to use a 4-man slide to the left.
The blitz path of Clark and Niemann split the left tackle and guard, leaving an open lane for Okafor.
The slide to the left created a 3-on-2 situation for the Chiefs to the right. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was left with a clear path to Allen.
The blitz scheme resulted in two free rushers, with Mathieu’s speed leaving Allen no time to wait for any receivers to get open vs. man coverage.
It wasn’t just the scheme and aggressive approach that helped the Chiefs Defense prevail. Their cornerbacks played extremely well all night, smothering Bills receivers with tight coverage. They did a great job of disrupting Buffalo’s passing game by being physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage and being aware of the Bills’ man-beating route concepts.
Take the below 3rd-and-goal from the 4-yard line at the end of the first half as an example. The design of the play was to get tight end Dawson Knox on an out route with the other two receivers in the trips bunch creating natural rubs against Knox’s man in coverage, safety Daniel Sorensen.
All three Chiefs DB’s did a tremendous job here. L’Jarius Sneed jammed his receiver at the line, enabling him to stay square to the line of scrimmage and prevent his receiver from sealing off the outside. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland recognized the pick play and fell off his man to help cut off Knox’s path to the goal line. Sorensen did a great job of getting underneath the traffic and quickly closing on Knox.
This was a big stop in the game that led to Buffalo settling for 3 points instead of 7.
Later in the game, Kansas City’s physicality with receivers at the line of scrimmage led to another big play. Focus on Bashaud Breeland at the top of the screen. Getting physical at the line with intended receiver John Brown made this play happen.
This interception put the ball back in the hands of the Chiefs Offense, who went on to make this a 3-score game with less than 8 minutes remaining.
Kansas City’s cornerbacks had a great game. Since they generally don’t travel with receivers (Breeland stays to the right, Charvarius Ward stays to the left), they each had their hand at Stefon Diggs as he aligned all over the formation. They kept Diggs from making a huge impact, limiting him to just 6 receptions for 77 yards on 11 targets.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs Offense get most of the credit when it comes to the success of the Chiefs. But as is the case with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they aren’t in the Super Bowl without the defense playing a significant role. Steve Spagnuolo’s D has found another level in the playoffs. They’ll need to find it one more time against the Buccaneers on Super Bowl Sunday.