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All-22 analysis: Stefon Diggs’s slow start in AFC Championship Game

The Bills took some time getting Diggs going

In the AFC Championship Game Stefon Diggs had the ball thrown his way 12 times.* That was 25 percent of Josh Allen’s attempts. That doesn’t sound out of whack for a star receiver. However, only four came in the first half. Making matters worse, Diggs was limited to a 55 percent catch rate which is about 22 percent lower than his season average. What did Kansas City do to slow down Diggs? Let’s open some fresh wounds to take a look.

*The box score shows 11 but the play-by-play lists 12 coming his way. Adding in the 12th drops his catch rate to 50 percent.


Play 1

Almost all of the GIFs will be from the first half of the game and in chronological order. That’s because, SPOILER ALERT! Kansas City didn’t really change up how they were playing Diggs in the second half. We’ll look at what they were doing and drop a hard truth at the end.

I chose this play because for every player there is a “full throttle” version. Now you might be thinking I’m about to say not every snap saw Diggs play full throttle. I am. That’s not an insult by any means though. The moral of this GIF is simple, full throttle Diggs had opportunities, even when Kansas City was specifically trying to negate him.

Play 2

This is what I was getting at with not every play being full throttle. You don’t want them to be. On a run play for instance, Diggs is there to draw a defender (or two) away from the line—which he does beautifully even at a much lower pace. This slow-speed snap also makes it easier to see that Kansas City jammed Diggs at the line at times and floated other defenders into his area to make things tougher for the Buffalo Bills.

Play 3

I wrote in my Travis Kelce piece that the chemistry between Kelce and Mahomes led to some catches in very narrow windows. Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs are very similar in that regard. This is usually a completion even with the collision at the end. It does speak volumes about Kansas City’s plan that a second defender was right there to make that hit.

Play 4

Note that Allen is pretty locked into one receiver (and look here for a longer breakdown of Allen). Between his head/body language and that of Diggs this looks planned the whole way. Diggs’s job is to clear space and be in position to block after the catch. This play was not alone showing these traits.

Play 5

A tip of the hat should be extended to Kansas City. The coverage here is good and on many plays. There’s also help up top if not. This was definitely a theme. The initial route probably wasn’t going to work well for Buffalo and any freestyling would have had to navigate around significant traffic.

Play 6

Another huge issue getting Diggs going? Pressure on Josh Allen. In this case he’s flushed right and away from Diggs. Diggs was one-on-one and beat his man inside for what could have been a touchdown if Allen wasn’t running to the right. Even pre-snap you can see that Kansas City is discouraging Allen from moving left.

Play 7

This was never going to anyone but T.J. Yeldon. I used this play because it’s a double-edged sword to predetermine the target. In this case Diggs clears space and blocks just well enough to get a couple more yards for Yeldon. This was a positive play by any measure but as we know not every one was as successful.

Play 8

This play was in the second half and I chose it because it’s masterful and I wanted to end on a high note. Diggs kind of jogs the early part of the route, like he’s been doing all game on some run plays and predetermined reads like Play 7. The double cross over the middle and Diggs’s speed lulls the linebacker and Diggs goes full throttle for a good gain.


Summary

It’s time for that hard truth I alluded to earlier. Kansas City did what everyone expected them to do. They paid extra attention to Stefon Diggs. The jamming and grabbing I’ve seen discussed in the game occurred but has been well overblown by many. Kansas City had a good game plan but not a special one.

The Buffalo Bills appear to have used a lot of predetermined reads. In the first half they just included Diggs less than they did in the second half. On the catch rate issue: Stay tuned.


I made shorthand notes for the first two quarters and I’ll include them here to help complete the picture. A comma means “new play.” This can be hard to read so don’t hesitate to ask for clarification in the comments.

Q1 Blocking for run, blocking for pass (maybe defender held him back but doubt it), run block, man coverage with LB in short zone, juked the s** out of two guys (GIF), decoy (4th and 1 conversion), block for screen (short toss left to Yeldon), some bumping on go route and safety help up top, double team and jamming (GIF), well timed hit (GIF), run block, double coverage still open but pressure leads to scramble, run play, quick pressure on Allen Diggs open, wide open but 3rd and 23 and only around original line of scrimmage, sells as run block for Knox TD

Q2 pass designed for Singletary? safety help up top, Breeland flag after Diggs schooled him, run, Singletary drop isolated on right side and going to him whole time, quick pressure and int grounding, Allen forced ball to Brown in double coverage Diggs possibly open on left side (would have been a hard throw but easier than one to Brown), run, good play design and Diggs past the sticks but overthrow by Allen, some bumping and safety help Diggs likely could get free but pulled enough coverage away for Beasley to get 14, floated through zone in the middle possibly an opportunity but short left to Yeldon who Allen was staring down, designed for Knox (GIF), Deep route double covered whole way, run, safety help focused on Diggs, quick strike to Brown and Diggs was man on man on other side and got physical, run, run, Diggs beat man coverage on left side but Allen flushed right, physical coverage and Allen never looked his way