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Bills’ opponent preview: Kansas City RB Jerick McKinnon

The Kansas City gadget man under the microscope

It’s the NFL Playoffs, where getting hot at the right time can be critical. One way to do that is to add new wrinkles into the playbook. Or, in some cases, showcase unexpected players. Enter Kansas City Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon. Seeing 12 rushing attempts and 20 receiving targets in the regular season, McKinnon was essentially a non-factor. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round, McKinnon hit a season high 78% of snaps. He matched his regular-season carry total of 12, and had six targets to boot for 18 total touches and 142 yards (30% of the team’s total). With little tape on McKinnon and recent success, the Buffalo Bills now have one more player to prepare for. So we are too.


Play 1

I really like the play design here. Jerick McKinnon looks like this is a pretty straightforward safety valve-type route for a running back. As the key “block” slide alludes to, this a pretty devious way to set up a lead blocker. McKinnon isn’t a safety valve, he looks like the primary read. Good play design. Good execution.

Play 2

I may say something that sounds like I’m disparaging Jerick McKinnon but that’s not the goal. I’ll start off this play by saying any running back getting hit like this isn’t likely to take it to the house, if you catch my drift. There are some backs who would struggle to even fall forward like McKinnon does. That said, he isn’t moving a pile here or anywhere else I saw.

Play 3

Isaiah McKenzie fans will recognize this play. This single one gives opponents several wrinkles to prepare for. Will McKinnon get a direct snap? Will it be a quick pass/hand off in front of Mahomes? Will it be a quick swing pass? Or something unrelated to McKinnon like we see here?

Play 4

It seems pretty clear the play call here includes McKinnon in the read progressions. There’s a quick bump from T.J. Watt, which McKinnon needs to adjust to and he does admirably. This isn’t spectacular but there’s a lot of little things that go well, including McKinnon’s execution.

Play 5

Unconventional and intentional about it. This is not me saying anything remotely like “Only Patrick Mahomes can make that throw.” I mean ****, I can physically make that throw. Rather, I’m highlighting the fact that Kansas City isn’t afraid to go “wacky” if they think it’ll be effective. Having to prepare for the “usual” football stuff plus some “wacky” to go with it can create headaches.

Play 6

Coming back to Jerick McKinnon specifically, he’s a good back from what I can see. He recognizes the lane shutting down, changes direction, and hits the accelerator. There’s a broken tackle in there for good measure. There’s a lot of this play that’s all McKinnon.

Play 7

And finally we have a cautionary tale. Any NFL player on offense will proooooobably do well if the defense has temporary amnesia regarding their existence. This wasn’t a regular thing against Pittsburgh but this is partially what I think KC is going for. Jerick McWho?


Summary

It’s true that Jerick McKinnon had a breakout game against Pittsburgh. It’s also true there’s a reason he’s on his third team in his six-year career and averages three starts per season. We’re not talking Jonathan Taylor or Derrick Henry. Again, I’m not trying to be insulting to McKinnon. He’s a good player, with some versatility and talent to be used in a wide variety of situations. The surrounding talent including the coaching staff are of course the bigger threat.