The Buffalo Bills will clash with the Kansas City Chiefs in an epic Sunday Night Football playoff showdown that stacks up to be the biggest game yet in Orchard Park, NY this century. The Chiefs might field their best defense since Mahomes arrived, and it’s been a key reason why they’ve made it this far while working through some of their offensive woes during the regular season.
Let’s take a look at that Chiefs defense and how Buffalo’s offense may try to find success against them.
The Chiefs’ defense is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, they’re near the top of the NFL in many statistical overall defense categories.
2023 Chiefs Defense
|3D Conv %
|Red Zone Scoring % (TD)
If Kansas City’s defense has a weakness, it’s found in the run game. This season they allowed 4.4 yards per carry and 111.2 yards per game, which rank 23rd and 16th, respectively, in the NFL.
The chart above shows the Chiefs’ ranks on defense by play direction of running plays. Notice they rank 24th in average yards gained on runs around the left end, 25th in runs behind the left tackle, and 31st on runs behind the left guard. Their numbers to the right side are significantly better. Running the football to the left side might be something the Bills can take advantage of on Sunday, and that just so happens to be behind some of Buffalo’s best blockers in left tackle Dion Dawkins and left guard Connor McGovern.
Kansas City’s pass defense is a different story. Their defensive backfield is headlined by 2023 First-Team All-Pro slot corner Trent McDuffie. They also have a big and physical outside corner in L’Jarius Sneed who has played outstanding football this season. The Chiefs rank fourth-best in both opponent completion percentage (60.5%) and opponent passing yards per game (177.2 yards). They also have the second-most sacks in the NFL with 57 while leading the NFL in sack percentage (9.02%).
The chart above shows the Chiefs’ ranks on defense by play direction of passing plays. They rank in the top half of the league in most areas of the field based on average yards gained and completion percentage. However, they rank 22nd in average yards given up in the “deep middle” of the field. This could be an area for the Bills to attack in the downfield passing game.
There’s also this nugget of information to consider:
Home field advantage has been huge for the Chiefs' pass defense in 2023. On average, they give up an additional 10.8 expected points per 60 plays on the road vs at Arrowhead.#BillsMafia— Adam (@sharpndpensel) January 16, 2024
The Bills defeated the Chiefs 20-17 earlier this season in Week 14, so let's take a peek at what went on in that game.
- Quarterback Josh Allen didn’t have his best day but he went 23-of-42 for 233 yards passing with one touchdown and one interception. Allen also ran the ball 10 times for 32 yards and one touchdown.
- Running back James Cook led the team in rushing with 10 carries for 58 yards (5.8 ypc).
- Cook also led the team in receiving with five receptions for 83 yards and one touchdown.
- Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was kept in check, with only four receptions for 24 yards.
- Wide receiver Kahlil Shakir had yet to burst on the scene for Buffalo, as he only had one reception for 12 yards.
- The Bills had a total of 28 rushes for 118 yards (4.2 ypc)
- The Chiefs were able to sack Allen three times.
- According to Player Profiler, L’Jarius Sneed shadowed Diggs 55.8% of the time and he only allowed one catch for one yard on five targets.
Keys to success for Buffalo’s offense
The Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs have played each other enough over the past three years that they know one other's personnel and game plans fairly well. Each game is different, but we can take bits and pieces from their last matchup and season tendencies to formulate potential areas to take advantage of this weekend.
- Take advantage of being at home by mixing up pre-snap cadences and snap counts. The Bills’ offense will have the advantage of a relatively quiet stadium before the snap of the ball. Mixing up the snap count will keep the defensive linemen on their toes and maybe even cause an offside penalty on the defense.
- Use their newfound run game to attack the left side of the line of scrimmage and sustain drives. As evident in the data above, the Chiefs are vulnerable on runs to the left side. If Buffalo can dominate the line of scrimmage and keep drives moving running the football, they can use that to set up the passing game.
- Run Josh run! Designed runs, scrambles, RPOs, all of it! Josh Allen is the most dangerous weapon on the field whether he’s throwing the ball or running with it. Look for Buffalo to give Allen the ball in key moments during this game. The Chiefs know well enough at this point that Allen running the ball on an important play is coming, but maybe the Bills throw in a wrinkle and fake a QB sweep and hit on a deep ball down the field.
- Attack the middle of the field in the passing game. The emergence of Kahlil Shakir and tight end Dalton Kincaid should help this cause.
- Be prepared for the blitz. The Chiefs blitzed the fourth-most during the regular season, blitzing 37% of the time. When the blitz comes, Allen and the receivers should be prepared to have a readily accessible bail-out option.
- Get Diggs involved early and find ways to get him the ball from inside and outside. Diggs and Allen have been just a little bit off on deep-ball connections this season. They connected on one in the regular season finale in Week 18, but they have also missed some big opportunities since then. My spidey senses are tingling — this is the week where it all comes together for these two.
- Use the play-action pass. Establishing a run game early will go a long way to setting up the play-action pass throughout the evening. Make the Chiefs defend the run and have it open up the passing game via play-action.
- No turnovers. Pretty simple.
- Go for it on 4th & Short situations, especially in plus territory.
- Touchdowns, not field goals.
Buffalo Bills players and fans alike have been waiting for a playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs at home, and it’s finally here. Highmark Stadium is going to be loud and the game is likely to be close — one where every possession matters. Regardless of how it comes, all that counts is getting the “W” for Bills Mafia. Sunday night will be must-see TV, so get your popcorn ready!