How Chiefs should game plan for AFC Championship Game vs. Bengals

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The Kansas City Chiefs are set to host their fifth-straight AFC Championship game this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Chiefs survived two scares from the divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. The first being quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ high ankle sprain, and the second was the Jaguars themselves, who played valiantly. K.C. is 2-2 in its last four AFC Championship Game matchups.

The Bengals are perhaps the hottest team left in the playoffs, winners of their last 10 games. That includes a 27-24 Week 13 victory over the Chiefs. Cincinnati has beaten K.C. three times in the last calendar year, including in last year’s AFC Championship game.

Check out our game plan preview from when these two teams met back in Week 13. There you’ll find more specifics about the Bengals’ offensive and defensive schematics. Now, let’s dive into this week’s matchup.

Chiefs' defense vs. Bengals' offense

Credit: Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

In Week 13 the Bengals’ offense had its way with the Chiefs’ defense. Quarterback Joe Burrow completed 80 percent of his passes while also rushing for 46 yards, tallying two passing touchdowns and one rushing. Running back Samaje Perine averaged five yards per carry with a total of 106 rushing yards.

One of the biggest reasons the Bengals had so much success on offense was the protection of Burrow. The Chiefs only managed one sack, which didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter. It’s puzzling since the Chiefs were second in the NFL in sacks during the regular season and the Bengals surrendered the sixth most sacks.

What was also puzzling was the Bengals’ ability to run the ball with such ease. The Chiefs finished 2022 with the eighth-ranked rushing defense, while the Bengals had the 29th-ranked rushing offense. The Cincinnati offensive line finished with the fifth-lowest ranking among all offensive lines per Pro Football Focus.

Given all of these statistics and rankings, the Chiefs’ defensive line has to do a better job controlling the line of scrimmage. The Bengals are missing three of their original five starting offensive linemen, giving the Chiefs yet another advantage. It starts with defensive lineman Chris Jones, who is still chasing after his first career playoff sack.

The Chiefs’ secondary can help by getting physical with the Cincinnati receivers and not allowing any free releases off the line of scrimmage. It’s possible the Chiefs’ defensive backs could get beat deep at times by doing so, but it may be worth the risk to force Burrow to hold onto the ball longer, exposing him to potential sacks and turnovers.

Chiefs' offense vs. Bengals' defense

Credit: Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs were fairly balanced against the Bengals in Week 13 with 27 pass plays and 25 run plays. That kind of balance would be ideal in this matchup as well, especially given Mahomes’ injury. You could argue that the Chiefs should have run the ball more as they averaged 5.5 yards per carry.

Mahomes had a nice 8.3 yards per completion on that day but completed just 59 percent of his passes. He only took two sacks but also took eight QB hits and was under constant duress all day, forcing him to get rid of the ball prematurely. If the K.C. offense took anything away from this game, or last week for that matter, it’s that it must protect Mahomes at all costs.

Whether it’s multiple tight end sets or keeping a running back in the backfield to chip, the Chiefs can’t let Mahomes take very many hits. That may give the Bengals’ defensive backs an advantage in the numbers game against the K.C. pass catchers, but the answer to that would be to establish a strong running game.

If the Chiefs run the ball well the Bengals’ DBs will inevitably start to cheat up, giving Mahomes a chance to stretch the field. Another way the Chiefs’ offense can find yards while keeping Mahomes clean is with screen and swing passes to the running backs. Quick hitters to receivers such as Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore could be effective, letting them create after the catch.

Coach Andy Reid also loves to dial up shovel passes off misdirection and end around running plays. There’s no doubt Reid will need to put together one of his best game plans and have one of his best days as a play caller if the Chiefs’ offense is going to keep up with Cincinnati.

Story originally appeared on Chiefs Wire