CINCINNATI – The Bengals will meet the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, one week after both won incredibly dramatic and tension-filled games in their AFC Divisional showdowns.
How will the Bengals protect Joe Burrow? How will the Chiefs pick themselves up after Sunday’s ridiculously delirious ending at Arrowhead over the Bills?
There are several issues the Bengals are going to have to tend to this Sunday in Kansas City if they plan on making reservations for LA and playing in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Here’s an early look-ahead to just some of the details the Bengals are likely prioritizing this week:
Protect the Franchise: This should go without saying, but you’ve got to be better than nine sacks of your franchise quarterback. Yes, Burrow takes the blame for two or three of them for holding the ball for so long. Part of that might be Tennessee showing some different looks and Burrow taking a bit longer to figure it out. But nine?! Come on. The good news is that few teams can match what Tennessee brought in terms of pressure (Aaron Donald and Von Miller, Rams) and if the Bengals can address the communication issues Burrow and Zac Taylor and staff had early on Saturday, then there’s definitely hope they can handle, or at least survive, KC. Burrow was sacked four times on Jan. 2 when he dropped back 43 times and completed 30 passes. He threw for 446 yards. He’s facing a secondary that may or may or may not have Tyrann Mathieu, who left in the first quarter Sunday in concussion protocol.
The Chiefs bring heat so the Bengals respond by throwing a go ball to Ja'Marr Chase. When you have someone as talented as Chase it makes it very difficult to leave him singled up.
I think the image of him holding the ball out on this one will be seared in my memory. pic.twitter.com/uymN4zHVgY
— Mike (Sans) (@bengals_sans) January 4, 2022
Play from ahead: One huge reason the Bengals upset the Titans is they played with the lead and never trailed. The Bengals can’t fall behind 14 points three different times like they did on Jan. 2 and expect to survive this time. The game is at Kansas City and the crowd had a deafening effect on the Bills on Sunday. That much was clear. Josh Allen was able to silence them to a degree because he had Gabriel Davis and the Bills’ biggest deficit was nine points (23-14). But the Bills played the first three quarters playing from behind. Yes, the Bills should have won when they took the lead with 13 seconds left. But the Bengals and Darrin Simmons presumably know to squib kick the ball and run clock.
We meet again. pic.twitter.com/p2Hw1C2mjA
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 24, 2022
Contain, contain, contain: Lou Anarumo might have gotten the Giants head coaching interview off the game against Chiefs alone on Jan. 2. He held that offense to three points in the second half. Tyreek Hill had six catches on ten targets for 40 yards while Travis Kelce caught just five passes for 25 yards. Patrick Mahomes is going to have revenge on his mind and admitted it in so many words to Ja’Marr Chase after the game when he promised he’d see the Bengals again. The Bengals in that first game had great execution of a game plan that switched between Cover-2 and Cover-3 and even included a critical zero blitz of Mahomes in the fourth quarter when the Bengals needed to hold the Chiefs to a game-tying field goal. Jessie Bates timed it perfectly and Mahomes threw it out of bounds. The Bengals were burned badly by the crossers from the Raiders in the Wild Card round and adjusted nicely against the Titans. But they still gave up five explosive plays last Saturday.
Something different from Bienemy: When the two teams met on Jan. 2, the Chiefs and offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy didn’t have Clyde Edwards-Helaire in their arsenal. The second year, first-round running back out of LSU played a big role in Sunday’s win, especially in the fourth quarter. CEH had only seven carries, but they totaled 60 yards, including runs of 20 and 22-yards that set up scores. The 20-yarder was followed by a 25-yard run around left end by Mecole Hardman for a touchdown. If the Bengals go heavy on their Cover-2 and Cover-3 shells, be ready for the Chiefs to try and find ways to soften them with runs to the edges and away from the teeth of the interior defensive line.
Spags game plan: Remember that this is Steve Spagnuolo, the defensive coordinator who shut down Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, holding the Patriots to 14 points. Spagnuolo adjusted his game plan from the 38-35 shootout won by Brady and the Patriots in the final game of 2007, using his front in different ways to apply pressure and take away New England’s crossers. This has eerily the same feel. Spagnuolo is going to throw something completely different at Joe Burrow this time around. Andy Reid and Spagnuolo are smart and experienced enough to know that you don’t show everything when you are assured of a playoff spot (as they were) and could likely face this team again in the playoffs (which they will). The key here is how quickly Burrow – one of the smartest quarterbacks in the game – recognizes and reacts. This is a great, great matchup to watch.
Special teams: Darrin Simmons will have his team on very high alert. Andy Reid showed Sunday that when the chips are down, he has no hesitation in using Tyreek Hill to return punts as a weapon. Hill’s 45-yard fourth-quarter punt return to the Buffalo 16 gifted the Chiefs three points on a field goal after the offense stalled. Hill, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle can all take it to the house at any time. Pringle had four punt returns for 96 yards against the Bengals on Jan. 2, including an 89-yarder for a touchdown right before halftime that was nullified by a holding call. So, it’s all the more important that players like Tre Flowers, who had a spectacular game Saturday on special teams, bring his best Sunday at Arrowhead. If the game comes down to kickers, the Bengals may actually have the slight advantage. Former kicker Jay Feely of CBS called Harrison Butker one of the elite kickers in the game (just a notch below Justin Tucker) and he did send the game to OT. But he also missed a 50-yard field goal just before half and pulled an extra point wide left. McPherson has connected on all eight field goal attempts, including a pair from 50-plus and the game-winner Saturday on the grass in Nashville.