After a painful loss in Week 6, the lives of the Cincinnati Bengals’ are not getting any easier as they prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs. Lead by the young and dangerous Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, the AFC West leaders have a high-powered offense, with a strong cast of play-makers and a dangerous pass-rushing unit.
Many will write the Bengals off in this game, but with some excellent preparation, they will have a shot. Here are the 5 keys to the Bengals success in this game.
1. Score... Score a lot
The Chiefs have perhaps the most prolific offenses in football and have averaged 35.8 points per game this season. The Bengals defense has struggled throughout the season, but even if they play an incredible game, they are going to give up points to the Chiefs. As a result the Bengals absolutely cannot waste opportunities on offense.
The Chiefs punted once in Week 6 against the New England Patriots. That was one more punt than the Patriots, and the Chiefs lost 40-43. This game is likely to be a shootout, and the Bengals must score early and often. If the John Ross is able to return from injury, he will give the offense a big boost and open up more opportunities for A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd.
2. Confuse and Contain Patrick Mahomes
The conventional way to play an athletic quarterback is to keep him contained. This means rushing only four players and having the edge rushers focus more on contain than pressure. Teams have done a pretty good job of holding the edge against Mahomes, but he’s shown that this may not be the best way to defend against him. Instead of panicking when the pocket is collapsing, Mahomes tends to escape by stepping up in front of the edge rusher, rather than scrambling to one side or the other.
Another option is to have one the linebackers spy Mahomes, but this is problematic for two reasons. The first, is that is takes one of the team’s linebackers away from their coverage responsibilities. This is a major problem considering the issues that the Bengals have had covering tight ends and running backs this season. The other problem is the question of who can run with Mahomes. Vontaze Burfict would probably be the best option for this task, but it would certainly be difficult for him as Mahomes has outrun defensive backs this season.
One way to both pressure and contain Mahomes would be to send a 6-man blitz and play man across the board. It is risky not only because they would be playing man coverage with no deep help, but also because if one player did not get in their gap Mahomes could run for a huge gain. Obviously they cannot do this every play, but blitzing at the right time and showing a blitz at other times then dropping into zone or Cover 1 the Bengals could confuse Mahomes. This will end up creating turnover opportunities, and it will be up to the defense to capitalize on them.
3. Don’t Let Travis Kelce Run Free
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald was a major problem for the Bengals defense in Week 6, now they must figure out how to cover one of the best tight ends in the league in Kelce. The Bengals must play tight coverage on the Pro Bowl pass catcher, because when he has the ball, he’s a fiend for yards after the catch. They must not let him run free down the field, and instead jam him at the line of scrimmage or match up quickly with him. Burfict would be ideal for this task.
This would put the Bengals in a bit of a bind because if their best linebacker is focused on the tight end, he won’t be able to help out if the quarterback scrambles. One option would be to have him jam Kelce on the line, then drop into a spy role on Mahomes.
4. Prevent Miscellaneous Big Plays
Preventing big plays by the Chiefs’ offense is a herculean task. Mahomes is an extremely talented young quarterback with a wealth of talent around him including Hill, Kelce, Kareem Hunt, and Sammy Watkins. The Bengals will need to be flexible on defense, and adjust properly to the different formations and motions that the Chiefs utilize. They will need to stay on top of deep passes and rally to make tackles on shorter passes and jets sweeps.
5. Use the Clock
In Week 6, the Patriots became the first team to defeat the Chiefs in 2018. They were able to prevent big plays and hold the Chiefs to 9 points in the first half, but head coach Bill Belichick knew that an offense that powerful could not be contained for long. He knew that the Patriots needed to outscore them on offense, but also that they needed to limit the Chief’s chances to score. This means controlling the ball.
The Patriots failed to prevent big plays in the second half, but were able to beat the Chiefs in time of possession, possessing the ball for 36:09. The Bengals will need give the Chiefs a heavy dose of Joe Mixon running the ball and use all of the play clock on every down, to let their defense rest on the sideline and limit the Chiefs’ opportunities offensively.