Bounce Back Game? What You Need to Know for Chiefs vs. WFT on Sunday

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The Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) are looking to get back on the winning track Sunday afternoon as they travel to take on the Washington Football Team (2-3).

Here’s what you need to know heading into Sunday’s matchup:

Scheme Spotlight

Battling the Bear Front

The Washington Football Team has one of the best and most feared defensive lines in all of the NFL. Across the board they quite literally have first round picks at every spot and their fifth man has long been considered one of the most underrated players in all of football. It’s never a bad thing to load up on talent in this manner but WFT doesn’t just settle for having a deep rotation but instead they force all five of these premier DL out on the field at the same time.

That’s right, they run the Bear front with 5 defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage and only two - sometimes less - linebackers behind them. Technically, the Football Team runs a modified Bear front because they don’t use the traditional 3T-0T-3T every time but instead play it more as a Tite front with two overhangs to either side. In any case, this 5 man DL isn’t super popular in the modern NFL due to the quick passing, horizontal approach many teams major in. For that reason it slowly fell to the wayside to only be used as an off-speed pitch by creative defensive minds.

Then Washington figured out how to do it.

Because WFT’s DL is so talented, because they can beat an offensive line so consistently with a simple four man pass rush, offenses have had to adapt. The easiest decision has been to just add heavier personnel onto the field. The issue is this tees up the Football Team to play their most talented players at the same time by bringing 5 DL onto the field.

As soon as they see that second tight end or running back step on the field, they are sending out their extra DL. Now, even if an offense adds an extra blocker to the protection plan there is still going to be multiple one-on-ones across the trenches. It is truly a Catch-22 for offenses, especially those who can’t trust their OL to block the WFT pass rush straight up. 

This is where it gets especially tricky for the Chiefs, they are not coming off their best game in terms of pass protection. As a matter of fact, the Chiefs used a TE to strictly pass protect - not chip, not block and then release into a route - six times vs the Bills to attempt to slow down the pass rush. That was more than any other game this season and indicates a potential worry over their pass protection.

The simplest answer for the Chiefs on how to counter the Bear front is to set a trap of their own. Show heavier personnel but then spread the field out. This not only places some of WFT’s less skilled coverage players in isolated situations but also opens up some one-on-one vertical shots as the defense is forced to play single high coverage behind it.

The next best plan is to lean into the play-action and RPO game that flashes run queues to the second level. Since most defenders will be matched up with a specific person, it’s easier to influence them with run action at the snap to open up space behind the second level for the skill players.

The key to winning this matchup is going to be who is dictating the matchups. Is the Chiefs’ pass protection unable to handle WFT’s four man pass rush forcing them into heavier personnel for WFT to take advantage of, or are the Chiefs’ bringing in heavy personnel to dictate the personnel package and coverage of the Football Team on the back-end? Whichever team is dictating these changes is the one that likely holds the upper hand in this scenario.

Turnover differential needs to change

It’s been a rough start to Zach Wilson’s rookie year. The young BYU product already has nine interceptions to his name — including a brutal four pick performance.

No this is not NYSN — you’re the right place to talk about your beloved Kansas City Chiefs.

Despite a rookie quarterback that has thrown an interception in every game this season, the New York Jets have a better turnover differential (-5) than the Patrick Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs (-7).

Only one team has a worse differential than the Chiefs — Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars (-10). Like the Jets, they’re also building around a rookie quarterback — Trevor Lawrence, who has eight interceptions on the year.

The company the Chiefs are keeping both in their ability to protect the football and turn the ball over defensively is bad. Only one team in the bottom ten of this category has a winning record — the Tennessee Titans.

Turnover differential is easily one of the biggest factors in this team’s mediocre 2-3 start to the season. It’s not just on the offense though — the defense hasn’t got a turnover since week 2 against the Ravens.

Despite all the issues with this team, the Chiefs have lost three games to 4-1 teams that are in first place in their division. They were in two of those games late — including the Ravens loss where they fumbled the ball as they tried to put the game away.

Have they been a little unlucky? Yeah. And the good news is some of their ball protection issues are fixable. But both sides of the ball need to have an emphasis on turnovers. And it has to start on Sunday against Washington.

Matchup to watch: Terry McLaurin vs. Chiefs Secondary

While the Washington Football team doesn’t have the same weapons that the Chiefs have seen this year, McLaurin is a ridiculously good receiver that Taylor Heinicke will target in volume. He has the speed to stretch vertically and the route running ability to create separation at every level of his route tree. He’s a problem for any secondary, let alone one that has given up big games to most of the top receivers they’ve faced.

The Chiefs have given up 497 yards and three touchdowns to the opposition’s top wide receiver thus far this season. That’s an average of 99.4 yards per game when throwing to the boundary, almost double the yardage allowed to the opposition’s top receivers in the Steve Spagnuolo era. They’ve struggled to stay on the same page in the secondary with ample blown coverages when in zone looks, and they’ve struggled to stay in phase with receivers when in man coverage.

McLaurin has averaged 80 yards and almost 10 targets per game in an offense that ranks in the bottom third of passing attempts with a backup quarterback at the helm. He accounts for over 30% of Heinicke’s targets, passing yardage, and touchdown passes on the year. Simply put: Terry McLaurin is going to get thrown the ball a lot on Sunday.

With that said, it should be no surprise to the Chiefs secondary what Washington’s game plan will be when Heinicke drops back to pass. While other weapons like Antonio Gibson, Adam Humphries and Logan Thomas are threats to beat up on this Chiefs offense – especially at the second level – the focus should be on taking away McLaurin on Sunday.

That should indicate lots of split-safety looks with cornerbacks in trail coverage, taking away the vertical shots and helping the cornerbacks to react and drive on in/out breaking routes to stay in throwing lanes. This technique can also help the Chiefs cornerbacks to play physical at the line of scrimmage to try to knock McLaurin’s timing off with his release. That’s easier said than done – especially with the way this group of cornerbacks has played in the last several weeks – but could take away some of the “easier” pitch-and-catch between the quarterback and the receiver early this week.

Regardless of the technique, the McLaurin matchup is the biggest of the week on this side of the ball. The Washington rushing attack will certainly keep the Chiefs front seven busy – and could definitely help sustain drives and win on early downs – but keeping McLaurin in check is the key to limiting the explosive plays that have killed the Chiefs defense in previous weeks. Stopping a talented receiver will not only go a long way toward winning the game on this side of the ball, it also might help build confidence in a Chiefs secondary that desperately needs a good performance.