Film Room: Bills Offense vs. Chiefs Defense

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Somehow, both conference championship games this weekend are rematches of games played in Week 6. The Buccaneers blew out the Packers in 38-10 fashion down at Raymond James Stadium, while the Chiefs battled past the Bills with a 26-17 win. Whether or not the results of each game will change, who knows, but all four teams have evolved and neither game should play out the same.

The Bills-Chiefs matchup is especially primed to unfold differently from the first meeting. While both teams have ebbed and flowed, as teams do throughout the season, the Chiefs' pass defense in particular has definitively gotten worse since midseason. The Chiefs ranked sixth in pass defense DVOA through the first nine weeks of 2020, which included their win over Buffalo in Week 6. From Week 10 through Week 17, however, the Chiefs plummeted to 29th. Nobody could really keep up with the Chiefs in a shootout, so it mattered very little in terms of wins and losses, but that may not be the case on Sunday.

On the one hand, the Chiefs play a similar style of defense to the Ravens, who held Allen in check last weekend. Both defenses blitz at a top rate, love press-man coverages, and often rotate from one-high to two-high looks because the talent they have at safety allows them to get away with it. The Ravens are a tad blitz-happier and less likely to mix in Cover-2 the way the Chiefs do, but the overarching themes of each defense aren't too different.

On the other hand, Allen has largely been a menace against man coverage this year. Through the regular season, Allen finished second in success rate against man coverage, sandwiching himself between Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. That's pretty good company. While the Ravens' heavy usage of man coverage kept Allen quiet on Sunday, that had much more to do with the Ravens' cornerbacks playing lights-out than it did with Allen struggling. The Chiefs simply do not have cornerback talent like that.

The numbers and highlight throws speak for themselves as far as Allen's play vs. man coverage goes, but part of Allen's success against man coverage is his ability to run. He can be his own checkdown. Man coverage across the board usually means defenders are going to have their back turned and/or be locked into their receiver. Players with Allen's speed will take advantage of that all day if you let them.

On this third-and-5 from Week 6, the Chiefs start with a zero-safety look before bailing to two-high right before the snap. With a cornerback lined up over every receiver in press, Allen can take this snap feeling good about man coverage being deployed. Allen hangs in for as long as he can, but the pocket begins to collapse, forcing him to bail. Tyrann Mathieu (32) was able to vacate his man assignment because the tight end on the offense's right stayed in to block, freeing Mathieu to become a late rat/robber, but not even he could fly over to the perimeter fast enough to catch Allen in time before he reached the sticks.

Even when the Chiefs were in the perfect call, it was not always enough to contain Allen. In this clip, the Chiefs are in man coverage again, but they have a built-in trips adjustment for how they want to handle the weak-side (right) No. 1 receiver going underneath immediately. Charvarius Ward (35) lines up across from that receiver at the snap, but rather than sprinting after him, across the field, Ward gives a call to the weak safety (Mathieu, 32), allowing him to fly down to cut the crosser off at the opposite hash. The cornerback then falls off to replace the safety deep. This can be a great adjustment with a good weak safety because of how favorable his leverage is as opposed to the cornerback's. Alas, while the adjustment works against the route it was designed to stop and the rest of the coverage holds up, Allen just takes off for 10 yards and converts the first down anyway.

The Chiefs will try to do this versus a number of different looks, though, not just when it's an under route by the solo receiver in 3x1. Just last weekend, the Browns caught the Chiefs on a beater for this kind of adjustment with the Chiefs trying to defend a bunch trips formation this way. In short, this Chiefs adjustment is best when the cornerback falling off to replace the safety has routes breaking into him, such as corner routes or crossing routes from the other side of the field like in the last clip.

Cleveland's fix was to run none of their routes into the cornerback falling off. The rest of the Browns' routes from the trips (right) side in this concept break to the middle of the field, where the safety (Juan Thornhill, 22) is vacating in order to drive down on the under route. Sure, it takes some degree of luck to catch the Chiefs in this particular call, but if an offense knows the Chiefs like doing this, especially against 3x1 and/or on third down, they can call beater concepts like this to throw behind the vacated safety and away from the dropping cornerback.

Buffalo offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is plenty sharp enough to come up with some solutions of his own, whether it's to this specific coverage or any of the Chiefs' other man coverage calls. Over the past few weeks, Daboll has done an especially good job of doing so. He even worked up some nice answers to man coverage against the Ravens in the opening drive of the second half, despite the offense not doing much else besides that.

This series of plays was from Buffalo's lone touchdown drive against the Ravens. All throughout the first half, the Bills kind of ignored a lot of these rub routes in favor of trying to beat the Ravens in other ways, but eventually leaned on them for this drive to finally put some points on the board. With the Chiefs being as man-coverage heavy as they are, they will be just as susceptible to concepts like this as the Ravens were, especially with how they have been playing as of late.

As a final aside, the Bills will also be working with right guard Jon Feliciano in this game. Feliciano missed the first seven weeks of the season, which meant he was not there for the first iteration of this matchup. Not only is Feliciano a quality blocker in both phases of the game, but he does a lot to help Allen and center Mitch Morse with protection calls and the like. It's a group effort in Buffalo, and not having one of the brains to their operation up front certainly hurt them a bit. Having Feliciano back in the lineup since Week 8 has done wonders, especially over the past six weeks or so as the unit has really gelled again.

None of this is to say the Bills will beat the Chiefs this time around. Betting against the Chiefs just feels wrong, especially if Mahomes is at or close to 100% when this game kicks off. The Bills may be able to force more of a shootout and give themselves a better chance than they did in their last meeting, though. Against the juggernaut that is the Chiefs since 2018, that is about the best that any team can hope for.


16 comments, Last at 22 Jan 2021, 8:17pm

#1 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 21, 2021 - 1:04pm

I think we'll see a Bills offense that looks much closer to its December form than it showed against the Colts and the Ravens (not that it didn't show well against the Colts). KC can bring it defensively in big moments, but there's no doubt that the Chiefs' D is much worse than those of Buffalo's last two playoff opponents.

Points: 0

#5 by Run dmc // Jan 21, 2021 - 2:57pm

The Chiefs defense allowed EXACTLY the same number of points the Colts did while resting their starters in Week 17.

As to the Ravens they gave up 42 points to Cleveland in their last regular season game against a functioning offense.


Points: 0

#6 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 21, 2021 - 3:38pm

But two games isn’t what I’m talking about. It’s not what the author of this article is talking about, either. The Chiefs D reminds me of that Eagles D that won the SB a few years ago, but they are not a top-flight defense. They’re certainly good enough in combination with that offense, though. 

Points: 0

#7 by Run dmc // Jan 21, 2021 - 4:33pm

I was responding to your comment that the Chiefs' defense was much worse than either the Colts or the Ravens. Based on points scored while playing their starters the Chiefs' defense is better than the Colts. not much worse.

The Ravens defense was superior in the points against metric but may not have been playing very well down the stretch as evidenced by their game against the Browns. The Ravens seem to be the type of team that plays very well against inferior opponents but not as well against better opponents (witness the defensive performance vs. KC and CLE this year.

I could get behind the argument that the Ravens and Colts are better but not much better. I understand we don't want to give much credence to clutch play but in three post season games last season and one so far this year ... the Chiefs D has stiffened when necessary. See the Browns who managed 12 yards over 4 minutes on 7 plays while down 5 points.

I will give them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.



Points: 0

#8 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 21, 2021 - 6:43pm

The Chiefs weren’t close to either unit. 

Points: 0

#9 by Run dmc // Jan 21, 2021 - 9:10pm

DVOA is a tool not a be all and end all. It is one metric. You are the one cherry picking. DVOA said the Texans outplayed the Chiefs in Week 1. Look at that game and realize, DVOA for all its charm has some serious limitations. So lets look at some other metrics:

Points Allowed Bal: 303 / KC: 360 / Ind: 360 

Pass YPA:       Bal: 6.5 / KC: 7.1 / Ind: 7.3

Interceptions:  Bal: 10 / KC: 16 / Ind: 15

Sacks:             Bal: 39 / KC: 32 / Ind: 40

YDS:               Bal: 347 / KC: 370 / Ind: 348

F.Fumbles.     Bal 25 / KC 14 / Ind: 17

You can make a case Baltimore is clearly better but the idea the Indy is much better than the Chiefs is laughable. 

The other thing you can't measure with stats is the Chiefs have a quick strike offense putting more pressure on the defense. So the defense looks worse even though the team wins more.

I would also argue the key metric against the Bills is going to be passing game .. check out Yards Per Attempt and Interceptions.

We could also look at comman opponents:

Baltimore vs Cleveland 42 (Last matchup) | KC vs. Cleveland 17

Baltimore vs New England 17 | KC 10

Indy vs. Jets 7 | KC 9

Indy vs. Cleveland 23 | KC 17

Indy vs. Ravens 24 | KC 20

Indy vs. Texans 20 | KC 20

Indy vs Raiders 27 | KC 31

Indy vs. Bills 27 | KC 17

If the Chiefs are so much worse on defense how come their defense fares better or even in 6 of these 8 common opponent games and no worse than 4 points worse?

You obviously haven't watched many Chiefs' games. Again if you want to worship at the altar of DVOA check out Game 1 vs the Texans and tell me Houston was the superior team. It is a laughable conclusion and the team's records as well as the game itself shows that.

Points: 0

#14 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 22, 2021 - 11:12am

In reply to by Run dmc

I have Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce in my keeper league, which just finished its 31st year. They're on prime-time all the time. I've watched them plenty. 

Points: 0

#11 by muscle417 // Jan 21, 2021 - 10:44pm

Indy (7) and Baltimore (9) were top 10 DVOA defenses this season. KC was 22nd. KC is also significantly worse in weighted DVOA. You are using a 2 game sample size for each team, hardly a reasonable comparison.

Can KC have a superior defensive performance in the playoffs? Sure, it's possible. But they have an objectively less talented defense than either IND or BAL.

Points: 0

#13 by Run dmc // Jan 22, 2021 - 6:17am

The chiefs have a significantly inferior defense to Indy and Baltimore by DVOA ONLY. If you look at common opponents, points scored, yardage given up, turnovers etc. the Chiefs fare generally pretty well in all of those categories.

So the question is could DVOA be wrong? (gasp!)

You appear not even to consider this fact. I ask, I beg! please look at Game 1 Houston vs KC. Watch the entire game. Watch the Chiefs dominate the Texans on both sides of the ball and tell me that yes DVOA got it right the Texans were the better team.

Obviously it's possible to be the better team and lose by 14 points. Happens all the time. But  is it possible to be the better team, lose by 14 points and go on to a 4 -12 season while the worse team goes 14 - 2? 

I call BS on DVOA. DVOA got it wrong. Do you believe the Chiefs are the 6th best team in the league? That's what DVOA says. But the Chiefs have beaten Baltimore (7), Tampa (2), New Orleans (1), Miami (12) and Buffalo (4) all on the road.

DVOA is underestimating these Chiefs for some reason or they are getting extremely lucky.

But again WATCH GAME 1. There is no way you can watch that game and come to the conclusion that Houston was the superior team as DVOA does. It is simply not a tenable position.

Points: 0

#15 by Tutenkharnage // Jan 22, 2021 - 11:39am

Do you believe the Chiefs are the 6th best team in the league?

In the sense that I believe the Packers, Bucs, Bills, and Saints have more or less outplayed them over the course of the season, I'd say the Chiefs are much closer to sixth than first.

Points: 0

#16 by Recycledmoniker // Jan 22, 2021 - 8:16pm

Outplayed them except when they faced directly and each came away with a loss against the Chiefs. In their own stadiums.

Points: 0

#2 by kseymour3515 // Jan 21, 2021 - 1:50pm

Great read, thanks. I look for breakdowns like this at other sites and no one really does a good job like this. 

Points: 0

#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Jan 21, 2021 - 2:41pm

from both teams. Hot take.

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Jan 21, 2021 - 2:56pm

I predict KC comes out in a single wing because Red is just trolling us now.

Points: 0

#10 by mrh // Jan 21, 2021 - 9:18pm

Thanks for the breakdown and the info on Feliciano. 

I think it will be important for the Chiefs to have Breeland out of the concussion protocol for Sunday and a healthy Fenton too.  But if they have those two corners back, a big plus for KC over the first matchup will be having Sneed healthy for this game.

I don't think they can completely stop Allen and Diggs, but with a full complement in the secondary, I think the Chiefs slow the Bills offense enough to win.

Also, both Bills TD drives were helped by penalties on the Chiefs' secondary.  If the refs don't call the playoffs as tight that might help the Chiefs, too.

Points: 0

#12 by muscle417 // Jan 21, 2021 - 10:53pm

I believe the remaining crews have thrown the most flags this season.

The flags on the Bills TD drives were warranted. Chiefs CBs were VERY physical with the Bills WRs all game long. Chiefs were also aided on 2nd to last FG drive with 2! uncharacteristic UR penalties on White and Poyer, as well as an uncalled blatant ineligible downfield on their last FG drive when they had 2 OL 5 yds downfield. Officiating went both ways.

Points: 0

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