The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Jacksonville Jaguars in the Divisional Round this coming weekend in the NFL Playoffs. The Chiefs are heavily favored here, but does that mean it’ll be a walk in the park? We don’t think so. With that laid out, let’s look at some of the issues the Chiefs have when they face the Jaguars in the Divisional Round.
The Jaguars are going to be dangerous. They have won their last six games, including a comeback victory against the Los Angeles Chargers in the Wild Card Round. They also enter the game as the AFC South champions with a 9-8 record. Meanwhile, the Chiefs, with a bye week under their belt, come in as the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 14-3 record. They also have a four-game winning streak in the Divisional Round. In their previous meeting this season, the Chiefs defeated the Jaguars, 27-17, despite the Jaguars’ advantage in time of possession and turnover margin.
That said, here are some of the issues the Chiefs will have when they face the Jaguars.
4. Can Mahomes survive that Jacksonville pass rush?
Jacksonville boasts a strong defensive line. In fact, it ranked fourth in the league for pressure rate (25.1 percent) and earned the sixth-highest pass-rush grade (77.8 percent) from PFF. However, they struggled to generate pressure against the Chiefs in their previous meeting this season. They actually failed to record a single sack. This was partly due to their strategy of only rushing four and the exceptional mobility of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs need to be ready for Jacksonville to likely commit more players to the blitz in this game. It’s unlikely that they can limit the Jaguars to zero sacks a second time.
3. Chiefs Red-Zone Defense
The truth is that the Chiefs defense has struggled in the red-zone. In fact, they have allowed touchdowns on 67.3 percent of opposing teams’ red-zone drives. That’s the second-highest rate in the league, which is quite concerning. With the Jaguars offense performing well in recent weeks (they rank ninth in EPA/play since Week 9), it is likely that they will have several opportunities to score in the red zone.
This means that the Chiefs defense must be extra tight here. They obviously need to prevent the Jaguars from scoring touchdowns and instead force them to settle for field goal attempts. This will be crucial to prevent the game from becoming dangerously close in the fourth quarter.
2. Do the Chiefs have any pressure off the edge?
Chris Jones has been widely recognized for his exceptional play. He even earned the highest PFF grade at his position and ranked third among all defenders for his 92.2 pass-rush grade. However, his performance has obscured the fact that Kansas City has struggled to generate pressure from the edge.
BIG sack by Chris Jones, his 14th of the season!
📺: #KCvsLV on ESPN/ABC
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— NFL (@NFL) January 7, 2023
Keep in mind that no Chiefs edge defender ranked in the top 50 in pass-rushing grade. In fact, Michael Danna’s 67.5 pass-rush grade was already the best at 53rd among edge defenders. The team’s edge defenders combined for pressure on just 19.7 percent of plays. That ranked 21st in the NFL and seventh among the teams in the Divisional Round.
1. The Chiefs turn the ball over, you know
We cannot deny that the Chiefs are among the top teams in the NFL and strong contenders for the Super Bowl. However, perhaps their biggest weak point is turnover differential. Remember that they finished the regular season with a -3 differential. That’s tied for 22nd in the league. This statistic is worse than teams like the Chicago Bears and Houston Texans, who had poor seasons overall.
The issue is that the Chiefs are equally poor at committing turnovers on offense and creating turnovers on defense. They are tied for 17th in offensive turnovers and tied for 20th in defensive takeaways. Of course in the playoffs, it’s crucial for the team to avoid putting themselves in a negative turnover differential. That will make winning much harder. The team’s offense is powerful enough to overcome a small deficit in turnovers, but they need to strive to keep the differential within one. If it gets any bigger than that, it will leave the door open for a Jacksonville upset here.