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Rice, Rice Baby

I was going to make some pun based on the Chris Jones holdout, but I:


a) Didn't want to jinx things, and

b) Could only come up with "Chris [Jones] Cross, Applesauce", which even for me is really bad.


So instead you get a slight pun based on an English advert that plays on the name of the Chiefs' second-round rookie wide receiver.


And on that bombshell, welcome to Season 2 of me doing these game preview articles. I promise I will try and make these things shorter than they were last year, but don't hold me to anything.


This week, the Detroit Lions have been given the honour of facing the reigning Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs to quite literally kick off the 2023 NFL season. Most outsiders don't believe we have a chance. I, as the contrarian I am, argue we do. But how can we follow the example of David, and defeat Andy Reid's Goliath?


Offense:

We all know about how powerful this KC offence is. So instead of recounting their many virtues, let's focus on how we can beat them.


In terms of "traditional" metrics, Patty Mahomes was at his weakest passing between the numbers in the intermediate range last season, completing 39 of his 69 attempts in this region for 794 yards, 5 TDs and 7 INTs. Based on PFF grades (discounting throws behind the line of scrimmage), Mahomes was weakest throwing short outside the numbers, posting a 65.7 passing grade targeting the short right and a 68.0 grade when targeting the short left. This bodes well for us as we do have some questions about the coverage ability of our linebackers right now, as well as this being the area that our star rookie Branch is projected to be playing as part of his STAR alignment. This means where he is weak, we are at least equally weak with the potential of being a lot stronger depending on the upside of Branch and Jack Campbell. Furthermore, when he was pressured in the 2022 regular season, Mahomes' PFF passing grade dropped nearly 30 points (92.6 to 64.2), his completion rate dropped from 75.6% to 46.9% and his throws went for an average of 2 fewer yards (8.8 YPA to 6.6). His TWP percentage also doubles when he is pressured (1.6% to 3.8%). Therefore, without overstating the obvious, it is clear that rattling Mahomes by getting consistent pressure on him is Step 1 in slowing down their juggernaut of an offence. But who should we target to do that?


In terms of pass blocking, the weak link on the interior of their line is Trey Smith. Last season, he posted a 69.0 pass-blocking grade, allowing a total of 32 pressures from the RG spot, including 2 sacks. He also committed 2 holds, an illegal hands to the face, and an ineligible man downfield penalty per PFR. On the outside, Donovan Smith seems to be the weaker of their two tackles pass-pro-wise. Last season, the veteran tackle gave up 32 pressures, including 6 sacks, for a 70.0 pass blocking grade. He also committed 8 holding penalties, 4 false stats and 1 illegal hands to the face penalty. Therefore, if we want to hurry Patty and make him uncomfortable, we need to target these two players. This could mean big games for our rush ends who traditionally line up over the LT, and the 3T who lines up over the RG. This means our "focus players" on our defensive line should be CHarris, Hutch and Alim.


As for the players Mahomes will be throwing to, the weakest projected starter is MVS, who posted a 63.2 receiving grade last season, corralling 55% of his targets for 687 yards (16.4 Y/R), 32 first downs, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. He averaged 1.24 yards per route run on an ADOT of 14.9 yards. Given he took 60% of his snaps lined up on the outside, it is likely he will be facing both Sutton and Jacobs. Given the former's technical prowess at the cornerback position, and the latter's physicality, I expect them to hold MVS to minimal impact if everything goes smoothly. Looking inside, the former Western Michigan Bronco Skyy Moore is definitely the weaker between him and Kelce, though that's like saying custard creams are a bad biscuit compared to Jammie Dodgers; they're still pretty good. Last season, he posted a 70.0 receiving grade, collecting 69% (nice) of his targets for 250 yards (11.4 Y/R), 13 first downs, no touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He also averaged 1.50 yards per route run and an ADOT of 8.8 yards. Given how much we have strengthened the slot corner position this off-season with the additions of CJGJ and Branch, the former Michigander will find little-to-no joy come Thursday night.


Moving onto the ground-and-pound side of the Kansas City offence, the team was weakest running up the right side C-gap last year. Their 26 attempts in this gap went for 3.1 yards per carry, 3 first downs, 1 TD and 1.92 yards after contact per attempt. This will be the gap that the big defensive end is responsible for, meaning the Chiefs would be running right at the Commish and Paschal. In other words, the Chiefs will be weakest running in the area where we're theoretically strongest at run defence. Dan did say in his pressers before about putting our best on other teams' worst, and this is a chance for us to do this. As for their starter, Pacheco was at his worst running up the left-side D-gap (i.e. off the defensive end), taking his 14 carries in this direction for 3.3 yards per carry, 1 first down, no TDs and 2.50 yards after contact per attempt. This means he would be running right towards Hutch, who just so happened to post the third-best run defence grade on the team last season. In essence, the Chiefs are the worst off running outside zone plays, meaning that they will have to run it up the middle where Alim, Brodric, 'Neato, Levi, and the linebackers should be hopefully keeping gap sound to stuff any runs.


All in all, the Chiefs run to set up the pass, usually succeeding on inside zone runs that bring defenders into the box to give their wide receivers one-on-one matchups on the outside for Mahomes to hit deep. Therefore, given this data and how our roster is currently constructed, I would be tempted to give their receivers a cushion and trust our defenders to be able to wrap up on any short throws, stifling the deep pass game by exploiting matchups on the lines, forcing Mahomes into getting the ball out quickly and ultimately making a mistake by playing hero ball. The PFF stats suggest that Mahomes is actually at his weakest doing this, so setting up to make him do what he's worst at should hopefully be a good game plan, even if it robs Kerby of crossing another HoF QB off his intercepted list.


Defence:

We know our offence starts up front with the offensive line and run game. Fortunately for us, their best defensive lineman is not likely to play because he is holding out (see the introduction). Last season, Chris Jones posted a team-high 78.0 run defence grade. Of the players projected to play, Nick Bolton posted the highest run defence grade with a 77.6. Last season, he made a team-high 30 run stops, making one on 8.1% of his run defence snaps, and missed 4.5% of his tackles with an average depth of tackle of 3.7 yards. With Jones holding out, that means all of the projected starters on the KC defensive line were below average in run defence. Former podcast favourite George Karlaftis posted a 43.5 run defence grade, registering 11 run stops (getting such a play on 4.8% of his run defence snaps), averaging a tackle depth of 4.4 yards, but missing 26.1% of his tackles. Beside him, NT and former Nole Derrick Nnadi had an even worse season, posting 5 run stops (2.9% of his run defence snaps resulted in a stop), an average depth of tackle of 4.4 yards, and missed 7.7% of his tackles for a lowly 38.8 run defence grade. The other DT Wharton only played in 5 games last season before tearing his ACL, but in those games he missed 1 of his 5 tackles, got 1 run stop (so only made a stop on 2.9% of his run defence snaps), and posted a 51.5 run defence grade. The bookend defensive end fared slightly better. Mike Danna was credited with a 53.4 run defence grade, making 8 run stops (5.5% of his run defence snaps resulted in a stop), with an average depth of tackle of 2.6 yards, and a missed tackle rate of 18.2%. All in all, this Chiefs defensive line seems susceptible to the run, especially on that left-hand side. This bodes well for us since the right-hand side of our offensive line is formed of Penei and Hal, both of whom are great run blockers. So hopefully Ben quite literally gets it right and runs most of our ground plays in that direction.


It isn't just the run defence that Jones' holdout affects. He was by far and away KC's best pass rusher last season, posting a 92.2 pass-rush grade, creating 77 pressures, 15 of which were sacks, winning on 18.0% of his pass-rush snaps. After him, it was Mike Danna who was the big threat, having a season where he got 35 pressures (5 sacks), a 10.2% win rate and a 67.5 pass-rush grade. Second-year edge Karlaftis posted a 58.7 pass-rush grade last season, winning 8.8% of his snaps for 7 sacks and a total of 48 pressures. While they might be the main pass rush threats for the Chiefs, I have more than enough faith in Decker and Penei to handle their business in the same way a parent stops their toddler from kicking their leg after refusing to buy them a toy- with a firm but gentle arm that holds them back. On the interior, Wharton is the main man on passing downs, creating 5 pressures (1 sack) last season, winning 4.1% of his pass rush snaps and posting a 58.3 grade. Nnadi, as an NT, isn't much of a pass rusher, as shown by his 50.1 pass-rush grade and 1.5% win rate. He only generated 5 pressures in total last season, none of which were sacks. Therefore, this Chiefs pass rush appears to be toothless without Jones, so Goff should have ample time to pick apart their zones.


Speaking of which, their secondary has some pieces to intrigue an offensive coordinator. The best remaining piece of their secondary last year is slot corner Trent McDuffie, who posted a 76.0 coverage grade last season. On 425 coverage snaps last season, he only allowed 57.8% of the targets his way to be completed for 9.3 yards per reception, 3.6 yards after the catch per reception, and 3 TDs. He forced an incompletion on 16% of his targets, breaking up 4 passes and dropping 1 interception. Their best outside corner is Sneed, who had a 74.0 coverage grade last season. On his 670 coverage snaps, he allowed a 68.9% completion rate, 9.0 yards per reception (4.9 yards after the catch per reception), 5 TDs, 8 forced incompletions (so on 8% of his snaps), breaking up 6 passes and getting 3 interceptions. However, on the other side, Watson is a weakness. Last season, he posted a 55.5 coverage grade. He allowed 65.7% of his targets to be completed for 10.3 yards per reception (3.4 yards after the catch per reception), 4 TDs, 5 forced incompletions (8% of his snaps resulted in a FI), 2 PBUs, 1 interception and 1 dropped interception. If I were Ben Johnson, I'd be thinking of ways to get my receivers matched up one-on-one with Watson while lying on my bed of dollar bills. As for their starters at safety, Reid is the standout. He earned a 73.8 coverage grade, allowing a 67.3% completion rate, 9.3 yards per reception, 4.3 yards after the catch per reception, 3 TDs, 7 forced incompletions (14% FI rate), 5 PBUs and no interceptions. Their other starter is Cook, who had a 60.9 coverage grade last year. He gave up completions on 75.0% of the throws in his direction for 13.7 yards per reception, 3.6 yards after the catch per reception, 3 TDs, 2 forced incompletions (so a rate of 13%), 2 PBUs and no interceptions. Their safeties could limit the big plays but if they're drawn into the box for run support, the deep ball could be a viable option for us.


Overall, the key to beating this Chiefs defence is to run the ball on them, draw the safeties into the box and then hit them deep off play action. Their defensive line is effectively emasculated by the absence of Chris Jones, meaning our line will for the most part ravage theirs, giving our backs acres of space to run into and giving Goff time to work through his reads. On the backend, they are strong covering the slot and one side of the field, but whoever lines up against Watson will be able to get open and make plays. The Sun God will still get his receptions even though he is lining up against their best corner, but this might not be a massive game for him compared to the ones he's had in his first two seasons in the league.


Special Teams:

Last season, Butker missed a quarter of his field goals, and missed 3 XPs, posting a 55.4 grade. His backup is safety Justin Reid, who missed 1 of his 2 XP tries, posting a 44.5 grade.


Punter Tommy Townsend posted an 86.9 grade with 45.6 net yards per punt and 24 punts landing inside the 20. 58.5% of his punts were not returned (16 fair catches, 4 touchbacks, 3 went out of bounds, 8 were downed), and he averaged 4.70 seconds of hang time.


Returner Richie James posted a 51.8 overall returning grade last year in New York, with a 60.0 grade on kick returns (as he didn't return any) and a 49.4 punt return grade on 24 attempts. He fair caught 14 of these attempts and averaged 7.3 yards per return overall.


Three Keys to Victory:

Get pressure- It is a statement of the obvious but rattling Mahomes is the best way to slow down their offence

Run the damn ball- Despite the yardage they allowed last year, this defence is very susceptible to the run. We signed Monty and drafted Gibbs for a reason. Give them the ball, not only to do play action but also because it's the best way to attack this team.

Get one-on-one matchups on Watson- He is the weak link in their secondary. Get Leaf, Reynolds or Green lined up opposite him with no help, and let them cook him like Gordon Ramsey cooks a steak.


Hot Take for the Game: The Lions rush for over twice the yardage the Chiefs get on the ground


Prediction: It pains me to predict a loss but I unfortunately see this game going the way of Thanksgiving last year, where the superior talent of the Chiefs allows them to pull ahead within the final minutes of what should hopefully be a very competitive game.


Kansas City Chiefs 31, Detroit Lions 27


How do you think the game will go? Who will start the NFL regular season off with a dub sandwich? Will we burn the Chiefs in the home of BBQ, or will the Lions be (wrongfully) unloved like baked beans? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?

 

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Comments (2)

Ash, thank you so much for doing these. You and the rest of the ROTL UK gang are fantastic!

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Jerimy Walker
Jerimy Walker
30 apr 2023

Greetings, I was glad to listen to your interesting interview. The season went really well. I liked the quality of your broadcast, which application did you use for this? Is it on this list? I just want to do live broadcasts

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