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The Kansas City Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals are atop of the AFC. Both teams appear to be long-term Super Bowl contenders during each passing season. On the other hand, Kansas City and Cincinnati possess arguably the top two quarterbacks in the AFC. The physical tools and instincts of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow are simply otherworldly.
Despite the heavy reliance on the quarterbacks, each team presents a unique x factor entering Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. For both the Chiefs and the Bengals, that would involve their offensive rushing attacks. Neither team is necessarily consistent or tremendous in this area. But when it becomes an emphasis for either Kansas City or Cincinnati, there is an obvious spark that can exude from each offense.
Once again, the quarterbacks will control the headlines, as far as offensive production goes. Yet, the Chiefs and the Bengals can win games in multiple ways. For this specific meeting, the fourth one in the last two years, do not be surprised if the rushing attacks prove to be the difference.
It is amazing to see the variety that the Chiefs and the Bengals can play with when attacking defenses. But for both teams, they have proven that they can win with smashmouth football, if they want to. Starting with the Bengals, Cincinnati did just that in the Divisional Round playoff win at the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals had more energy than Buffalo’s front seven. A Cincinnati offensive line that is generally seen as a laughingstock, entered that contest with multiple injuries upfront. Nevertheless, the Bengals still dominated the battle in the trenches, especially with their offensive line.
We maybe have not seen the same smashmouth style of football from the Chiefs. Or, we have at least not seen it quite as often. Kansas City has possibly enjoyed their most successful rushing season since moving on from Kareem Hunt, however. The Chiefs displayed a greater willingness to lean on the ground game successively during certain drives. It was a breath of fresh air in particular moments, as Kansas City was finally able to wear down and punish opposing defenses late in games. Of course, that balance was always missing in the second half of games in recent years.
Thunder And Lightning
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The Chiefs and the Bengals are similar in their running back rooms, in that they each have a mix of thunder and lightning. You can rely on either speed or power from the duo of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. You can rely on those same aspects from the duo of Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon, to boot. As a result, it leaves defenses back on their heels, not knowing exactly how to defend them.
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McKinnon and Mixon both have excellent vision and patience. Whereas with Pacheco and Perine, they can make defenders miss and look silly in a multitude of ways. Overall, the spatial awareness of all four running backs stands out tremendously. You have seen Perine and Pacheco grow in certain areas after receiving increased reps. Meanwhile, McKinnon and Mixon just seem to get better and better for their respective offenses, just when you think they have hit their ceilings.
What is unique about both rushing attacks, is that they can create headaches in different ways. The Bengals proved they can create chunk gain after chunk gain on the ground in Buffalo. At the same time, they churned out some challenging, gritty yards in short yardage situations. The Chiefs have not been as effective in short yardage situations this year. Though, Pacheco and McKinnon have been improving there late in the season. Each runner can also bounce free for a long distance run out of nowhere, similar to what Pacheco did last week in the Divisional Round against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
These rushing attacks should not be discounted. However, the offensive lines of the Chiefs and the Bengals need to be recognized more heavily for their stellar play. Part of winning a Super Bowl, is getting hot at the right time. For both Kansas City and Cincinnati, that is exactly what their blocking units are doing in the midst of this postseason.
Back to the aforementioned performance of the Bengals offensive line in Buffalo, it was an absolute mauling by Cincinnati. Sure, the snow could have aided them in their process. It was more than just some flakes falling from the sky that weakened Buffalo, obviously. The Bengals manhandled the Bills during the get off at the snap. From there, Cincinnati displaced defenders and drove them back almost routinely.
Kansas City may have a slightly better blocking unit, on paper. Even still, we know that a supposed advantage on paper does not always lead to wins in the NFL. The Chiefs are constructed with dense and powerful interior offensive linemen. The trio of Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Joe Thuney are incredibly smart in pressured moments. Generally, their strength and power speak for itself when run blocking.
Force Them To Stop It
We briefly discussed how lethal the quarterbacks and aerial attacks can be. Mainly, the Chiefs and the Bengals are smart teams. They know that in the cold late in the season, the running game can be like catching lightning in a bottle. If you find your groove in that area, defenses are not going to want to stop it. They may not even have the answer or the horses to challenge it. Because of that, these two rushing attacks provide an interesting set of x factors for the AFC Championship Game.
The Chiefs may have to rely on it a bit more for a couple of reasons. Mahomes’ health could mitigate things, to a degree. On the flip side, Cincinnati’s ability to play tight coverage with seven or eight defenders dropping back could force Kansas City to ground and pound. Finally, the Bengals may rely on the running game to shorten Kansas City’s possessions. Regardless of Mahomes’ health, Cincinnati will likely want to control the game with the ball in their hands as much as possible.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles and analysis throughout this week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.