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Shawn’s Staturday: What the Chiefs have in their favor heading back to Miami

For the first time since KC’s Super Bowl LIV victory, the Chiefs will play in Hard Rock Stadium. What do the stats say this game will look like?

With the Patriots’ recent dominance over the AFC East looming in the air over Miami and Buffalo, it may be easy to look wistfully at the Dolphins. However, 2020 has shown that they are a team that should not be reckoned with and should honestly be feared.

Whether it has been Tua Tagovailoa or (Chiefs savior from last season) Ryan Fitzpatrick–sometimes referred to as “Fitzmagic”–their offense has been hit or miss, but when they hit they seem to hit big and look completely put together.

Granted, many of their “big” wins have been over teams like the Burrow-less Bengals, the lowly Jets (twice), and the menial Jaguars, but don’t let those take away from their victories over a competitive Cardinals team, a stacked Los Angeles Rams and a 49ers team that still had a healthy Kittle & Garoppolo.

Heading into Sunday the Chiefs have firm control over the division and have already clinched their spot in the playoffs after last week’s weird win over Denver. With a win over Miami or a Raiders loss against the Colts, the Chiefs will clinch the AFC West for the fifth straight season.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are not in control of the AFC East division, and with Goliath coming to Hard Rock stadium looking to make it back-to-back wins in Miami, they are desperate for a win to keep their relevance in the playoff hunt. Miami is 2-2 in their division (8-4 overall) and a half-game back of Buffalo (9-3 overall; 4-0 divisional) who has a tough out against an angry Pittsburgh (11-1) this weekend.

What does this mean? Will the Dolphins want this win more than the Chiefs will? A loss for Miami means clinching the division will be much tougher–especially if Buffalo upsets Pittsburgh–and the Dolphins will have to keep up with Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Cleveland for a coveted Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, a loss for the Chiefs essentially means K.C. is praying for a Steelers losing streak to end the season (which they already are doing) in order to obtain the singular bye week.

Overall the matchup history between Miami and Kansas City does not statistically bode well for the Chiefs. For starters, the Chiefs are 7-11 when traveling to Miami (not for a Super Bowl) going all the way back to 1966 and spanning across two separate AFC Wild Card games (’90 & ’94) in which Miami won both.

Overall, Miami leads the series between the two 16-14, with Miami winning three of the last five matchups, but this will be Mahomes’ first shot at playing them, so throw everything like that out the window.

Also, the Dolphins are 3-1 when facing a team that is 11-1 (or better with just 1 loss), in their history, with all three victories coming in Miami.

While the Chiefs offense has seen some struggles as of late, it does not mean that they are any less dominant than they have been the past two seasons, especially with Tyreek Hill and Clyde Edwards-Helaire both feeling healthy going into the weekend after facing separate illnesses. They can still seem to score whenever they want from anywhere on the field and, if they wait to watch the replays, can seemingly catch almost anything.

The Chiefs are going up against one of the tougher defenses, if not the toughest that they will face all season. Miami is top two in forced turnovers (21), points allowed (212), and passing TDs allowed (14), not to mention they average 2.6 sacks per game (10th best in the league) and are coming off a six-sack game against Cincinnati.

With former Chief, Emmanuel Ogbah leading the Dolphins defense with eight sacks so far this season it is safe to say that Mahomes and the fluctuating offensive line should be prepared for all sorts of pressure (all stats according to Lineups).

The scariest part about the Dolphins’ defense might not even be the strong defensive line, in fact, it is most likely their secondary that Reid and Mahomes should be weary about attacking. Miami went out and spent BIG money on their cornerbacks Byron Jones (5-yr/$82.5 mil) and Xavien Howard (5-yr/$76.5 mil)–making them the two highest-paid players on their team–who have been worth the money (when they are on the field), with Jones playing well when healthy and Howard leading the league in interceptions (8).

Where Miami’s defense has shown it needs help is within their rush defense, allowing 1,469 rushing yards (20th in the league) and 13 rushing TDs (18th), which means if the Chiefs wanted to pull out plays that worked in Buffalo or in Denver they might get more success from them, especially with a healthy CEH and a resurging Le’Veon Bell.

Miami’s offense is another story entirely, and while Mahomes has praised Tagovailoa as being “super talented” his stats are showing that he may not be the prolific arm everyone was praising during the offseason.

Granted, he has a 99.4 passer rating, a 63.2% completion percentage, and almost 900 passing yards in just six games, but as a starter (4-1) he’s only averaging 177.8 passing yards per game, which is lousy compared to someone like Mahomes (317.9/gm), or even someone more middle-of-the-road like Daniel Jones (212.3/gm) or Cam Newton (181.0/gm).

While this may sound acceptable to some Miami fans, especially since they’ve won six of their last seven games, Miami is T-25th in pass attempts and Tagovailoa flaunts a 5.1% TD percentage per pass while only carrying a 63.9 QBR.

Speaking of carries, most quarterbacks that typically don’t pass often in games tend to run more or be more agile on their feet (i.e. Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, etc.) which is what many thought Tua could become but instead, Tua has only rushed 18 times in his six games (3 attempts/gm) and–thanks to a 17-yard run against Arizona–he averages just over two yds/game.

Compare Tua’s running game so far with middle-ground QBs:

  • Giants’ QB Daniel Jones (7.3 rushing yds/gm on an average of 5 att/gm)
  • Jets’ QB Sam Darnold (7.5 rush yds/gm on 2.5 att/gm) (9 games)
  • 2nd-string Dolphins’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (5 rush yds/gm on 3.8 att/gm) (8 games)
  • Panthers’ QB Teddy Bridgewater (5.6 rush yds/gm on 3.4 att/gm) (11 games)

Then compare Tua’s running game to QBs that have similar passing statistics:

  • Ravens’ QB Lamar Jackson (5.8 rush yds/gm on 10.5 att/gm) (11 games)
  • Patriots’ QB Cam Newton (4 rush yds/gm on 9.4 att/gm)
  • Chargers’ QB (Rookie) Justin Herbert (4.5 rush yds/gm on 3.7 att/gm) (11 games)

The list could go on with 26 other QBs, almost all of which have better rushing yards per game, more rushing attempts per game, and most have more than one rushing TD (Tagovailoa currently has zero).

What do these stats say about Miami’s offensive game plan? They show that Miami does not seem to have an offensive identity that defines them, they are not pass-heavy like the Chiefs nor are they run-reliant like New England or Cleveland. This begs the question that Spagnuolo and Reid have probably been asking themselves and preparing for all week: what kind of QB is KC going to have to play against?

Miami will be facing a KC defense that is 9th in pass completions allowed and 5th in passing TDs allowed (Lineups), meaning the coaches may not want Tua to air it out on Sunday, maybe they choose to run the ball more against the obviously weaker rush defense of the Chiefs (ranked 26th in rush yds allowed) or perhaps they play to the strength of Tua…

If there is one place that Tua thrives, much like Mahomes does, it’s mixing the two aspects of the dual-threat QB and throwing on the run:

Obviously, Mahomes is different, he sees things in the defense that other QBs just do not, which means whatever game plan Bieniemy and Reid draw up Mahomes can make it work or switch to something better if he sees something in the defense, something Tua hasn’t seemed to grasp just yet in his young NFL career.

Now, what do the Chiefs have in their favor for the return to the beloved stadium KC called their Super Bowl throne back in February? Well, Mahomes has beaten every single other AFC team at least once in his young career so far, that’s a 35-7 record vs the AFC (16-2 vs AFC West, 6-0 vs AFC North, 9-3 vs AFC South & 4-2 vs the AFC East), meaning if Mahomes wins in Miami he will have completed his “Tour de AFC” in just 49 starts.

It also bears repeating that the Mahomes is 1-0 in Hard Rock Stadium, with that lone win being a pretty historical, huge victory in the hierarchy of victories–just ask San Francisco and Kyle Shanahan.

The Chiefs have Miami to thank for their Super Bowl LIV victory, not only did their win over NE in week 17 propel KC into a bye but they also let us hoist the trophy in their stadium.

If there is one thing Mahomes has been able to produce this season it’s extra time in the pocket, averaging (among active QBs) a 10th-best 2.83 seconds to throw the ball–compare that to Tua’s (6th-worst in the NFL) 2.54 sec average (according to NextGenStats).

Mahomes also still holds the best TD to INT ratio in the league (31 TDs, 2 INTs) which, if he continues to throw with such precision, is on pace to shatter the previous record set by Tom Brady in 2016.

When Mahomes escapes the pocket and buys extra time to throw the ball he typically tends to make crazy plays like these seem normal.

Another thing Mahomes has perfected is his ability to predict the blitz and get out of it with precision, currently, he has 12 TDs, 0 INTs, and a 138.8 QBR against the blitz this season which is good news for Chiefs fans when looking at a terrifying defensive front in Miami that is a heavy on blitzing due to the security they feel they have in the secondary.

The Chiefs defense will most likely be preparing to see snaps from both Tua and the veteran Fitzpatrick, largely in part to the way that Miami has handled their QB situations throughout the season: first benching Fitzpatrick when he was winning, then benching Tua against Denver in favor of Fitzpatrick before ultimately starting Fitzpatrick the following game (mostly due to Tua’s thumb injury in practice the week before). All-in-all Fitzpatrick has taken 62.5% of all Miami’s offensive snaps this season, while Tua has only taken 37.4% (according to Lineups) so it is likely the Chiefs could see both QBs instead of just one.

With the front seven of KC’s defense underperforming (to say the least), it will be up to the secondary, led by landlord Tyrann Mathieu who has “collected the rent” 5 times so far this season (leading the team, 3rd in NFL). Currently, Tyrann Mathieu is questionable to play Sunday with a hip injury, and although Coach Reid didn’t address it to the media Friday this could be the moment that Juan Thornhill or L’Jarius Sneed steps back into the spotlight to show NFL QBs why they should respect them and not throw to them.

No matter who is healthy on offense or defense, as long as Mahomes has the ball in his hand there will be something special that happens on the field that cannot be predicted even by looking at each and every statistic there is.

In case you missed the play, this was a completed pass.

In fact, earlier this week Miami head coach Brian Flores said he wished he “could have 14 defenders” when playing the Chiefs this weekend, so he knows how dangerous and different KC’s offense can look on any given week.

You and every other coach out there wishes that, Coach Flores…

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