Week 1 Opponent Breakdown: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Chiefs are relatively healthy to start this season. Despite 6 players being listed on the injury report, only defensive tackle Xavier Williams (illness) and safety Jordan Lucas (back spasms) didn’t practice in full every day this week.
The Jaguars have a case of bad luck this week. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson is doubtful with a knee injury, and his backup, Cedric Ogbuehi, is out with a hamstring injury. That forces backup right guard Will Richardson Jr. to fill in at left tackle. Richardson has only played on the interior offensive line in his career, so playing outside, as a tackle, will be an adventure. Also, switching from the right side to the left side will affect his footwork and hand placement. Richardson will draw the task of trying to stop a player with 22 total sacks in the past 2 years, Frank Clark. This is a case of Murphy’s Law at it’s finest for the Jags.
Jacksonville will also be without the use of rookie tight end Josh Oliver as he is nursing a hamstring injury. And starting defensive tackle Marcell Dareus has been limited all week with a hurt elbow, and is listed as questionable. If Dareus is unable to go, or forced to play limited snaps, expect defensive end Calais Campbell to rotate inside some to help in the defensive tackle rotation.
Jacksonville didn’t play their starters much in the pre-season, so their offensive game plan is still a bit of a mystery. Based on the limited amount of work from the starters in the pre-season, and offensive coordinator John DeFillipo’s track record in Minnesota, the Jags will employ a short passing attack full of screens, swing passes to the running back, crossing routes, and pick routes. Expect the Jaguars to also work in some run-pass options (RPOs), and some boot/waggle action with the flood route concepts. This passing game is all about stressing the defense vertically and horizontally, and putting certain defenders in compromising positions trying to decide whether to attack the run, sit back in coverage, and which receiver in his area to cover while in coverage. Dede Westbrook will be the go to receiver, running the majority of his routes out of the slot. He is mainly asked to run crossing routes, Digs, and Slants. The interior offensive line handles twists and stunts well, although they’ve had limited time together, and have to learn to adapt to a new left tackle that has no NFL experience playing as a tackle.
In the running game, Fournette is a dynamic, physical runner. He prefers to run through defenders instead of running by them or juking them. Jacksonville had a tendency in the pre-season to do zone runs to the offensive left, and toss and power runs to the right. The interior offensive line gets good movement inside, and is able to get to the second level and create good running lanes for Fournette. DJ Chark Jr. is a good blocker from the receiver position. Tight end James O’Shaughnessy is not a consistent blocker, more of a get in the way blocker. He isn’t able to drive anyone back, doesn’t hold blocks well, and gets blown back when trying to pull and be a lead blocker in the hole on power plays.
The Jags are running the same 4-3 defense as last year, with heavy doses of cover 3 and man coverage. Some of the names and faces have changed, but the scheme remains largely the same.
The starting defensive ends, Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue, are quick off the line, have good speed and power, and have multiple pass rush moves. Rookie backup defensive end Josh Allen is very quick off the line with good bend around the edge. He is still developing, doesn’t have good hand usage, struggles to defeat blocks when the offensive lineman is able to get their hands on him, and lacks the size to anchor and set the edge vs. stronger offensive linemen. The defensive tackles can clog up the middle of the line with their size and strength, but the nose tackle in particular struggles to chase runs that stretch towards the sideline. The defensive line will run twists from their speed rush package with Ngakoue and Allen, so keep a close eye on Ngakoue when he lines up as a defensive tackle instead of defensive end. When a linebacker slides up to the line outside the defensive end, the 2 defensive linemen closest to that linebacker will slant away from the linebacker after the snap. The Chiefs can use the quickness and aggressiveness of the defensive line against them by utilizing a hard count pre-snap, and running draws, traps, and stretch runs with cutback lanes.
Myles Jack is the leader of the linebackers. He is fast, quick processing, and can cover sideline to sideline. He gets good depth on his zone drops, and can hang with tight ends in man coverage. He can be taken advantage of when he is overly aggressive and overruns a play. The other two linebackers, Leon Jacobs and Quincy Williams, are both young players. Jacobs was a starter last year, but was taken off the field in nickel situations, and Williams is a rookie. Kansas City should use their pass catching running backs a variety of ways to expose these young players.
Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye are some of the best players at their position league wide. They fit the cover 3/man heavy scheme perfectly with their length, athleticism, and quick processing. With Ramsey being rumored to shadow Tyreek Hill, the game plan should be to move Tyreek all over the field and try to catch Ramsey out of position, or wear him out. Slot corner D.J. Hayden struggles to stay with crossing routes because he is slow to weave through the traffic in the middle of the field. The safeties, Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison, are also new starters for the Jags. Wilson normally plays the free safety role, although he lacks the elite range to be a top end free safety in cover 3. He can be stressed up the seams with the tight ends or slot receivers. Harrison mans up on the tight end frequently. He tends to stay flat-footed, catch the tight end, and then try to turn and catch up as the tight end runs by him. He will takes chances undercutting routes to get turnovers, but can be overpowered and beat over the top by Kelce.
Mahomes will have to be patient with this defense and take what they give him. This defense is built to limit the big play and force the opponent into mistakes. He can’t force throws and turn the ball over, or hold the ball too long and take sacks because this defense plays off their emotions. On obvious passing downs, the Jags will show blitz quite a bit, sometimes they will carry out the blitz, and other times they will drop out and play coverage. A hard count can help Mahomes and the offensive line determine who is coming, and if there will be any kind of twists or stunts.
The best way to attack this defense is to use crossing routes when they are in man, test the seams with Kelce or Hardman, split the running back out wide and let him go one on one with the linebacker, throw swing passes to the running backs, and by running a post/wheel route concept on one side to stress the corner and safety. The screen game can also be effective when the corners are in off man. With the bevy of weapons on offense for the Chiefs, Andy Reid just needs to find ways to get his athletes in space and watch them rack up the yards after catch.
Matchups To Watch
1. Tyreek Hill vs. Jalen Ramsey
This is the one of the most anticipated matchups of the season. Last year, Ramsey called Hill a ‘return specialist’, trying to diminish Tyreek’s value as a receiver. This year, Jacksonville has said that Ramsey will follow this ‘return specialist’ all over the field. If you want to see 2 of the best players at their positions battle 1 on 1, this duel is where you should focus your eyes.
2. Frank Clark vs. Will Richardson Jr.
If Clark is on his game, Richardson is completely outmatched. The Jags should use tight ends and running backs to chip on Clark to help out Richardson, but with all the extra attention on Frank, somebody else on the defensive line will have a favorable situation.
3. Sammy Watkins vs. A.J. Bouye
With Ramsey shadowing Tyreek Hill all game, Bouye will be forced to cover Watkins the majority of the game. Last year, Watkins caught 6 of 8 targets for 78 yards with coverage from both Ramsey and Bouye, so it’ll be interesting to see if Bouye can hold Sammy to lower numbers as the primary cover man on Watkins.
4. Mitchell Schwartz vs. Yannick Ngakoue
Ngakoue recorded the only sack for the Jags last year against Kansas City, although it came against Eric Fisher on a Mahomes’ scramble to buy time deep in the red zone. Yannick’s explosion off the line at the snap makes him very difficult to contain for offensive tackles. Schwartz will definitely have his hands full, but with the help of varied snap counts from his quarterback, he should be able to keep Ngakoue from sacking Mahomes.
5. Kendall Fuller vs. Dede Westbrook
Westbrook is the main target for Nick Foles. He will spend the majority of time in the slot, so he will be Kendall Fuller’s responsibility more often than not. Dede excels in running crossing routes, which Jacksonville will use frequently. He gets his separation by utilizing pick routes from his teammates to shed his defender. Fuller is more than capable of sticking with these types of routes and weaving through the trash in the middle of the field to stay with his man. This will be a good battle all game long.
6. Travis Kelce vs. Ronnie Harrison/Jarrod Wilson/Myles Jack/D.J. Hayden
In the pre-season, the Jags liked to slide a safety down to cover the tight end. Harrison was normally the safety that would buzz down, with Wilson playing the free safety role. Ronnie can get bullied at the top of routes, and likes to undercut routes and take chances to get a turnover. Wilson also spent some time in man on the tight end, and is a little slow to process route breaks while in press man. Myles Jack is best option to cover Kelce because he can match speed, athleticism and physicality with Kelce. Jack’s biggest issue is that he will be overly aggressive and possibly draw some penalties. Hayden, the slot corner, can cover the tight end from an athleticism stand point, but it is a huge size and strength advantage for Kelce.
7. Andy Reid vs. Former Chiefs Nick Foles and Chris Conley
This isn’t really a matchup as much as it is just a fun story line. Nick Foles owes Andy Reid with a ton of credit for scooping him up after failed stints in Philly and St. Louis and renewing his interest in football, eventually leading him back to Philly where he won a championship. Chris Conley moved on to the Jaguars, looking for an expanded role after spending the last 4 years in Kansas City with Reid. So who gets the bragging rights this year, Big Red, or his former players?
Keys To Victory
Sunday shows a high of 98 with 55% humidity. Hot and humid sounds like the perfect recipe for fatigue and cramps. Drink lots of fluids, stay in the game, and excel.
2. Score More Points Than Jacksonville
Obviously, the team with more points at the end of the game wins. With some uncertainty on the newly rebuilt Kansas City defense, the offense needs to shoulder the load in the early part of the season while the defense finds a groove. Mahomes and company need to limit turnovers, be patient, take what the defense gives them, and finish in the end zone.
3. Don’t Let Fournette Get Going
Fournette is a big, bruising running back. Once he gets a full head of steam, he is tough to tackle and will make you pay for it if you try. The Chiefs’ defense has to crowd the line of scrimmage, hold their ground to limit the clear runways, and secure tackles on Fournette. Don’t try to hit him up high because he will just bounce off. The defenders need to take his legs out from under him, and wrap up if they hope to limit his effectiveness.
4. Make Foles Uncomfortable
New Jags offensive coordinator John DeFillipo reunites with his former quarterback that won a Super Bowl a couple of years ago. With DeFillipo as his quarterbacks coach, Nick Foles enjoyed one of his better seasons after stepping in for the injured Carson Wentz. The Eagles tailored their offense to Foles’ strengths, running RPOs and a quick hitting passing game. You can be sure Jacksonville will incorporate some of the same philosophy for their new quarterback to make him comfortable. To combat this, Kansas City has to get in Foles’ face early and often. Bringing pressure up the middle and getting interior push results in Nick not stepping in to his throws and leaving the ball short. The Chiefs also need to disguise blitzes and coverages, and take full advantage of facing a third string left tackle protecting Foles’ blindside.