The Miami Dolphins have earned (rightfully or not) the reputation as a talented football team that shrinks against serious competition. They’ll have the opportunity to shake up that narrative when they take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs in Germany this Sunday morning. The Chiefs are coming off their worst game of the season, losing to a once hapless Denver Broncos team. Let’s see what lessons they can learn from that game and where Miami should press their advantage against the Chiefs.
A surprisingly effective Chiefs defense
The biggest surprise of this season has to be this Kansas City Chiefs defense. The Chiefs have been winning a lot of games this season and much of the attention has been placed on their quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes deserves a ton of credit for keeping the offense afloat, but it’s been their defense that has fueled their 6-2 start. Where are their strengths on that side of the ball?
Here is what the Dolphins want to avoid. This defensive line is good enough, but if you hold the ball too long in the pocket they can really wreck your offense. Ball should be out quickly this week. pic.twitter.com/WRQbWi5Jph— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 2, 2023
It all starts up front with this Kansas City Chiefs defense. Chris Jones is as dominant a defensive lineman as you will see and they have one of the deepest and most athletic linebacking corps in the NFL. Even without their stud linebacker Nick Bolton, who was in the midst of a serious breakout, they are tough up front. They’re built more to run side to side and rush the passer, so it’s critical to avoid 3rd & long situations where Spags can send pressure (and he loves to do that).
What’s wrong with this Chief’s offense?
While the Chief’s defense has been a pleasant surprise for their fans, the offense has been equally concerning at times. They’ve had two games where they scored over 30 points (Bears and Chargers), but they’ve also been held to 20 or fewer points in half (4 of 8) of their contests this season. Travis Kelce has been their leading receiver in the last six games as they’ve struggled to find other pass catchers who can step up. Let’s see how the Broncos slowed down their offense last week.
The Broncos did an awesome job of always accounting for Travis Kelce. It seems like every Chiefs game you watch he gets free in the secondary at some point, but the Broncos always had at least one person following him around, especially on big 3rd and 4th down plays. pic.twitter.com/xyV0hII8aA— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 2, 2023
The issue they’re running into is one that we saw plague a lot of those Patriots Super Bowl teams during the regular season: who gets targets outside of their #1 pass catcher? Travis Kelce is still probably the best tight end in the NFL, but he doesn’t appear to be as explosive as he once was (could be injury-related)... the point is, you can slow him down if you want. The Broncos were aggressive with Kelce and only once or twice in the game did he find open grass.
Once you take away Kelce (or at least slow him down), where else can the Chiefs hurt you? Well, their running game has been inconsistent all year and their secondary weapons (Toney, Moore, MVS, Grey) haven’t taken off like they hoped. The player who has shown the most promise in that role is rookie Rashee Rice out of SMU, but you’re asking a lot from a rookie to take on so many targets. You have to imagine they’ll get this all worked out at some point, but it’s hurt their offense so far this season.
What should the game plan be?
Well, this is a two-fold question. How can their defense slow down Patrick Mahomes and how can they score points on offense? With Miami’s secondary finally healthy for the first time this season, they could be suffocating on the back end. We’ve also seen the front seven round into shape over the last two weeks. I don’t know that the Chiefs have any advantage offensively in this matchup (their offensive line is fantastic), but they still have the great equalizer in Patrick Mahomes.
I know that he hasn’t played all that well this season when you really break down his tape... but let’s not lose our minds. This is likely the best QB of his generation and will be in the discussion for the greatest of all time when it’s said and done. He can turn it on and take over games when he needs to. So, how can the Dolphins keep this from happening?
Another thing that really stood out to me was how disciplined their rush was. Mahomes broke contain a few times (because of course he did), but for most of the game they did a great job of keeping him in the pocket while it collapsed. pic.twitter.com/R1Uhuog5wE— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 2, 2023
The number one thing is to take away Kelce as often as possible and keep him in the pocket. He’s shown a lot of improvement in his ability to operate within an offense since coming to the NFL, but it’s still his ability to improvise outside the pocket that makes him most dangerous. If you remain disciplined in coverage, stop the run, and collapse the pocket around him, you can force him into making bad decisions.
That leads us to what our offense can do to attack this good Chiefs defense. First of all, it looks like they’ll have Connor Williams and Terron Armstead for this game, which makes a huge difference. Losing Rob Hunt is equally as problematic though, so it’s worth monitoring their guard play for this contest. The best way to slow down and wear out this front seven is to have a consistent running game, so look for them to get that established early.
Success passing the football can be a little more difficult to come by against the Chiefs, but they should have windows to make that happen. Like a lot of NFL defense, the Chiefs primarily run a cover 2/4-match defense which combines some zone and man concepts depending on route and formation concepts. It’s a really versatile coverage and when you have players in the secondary who understand the myriad of rules and checks, it can be lethal.
That leads me to why I think they’ve been so good this season: the level of familiarity with their secondary players. Bryan Cook, Justin Reid, Trent McDuffie, L’Jarius Sneed, and Jaylon Watson have all been in this defense for at least two years. They’ve been drafted, groomed, and developed within this defensive scheme and it’s second nature to them. While they do have some talented players, I think they are better as a unit than their individual parts.
The Broncos offense didn't do too much in this game, but they did take advantage of good 1 on 1 matchups when they presented themselves. They only managed 240 offensive yards, so these chunk plays were huge. pic.twitter.com/x10G2y1jcR— George Forder (@GeorgeForder3) November 2, 2023
That means that you can put yourself in some advantageous positions if you get a favorable 1 on 1 situation. Both Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy had plays last week where they bested the corner locked onto them and I think Miami could have similar opportunities with their top-tier receiving corps. Just like the Eagles and Bills, this Chiefs defense is already talking about getting physical with Miami’s receivers, so expect a dogfight all afternoon (morning?).
The way both of these teams are built should lead to a highly competitive game. They both have a lot to gain or lose from this contest. If the Chiefs lose, it will be their second straight loss and knock them out of the #1 seed in the AFC. If the Dolphins lose the calls for them being pretenders will get louder and they could even lose control in their own division. It’s not an elimination game, but it’s about as important as a week nine game can be in the NFL.
This game will really come down to just how good Miami’s defense can be at full health. We’ve seen Jalen Ramsey on the field, and he made an instant difference. We haven’t seen Ramsey, Howard, Kohou, Holland, and Elliot on the same field yet, and it could be a spectacular thing for this Dolphins team. The Chiefs will eventually get things straightened out offensively in time for the playoffs, but it won’t be in Germany against this defense. The Dolphins will pull out a hard-fought victory against these Chiefs and silence some doubters. Miami wins 31-27 and positions itself as the #1 seed in the AFC going into their bye week.