By David McDonnell
I’m trying out a new column format this week to muse about last weekend’s AFC and NFC Championship games.
- Bengals v Chiefs
The Bengals O-line got a lot of credit in the divisional round against the Bills for their ability to run the ball and I expected Cincinnati to take a similar approach last Sunday. But credit must go to the Kansas City rush defence. Even now I can’t remember Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine getting much traction with their ground game and that is simply because they didn’t.
With their run game stifled, we also found out on Sunday that down three starting linemen, the Bengals O-line couldn’t protect Burrow in the pocket against the Chiefs pass rush. I suggest that this was the reason why the three players who came in hadn’t been starting all season and this was evident from the first quarter. The Chiefs had five sacks on Burrow, which hugely influenced the game both at the start and at the end of this contest.
With less time under centre, Burrow adjusted by getting the ball out quicker and the lack of the rushing game limited the threat of play action for Burrow to hit deep balls down the field.
2. Chris Jones
Chris Jones beat the banged up Bengal offensive line almost on his own last night.
Credit must go to Steve Spagnuolo for putting his best linemen directly against the backups and Jones was difficult to pick up by coming at Joe Burrow from the right and left Defensive End positions on that last drive when they needed him to make a play.
In hindsight, Cincinnati will be kicking themselves that Jones wasn’t double teamed on those passing plays, especially in that fourth quarter, and he was the difference that made the difference helping the Chiefs to the conference title.
There will be a huge amount of pressure on Chris Jones to replicate this performance in the Super Bowl and he will need to if Kansas City wants to give themselves a chance to stop this Philly attack. If the Eagles can double team him on passing downs, I don’t see anyone else on the Chiefs D-Line routinely beating a blocker and getting to Hurts on a regular basis.
3. Kansas O-Line
The Chiefs offensive line was outstanding on the night and provided Patrick Mahomes with a clean pocket throughout the game.
The only time the Bengals got a turnover was when Mahomes fumbled the ball in the third quarter, which I believe he would have recovered if his leg sprain wasn’t an issue.
Mahomes was down a number of receiving options but when he couldn’t go to Kelce, he had the time to pick out Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who stepped up in a major way when the team really needed him.
The Bengals defence is full of top competitors and for the most part they didn’t give up many big plays to the Chiefs rushing attack although Isaiah Pacheco ran angry every time he got the ball. However, the Bengals D-Line didn’t come close to getting a sack on a limping Mahomes throughout the contest. In my opinion, this more than anything else cost them the game and adding pass-rushing talent is an area where Cincinnati should upgrade in the off-season, possibly in free agency while Burrow is still on his rookie contract.
49ers v Eagles
4. Eagles O-Line
Pregame I was very excited by the prospect of Philly O-Line and the San Fran D-Line going toe-to-toe. The Philly front five have bullied almost all comers this season but I thought that this 49ers defence would really test this dominant Eagles run game.
In the first half, the 49ers conceded three rushing touchdowns. The Eagles O-Line especially in the red zone were supremely dominant and Miles Sanders ran in almost untouched for the first two scores. It showed every what a behemoth this offensive line has become.
However, upon closer inspection the 49ers defence made a better fist of it as they held all three of the Eagles running backs under four yards per carry throughout the game. Two of the Philly touchdowns came from preventable field positions.
The first was Devonta Smith’s unbelievable one-handed catch that brought play inside the 10-yard line in the first quarter. If Kyle Shanahan had thrown the red flag then that catch would have been negated as he lost control bringing it to the ground. The third touchdown was when Josh Johnson fumbled the snap, which again put the Eagles in the Redzone for a touchdown before half time.
5. Hurts Hurt
Although Jalen Hurts directed traffic, it looked to me like that shoulder injury is bothering him a lot more than he is letting on. I think you can tell from his demeanor and body language and the fact that he attempted to throw the ball less than he has all season.His only throw of note was that deep ball ‘caught’ spectacularly by Smith and I suspect he was running into traffic late in the game because it hurt him to throw the ball.
With the Chiefs having two rookies playing at corner against the Bengals and the Eagles should have a matchup advantage with the caliber of Smith and AJ Brown at wideout.
However, Hurts shoulder, just like Patrick Mahomes leg, seemed to bother him more later in game. I hope the two weeks are enough for both QBs to rest and rehab their injuries, so we will see the best of them in the Superbowl.
6. QB’s Injury
There is no way of knowing what difference Brock Purdy would have made had he stayed injury free, but the game would certainly have been more of a contest.
If you look at the injury to both Purdy and Josh Johnson, they came off similar plays where the impressive Hassan Reddick blocked down on the throwing arm of the QB.
This kind of play is being coached more in my opinion as a result of flags being thrown when a defensive player gets a proper hit on the quarterback, and I suspect we will see more of these types of injuries going forward.
This week I’ll go for a two-point conversion:
7. Playing Politics
Being on the Non-American side of the Atlantic, I wasn’t aware that the Mayor of Cincinnati had said anything derogatory about the Chiefs until he was name dropped by Travis Kelce at the trophy presentation for the AFC Championship, where he told the politician to “know your role and shut your mouth.”
This coming from Travis Kelce whose roles include playing tight end and podcasting every week.
So curiosity got the better of me and I looked it up.
Mayor Aftab Pureval said: “Joseph Lee Burrow, who’s 3-0 against Mahomes, has been asked by officials to take a paternity test confirming whether or not he’s his father.”
Okay as jokes go, it was poorly timed and maybe Kelce had a point.
One thing for certain is that the Chiefs players used every bit of fuel they were fed all week, including Mike Hilton telling the Chiefs fans they would see them in ‘Burrowhead.’
I have never seen a group of players taking a joke about the name of a stadium so personally but it goes to show that even at the highest level of sport, players will use every bit of fuel in order to get the best out of themselves. This is true even for the biggest games that you would assume requires no bulletin board motivation.
It was also interesting that as the week went on, that there was a turning of the tide of public opinion in the bookies. The Chiefs, having started the week as underdogs became favourites. and I believe it was because people could sense that showing a lack of respect to your opponent would come back to bite you on the ass. As it did.
8. The Kelce Family
Speaking of Travis Kelce, it is an amazing achievement that both he and his older brother Jason are playing each other in the Super Bowl. What a proud moment for the Kelce family.
The fact that they are both two of the standout players for their respective teams and both coming off their best seasons of their careers makes the story and achievement all the more noteworthy.
I don’t believe it has ever happened before and I doubt we will see this again for a very long time.
As I mentioned earlier, they have a weekly podcast, @newheightshow, which we often retweet on our twitter feed, @Smingfootball, and it should be worth checking out this week of all weeks as the brothers focus on the Super Bowl and entertain with tales of football and their sibling rivalry.