Why The Kansas City Chiefs Struggle Against The Cincinnati Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals have knocked out the Kansas City Chiefs, the heavyweights of the AFC, three times in 2022.

How are the Chiefs 0-3 against the Bengals but 21-5 against everyone else since Opening Day of 2021?

“They just have a well-put-together team,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “They’ve got playmakers all over there. They’re well-coached. They have a good defense.”

That underrated defense features a strong defensive line led by Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard on the edge and DJ Reader and BJ Hill on the interior.

Hendrickson had three quarterback hits Sunday, and it’s why the Bengals signed him to a four-year, $60 million contract prior to last season and Reader to a four-year, $53 million deal the year before that.

Because of that defensive line, they can generate pressure with four and not have to blitz. And blitizing Mahomes is often a recipe for disaster.

Going into Week 11, Mahomes had been blitzed on just 19% of his dropbacks in his career, the only quarterbacks to face a sub-22% blitz rate since 2018, per Zebra Technologies

The Bengals have two of the better safeties in Vonn Bell and free-agent-to-be Jessie Bates III and a cornerback, Mike Hilton, whose 5-9, 184-pound size belies his physical playing style. (Hilton — like Hendrickson and Reader — was added to the defense in the last three offseasons and helped guide them to Super Bowl LVI.)

To reach that Super Bowl, those versatile defensive backs allow them to mix coverages Sunday and to take away the deep pass and use a “robber safety” who moved at the snap in an attempt to confuse Mahomes in last year’s AFC Championship Game upset.

“They dropped eight and played man coverage and had a thief player rolling around in there,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “And they executed well.”

On offense the Bengals have two obvious tools to take down the Chiefs: An excellent quarterback and an elite receiver.

Similar to Mahomes, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow excels against the blitz. And the Chiefs defense all season has absolutely relied on blitzing to try and hurry the quarterback, making it a bad matchup.

The result was a pretty flawless game by Burrow who threw only six incompletions, including a bad drop by Tyler Boyd, on 31 pass attempts in Sunday’s 27-24 victory while scoring three touchdowns.

“They’ve got a great quarterback that’s won a lot of football games,” Mahomes said. “He’s someone who competes to the very end.”

Burrow’s go-to target and former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase once again burned the Chiefs, as he has done in years past.

Though he committed a dumb taunting penalty, Chase led all receivers with 97 yards in the latest Bengals’ victory. And when the Bengals absolutely had to have a first down — 3rd and 5 with 2:55 left while nursing a three-point lead — he converted versus rookie Trent McDuffie.

Chase is a notorious Chiefs killer, having burned them for 11 catches, 266 yards and three touchdowns in last-year’s regular-season win.

While the Bengals’ No. 1 option was having his way with the Chiefs, the Chiefs’ No. 1 option, Travis Kelce, had his worst game of what has been a spectacular season.

He had no catches in the first half, and his fourth-quarter fumble led to the Bengals’ drive on the game-winning score.

“They try to take Travis away,” Mahomes said.

The Bengals also know that you have to be methodical on offense to keep Mahomes off the field. They ran the ball 34 times and converted seven-of-11 third downs, allowing them to win the time of possession and limit the Chiefs to just 54 plays on Sunday. (They also had six more minutes of time of possession in the AFC Championship Game.)

“You saw the offense,” Mahomes said. “Even though they have those playmakers, they’ll take their time and kind of utilize clock.”

That helped the Bengals win the game the Chiefs had circled on their calendar.

Chris Jones, who was excellent on a goal-line stand before the end of the first half, even called losing to the Bengals to end last season “the driving force” of his offseason.

“Obviously, anytime somebody beats you the year before, you want to beat them,” Mahomes said, “especially in game like they beat us in to go to the Super Bowl.”

Instead the Chiefs lost to the Bengals again by three — the same margin of each of their previous defeats.

Reid pointed to that three-point difference, brushing off any talk that the Bengals seemed to have the Chiefs’ number.

“I don’t feel that way,” Reid said. “This one came right down the end.”

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