On Sunday the 6-2 Kansas City Chiefs will host the 3-6 Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Chiefs are coming off a tough and thrilling overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans. Kansas City now trails only the Buffalo Bills via tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
As for the Jaguars, they broke a five-game losing streak last week by defeating the Las Vegas Raiders. The Jags were a trendy offseason pick to make a big improvement from last season but are still trying to find their identity.
Let’s see how these two teams match up against each other and what it will take for the Chiefs to come out on top.
Chiefs' defense vs. Jaguars' offense
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Head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Press Taylor run the Jacksonville offense, with Pederson calling the plays. Naturally, Pederson runs a similar version of Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s west coast offense after having coached under him for seven seasons.
Much like the Chiefs, the Jags’ offense is about timing routes, sending guys in motion, screens, RPOs, zone-running, frequent substitutions and timely deep shots downfield. Pederson’s new system has already paid big dividends for the Jags’ offense as it is currently the eighth overall-ranked unit in the NFL after finishing 27th last season.
After a rookie season that was pretty much a wash, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is still developing in Pederson’s system and experiencing highs and lows. He is a big, athletic player who displays flashes of brilliance at times, but sometimes struggles with accuracy and decision-making.
Lawrence has seven turnovers in his last six games and has struggled against the blitz. The Chiefs are an aggressively blitzing defense, so it makes sense that they would continue that against Lawrence. K.C. has eight sacks in its last two games, with several of those coming when the team sends five or more defenders.
Pederson will try to take some pressure off of Lawrence by feeding the ball to running back Travis Etienne, who is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards with 680. Etienne is establishing himself as an every-down workhorse back. He has an excellent blend of power and speed but has had a bit of a fumbling problem with three fumbles on the season.
Lawrence will also lean on receiver Christian Kirk, who leads Jacksonville in receptions (35), receiving yards (498) and touchdown receptions (four). Kirk isn’t a traditional No. 1 receiver, but he is a crafty route runner with a versatile skill set who can line up out wide or in the slot. Chiefs’ defensive backs will need to know his whereabouts at all times.
Chiefs' offense vs. Jaguars' defense
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After being a longtime linebackers coach, Mike Caldwell was brought in by Pederson to be the Jags’ defensive coordinator and former Chiefs DC Bob Sutton as a senior defensive assistant. Caldwell’s base defense is a 3-4 with a blitz-heavy approach. Despite his aggressiveness, the Jags’ defense ranks just 25th in sacks with 16.
Jacksonville does have a lot of talent in its front seven, boasting the seventh-ranked run defense in the league. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun is tied for second in the NFL in solo and total tackles. No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker is still developing as a pass rusher, but he has done a good job setting the edge against the run.
Caldwell runs a various mix of zone coverages in the secondary. Tyson Campbell is Jacksonville’s highest-graded cornerback per Pro Football Focus and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. As a whole, the Jags’ secondary has surrendered the eighth-most passing yards in the league and is still a bit of a work in progress.
The Chiefs have faced similar defenses to the Jags’ such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Las Vegas Raiders, both units that K.C. had a lot of success against. It could be another pass-heavy approach for the Chiefs’ offense given its struggles in the running game and the strength of the Jacksonville defense being against the run.