One (big) reason this KC Chiefs-Bills game could play out differently than the last one

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·4 min read
Rich Sugg/rsugg@kcstar.com
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Bills quarterback Josh Allen sat in a back room in Arrowhead Stadium after a Week 5 victory, when he spent a six-minute news conference trying to downplay the result’s significance.

An early question asked if he felt the Bills had cleared a hurdle by finally beating Kansas City. Another wondered if the win had sent a message to the rest of the AFC about the Bills’ looming supremacy.

Allen had shredded the Chiefs’ defense that day — 315 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 completions. He also ran for 59 yards and another touchdown.

But there’s one other number — tucked deeper into his stat line — that played a heavy factor that day. The Chiefs need to change it when they meet again Sunday in the AFC Divisional Round, and there’s one big reason they can change it.

Total sacks: zero.

He was hardly even pressured. The Chiefs pass rush managed to make contact on Allen only once in the 32 times he had the football.

The reason they can change it? The Chiefs defensive line is considerably better — and considerably different — than that Week 5 meeting. You can argue no unit on the roster has made a more obvious leap, and much credit has been provided to the midseason addition of Melvin Ingram and Chris Jones’ return to the inside.

Which makes this relevant: Ingram did not play in that first meeting with the Bills, which came a month before his arrival in the trade from Pittsburgh. Oh, and Jones didn’t either; he was held out with an ailing wrist. Frank Clark did play, but it marked his first action since a second hamstring injury.

It’s a different unit this time.

“We go as a group,” Jones said. “I’m able to feed off Frank Clark, and Frank is able to force double teams so they (can’t) double me the whole game. Or it’s Mel making plays and opening it up for everyone. So I think we feed off each other.

“I think as the D-line goes, it makes it a lot easier for individuals on our team. If the D-line is affecting the run, it’s easier for our linebackers. If we’re affecting the quarterback, then our (defensive backs) don’t have to hold on all day. So I think it’s a domino effect as a whole as a defense.”

A domino effect that starts with No. 95.

The evolution of Chris Jones

Jones showed up to training camp 15 pounds lighter (despite a last-minute stop at Popeye’s on arrival day). He had spent the offseason taking yoga and Pilates classes, all part of a plan to move from defensive tackle to defensive end.

But after months of preparation, the move just plain didn’t work. It felt forced. He was less productive rushing from the outside. More noticeably, the Chiefs’ defensive line as a whole was less productive.

And that prompted them to reverse course. Conventional thought has been that Ingram’s addition allowed Jones to move back to the interior, which certainly helped, but the Chiefs were already heading that direction. After two sacks in the opener, Jones had just one over the next seven games. As a team, the Chiefs managed only eight sacks in their first seven games, tied for last in the league.

Then the switch.

Back to what had proven successful.

“It was easy for (Jones) to move back inside,” Reid said. “He worked on the outside part. He’s still doing it — we still move him around and give him shots out there. It’s good to have that flexibility, and I think he’s handled it well.”

Jones has played 197 snaps outside the offensive tackle, but 179 of those came in the Chiefs’ first eight games. As he migrated back inside, the Chiefs production made a shift, too. They finished with 23 sacks in their last 10 games, more than double their initial output.

As a whole, the group is more reminiscent of its 2019 form. But it all starts with Jones. His presence on the interior prompts an array of double teams, freeing up one-on-one matchups elsewhere.

Yet even with all of the added attention, Jones has a pass-rush win rate of 21%, second highest in the league, according to ESPN Analytics. That wasn’t showing through when he rushed from the edge.

It is again now.

And the Chiefs are following suit. As a team, they win on 44% of their pass rushes, the seventh-best mark in the league, per those same ESPN Analytics.

It’s a far cry from Week 5 — when Josh Allen absorbed all of one hit for an entire game.

“Those four veteran guys are very, very close,” Reid said. “And the backup guys behind them are very close, and they just kind of feed off each other.

“All eight of them do their thing. It’s a good room right there.”