The Kansas City Chiefs' Week 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals is the rematch that everyone has been waiting for. It's the first time these two teams have met since the Chiefs' disappointing AFC title game loss last season.
That loss has been on the mind of players like Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones and Nick Bolton for a long time. They seem to have a lot to prove to themselves as they seek to ensure that they keep the No. 1 seed in the AFC conference.
Here are four of the things we'll be looking at throughout the course of the game:
Chiefs rebuilt secondary vs. Bengals receivers
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The Chiefs basically have a brand-new secondary compared to the group they rolled out against the Bengals a season ago. The lone holdovers are Juan Thornhill and L'Jarius Sneed - and Sneed is playing at an all-pro level this season after having a bit of a sophomore slump last year. Newcomers such as Trent McDuffie, Joshua Williams, Jaylen Watson, Justin Reid and Bryan Cook will have their biggest test yet against the Bengals.
In Week 17 last season, Bengals WR Ja'Marr Chase went off for over 250 yards and three scores against the Kansas City secondary. While the Chiefs contained him better in the playoffs, they were able to spread the ball around with Tee Higgins going over 100 yards in that game. The biggest thing this week will be limiting the explosive plays downfield, which is what K.C. struggled most with in that first matchup.
Chiefs receivers vs. Bengals 8-man drop
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The Bengals' formula against the Chiefs offense a season ago was fairly simple. They'd play a high percentage of man coverage, drop eight players and rush just three. As our friend Doug Farrar at Touchdown Wire pointed out, Patrick Mahomes has made improvements against this type of defensive look this season. He's not infallible against it, but he's been able to combat it better this season than he did last year.
In my humble opinion, a lot of Mahomes' success there has to do with the new group of receivers and his comfort in spreading the ball around. Just last week, Mahomes completed passes to 10 different receivers in the passing game. I suspect if the Bengals employ this tactic again, Mahomes will feel much more comfortable working through his reads in the passing game. He could even have a favorable matchup when JuJu Smith-Schuster is matched up with Eli Apple.
There is also something else that could help Mahomes combat this defensive tactic. . .
Isiah Pacheco and a constant run game
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As much as the Chiefs want to drop back and pass with Patrick Mahomes on every possible snap, they should make an effort to run the ball in this one. If Mahomes gets the sense that the defense is going to play coverage pre-snap, checking to a run play will be crucial. Running the ball effectively and picking up some big plays on the ground will make the Bengals think twice about dropping eight.
If you look at their most recent loss to the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati gave up 172 rushing yards in that game. In three of their four losses this season, the Bengals gave up more than 100 rushing yards. Darrel Williams (88 yards, Week 17) and Jerick McKinnon (65 yards, AFC title game) were the two leading rushers for Kansas City in their losses to Cincy last season.
Four-man rush and hands up against Joe Burrow
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The key to beating the Bengals' offense in Week 13 is going to be finding ways to get pressure when rushing just four. If Kansas City must commit extra players on the blitz often, they're going to be leaving a talented Cincinnati receiver group in lots of single coverage. Those 1-on-1 matchups are going to happen on some occasions, but it happening a lot is not a winning formula for this team.
The Chiefs have done a good job rushing the passer in general lately, be it with the blitz or a four-man pass rush. One thing they'll have to keep in mind if they don't make it to their quarterback on the rush is getting their hands up. Joe Burrow has 19 passes batted at the line of scrimmage this season, good for the most in the NFL. The Chiefs happen to have the NFL's leading edge rusher in passes batted in rookie DE George Karlaftis.
Story originally appeared on Chiefs Wire