The Chiefs let Hill go after the 2021 season and sent him to the Dolphins. But they were not able to find a proper replacement for Hill. They bought Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, Justin Watson, and JuJu Smith-Schuster in the summer of 2023 because they wanted to get more players than good ones.
After that, they moved the wide receiver for Rashee Rice and a second-round pick. In his first season, Rice has shown some potential, but none of those other players have even come close to Hill’s level of productivity.
The fact that the Chiefs are about to win their second Super Bowl in two years after trading for Hill shows that they have been able to do well without him. There are several ways they’ve done this, and one of them is by attacking in bigger groups.
They played 27.6% of their snaps with 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends), 13 personnel (one running back and three tight ends), and 22 personnel (two running backs and two tight ends) during Hill’s last season with the team, which was 2021.
That number had gone up to 40.5% by 2022 because Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, and Kansas City had all found a way to use Watson as the primary wide receiver in thirteen different crew packages.
The Chiefs went backwards in 2023 for a number of reasons, one of which was that Kelce hurt himself numerous times and sat for longer amounts of time than ever before. They were able to find a middle ground between the two over the last two seasons and used one of those heavy personnel groups on 35.7% of their offensive snaps.
A big part of this was because they were successful. In 2022, they had a success rate of more than 47% when they used any of those three groups, which was much higher than the average for the league. By 2023, their success rate in those same groups had dropped from 42.5% the year before to 41.5%.
Still, the Chiefs have done very well with a number that is both lucky and random since the start of the playoffs. Without a doubt, the thirteen-person group has been busy. It used to be that they only used 13 people about 7% of the time during the normal season, but now they use them 19% of the time during the playoffs.
Compared to before, this is almost three times as much activity. They were only successful on 39% of their 13-person plays during the regular season. But in the last three games, they have been successful on 43% of those plays. During the playoffs, they have used two or more tight ends on more than 45.5 percent of their possessions, which adds up to twelve players.
It shouldn’t be a wonder that playing with 12 and 13 players has a lot of benefits. People are heavier on the field when teams want to run the football because there are more big people there.
An acquaintance of mine, Nate Tice, has noticed that the Chiefs have moved away from the more complex run-pass options they used when Hill was on the team and toward simpler gap run strategies over the last few years.
They ran at least 14 different kinds of speed during their game against the Ravens. This is one of the oldest run ideas ever written down. On a number of plays, there were two or more tight ends on the field.
The action-packed play-game could also do well in those bigger settings. 13 people can create gaps when Kansas City has Kelce as a reasonable target. The reason for this is that teams that aren’t ready for longer passes might not have their best pass protectors on the field.
With 13 people on the field, Mahomes has completed 15 out of 19 passes for 197 yards and two scores in the last two postseasons. Between these two dates, no other quarterback has made more than four passes to 13-person units.
This formation helps the defenders know who they are going to play against when Kansas City uses it, which is another important factor for the team. When three tight ends show up, it’s so bad and unusual that defenders usually only use one set of players to counter. Four defensive backs made up the Dolphins’ base defense on 14 of the 15 snaps they played in the wild-card round.
The only times they used their base defense were when they were inside the 5-yard line or on fourth down. Due to not having enough linebackers, the Bills used their nickel defense ten times out of ten. This defense has five defensive backs. That was not what the Baltimore Ravens did. They played their base defense on all eight of the thirteen personnel snaps they had to take in the conference title game.
It won’t be hard to tell what will happen with the 49ers. The league as a whole used nickel defenses with thirteen players about twenty-five percent of the time, but Steve Wilks’ team did not use nickel defenses in this way.
During the regular season, it played its base defense on all 23 plays that happened either outside the 5-yard line or on fourth down. Thirteen people were involved in each of those snaps. As a matter of fact, San Francisco was the only team that played its normal defense against all thirteen teams.
When the league saw two-TE sets, the 49ers played their base defense about 43% of the time. When they saw twelve players, they played their base defense more than 83% of the time during the regular season.
During the season, the 49ers were also one of the most reliable teams in the league when they played against twelve-person units. Again, no team used their base defense more often than any other team when these sets were coming at them. In games with 12 players, the Niners had an eighth-place EPA per play allowed. In games with 13 players, however, they fell to 27th place.
If the offense knows ahead of time how the defense will respond when it sends out a grouping, the offense has already learned something very important before the game even starts. The offense can come up with a plan to hit certain defensive players or target certain defensive players in order to get around the weakness of a certain defense.
But the 49ers don’t have stars at every spot on their defense, even though they have great players at all three levels. When the Chiefs use these 12 and 13 personnel groups, they will probably try to attack two players.
Oren Burks, a third-linebacker, is a guy that San Francisco doesn’t want in coverage because he is better at stopping the run. The other choice should be the person who starts at safety next to Tashaun Gipson.
In November, Talanoa Hufanga hurt his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The 49ers got youngster Ji’Ayir Brown to replace him at first. Brown did hurt his knee in December, though, so the 49ers put in veteran Logan Ryan instead.
Brown was healthy enough to play in the divisional round game against the Packers, but the 49ers chose to stick with Ryan. They said they didn’t want Brown’s first game back after four weeks off to be in the playoffs.
Brown didn’t take part in any of the snaps. However, the 49ers changed their minds and put Brown back in the field for all 72 defensive snaps against the Lions, even though Ryan dropped a touchdown pass and missed a few tackles on important run plays.
Thus, it is not certain that they will keep using him on Sunday, since he had some issues against the run and did not do well on a catch that led to a touchdown.
Kelce is the guy who makes the big formations work, even though Gray and Blake Bell deserve all the respect in the world. It’s clear that Kelce has been good because he made it all the way back to the playoffs. There were worries that he might lose steam near the end of the regular season.
In the first half of the regular season, the future Hall of Famer went for an average of 2.6 yards per route run. But starting in Week 10 and going through the playoffs, that number dropped to a more modest 1.6 yards per route run.
This has been going on since the start of the playoffs. He is back in the game and is currently averaging 3.0 yards per route run. This is an amazing number and even better than what we saw from him in 2022, when he set a single-season record.
Kelce is not the same player we saw when these two teams played for the title the last time. He’s not the same player at all. At that point, he was more of a physical force. The Chiefs were successful when they lined up three targets alongside one another on one side of the field and Kelce by himself on the other.
This let them dare the defenses to pick their poison. If the defense goes for the three-wideout formation, he can go one-on-one with a defensive back and beat him with slants. The Chiefs would use bunches and picks to wear out their defensive backs if they tried to help him. If they were successful, Hill would be up against a cornerback one-on-one, where their speeds would not match up.
Even though Kelce is still scary to look at, his behavior has changed over the years. There is an almost magical link between Mahomes and Kelce that lets them know what the other is thinking. The Chiefs give Kelce the freedom to go off the called route and hit any open space he finds. This shows how good Kelce is at finding gaps and picking apart zone coverages.
For some reason, though, Mahomes and Kelce almost always agree. This makes that game dangerous if the quarterback doesn’t know where his players will go. For someone in their mid-30s, Kelce is still definitely discoverable at times.
You could just as easily call the Chiefs’ move the Kelce move because Kelce uses it so often. It will depend on how Kansas City plans to use pressure on him whether he lines up next to a wide receiver and then slowly moves either inside or outside of that receiver on the field. A release without any conditions almost always happens to him.
When it comes to defense, only Fred Warner can match Kelce’s skill in hitting zones in the middle of the field. Warner does this by watching that area. Kelce is very smart about this. For Warner’s league, the linebacker spot is now open, even though Dre Greenlaw has been playing at his best.
Warner’s stop on a CeeDee Lamb seam route was one of the plays of the 2022 playoffs years ago. However, his unique physical traits are not the only thing that makes him stand out.
He has a special sense of where to move as the play goes on, and he can also do pinch dig routes, which is something that teams love to do to target safeties who are covering him, which is bad for the 49ers. In this fight, one Hall of Famer will be going up against another Hall of Famer.
In this game, the Chiefs can pick where Kelce lines up and stays after the snap, which helps them. They have a big edge because of this. The Lions’ offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson, was able to move a lot of players through the middle of the field and run Warner out of plays. This let the Lions throw to Sam LaPorta and work the middle of the field well last week.
And Jared Goff completed 19 out of 26 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown. LaPorta, on the other hand, had nine catches for 97 yards, which was the most on the team. I think Josh Reynolds was to blame for two of the seven missed chances.
It doesn’t matter, though; the 49ers have been great all season at protecting the middle of the field. Along with their fourth-best QBR on passes between the numbers, they had an amazing 17 interceptions on throws in that area, which helped them get that score.
The best grade in the league was this one. This was a very important interception by Greenlaw, who got a player to tip the ball into his hands. This turned the tide of the game against the Packers. Several times this season, the Chiefs have lost because of overthrows and tips. Their most recent loss, to the Lions in Week 1, was the most memorable.
The Kansas City wide receivers have dropped the most passes of any group of wide receivers in any season over the last ten years, even though they have only dropped one pass in the playoffs. They can’t afford to be careless again, though.
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