The Bills’ 38-20 beatdown of the Chiefs on Sunday night in Week 5 was a shocking result to many who follow the NFL. The Blils? They are, by far, the least bit surprised.
Buffalo has been building toward beating Kansas City since it lost by a similar score, 38-24, in last season’s AFC championship game. The Bills just needed the chance to execute their rematch game plan with improved personnel and for Josh Allen to deliver better quarterback play than Patrick Mahomes.
The Bills couldn’t have dreamed up a better way to prove they were the better team for this season. At 4-1, they are two games and a head-to-head tiebreaker up on the 2-3 Chiefs for the top AFC playoff seed, which comes with the lone bye and home-field advantage.
BILLS-CHIEFS: Live scoring updates, highlights
Should the teams meet again in the postseason, there’s a good chance the next rematch will be at Buffalo. Heck, it may already be between the Bills and another team for No. 1, with the red-hot Chargers leading the AFC West at 4-1 and the Ravens on the brink of matching that mark from the AFC North.
That’s how massive the Bills defeating the Chiefs in their third try with Allen vs. Mahomes was. The question is, how did they do it? Here’s breaking down Buffalo’s breakthrough:
No blitzing of Mahomes, all front four
Bills coach Sean McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier know that sending extra pressure on Mahomes and creating favorable one-on-one matchups is a recipe for disaster, as it facilitates the big pass plays the Chiefs like to hit. It’s an ages-old blueprint to want to pressure the quarterback with only four rushers while consistently dropping seven men into coverage. But few teams can pull it off against a QB of Mahomes’ caliber.
The Buccaneers did in Super Bowl 55 vs. Mahomes, taking advantage of the Chiefs missing both starting offensive tackles. They had the disruptive rushers to get to Mahomes inside and out, plus the rangy linebackers and defensive backs to contain short and intermediate plays. The Bills proved they have the personnel to be successful copycats.
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Since 2019, the Bills have been loading up on the defensive line. Over three drafts, they invested high picks in tackle Ed Oliver and ends A.J. Epenesa, Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham. They joined with longtime stalwart Jerry Hughes and two former Panthers who are familiar to McDermott, tackle Star Lotulelei and end Mario Addison.
Rookies Rousseau (first round) and Basham (second round) didn’t waste time in becoming game-changers vs. the Chiefs; they combined for 1.5 sacks (Hughes had the other half). Rousseau, who has become an instant impact starter, also made an athletic interception of Mahomes off a rush to squash a potential TD drive.
The Chiefs rebuilt their offensive line well. The focus was on the interior with guards Joe Thuney and Trey Smith and center Creed Humphrey, the latter two being rookies. But the Bills kept their rotation bodies fresh, allowing them to have the energy to push after Mahomes and stuff the run all game. They also took advantage of Kansas City still being weaker on the edges.
The Bills had their front four operating at a disruptive level, but in reality, it was a “front eight” making Mahomes see double. The result was impatience and inaccuracy.
No big plays allowed, all deep zone
Those pass rushers and line controllers were just half the equation. The Bills were without cover outside linebacker Matt Milano, but that didn’t matter because Tremaine Edmunds and A.J. Klein made up for it on the second level and safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde cleaned up.
The Bills’ solid cornerbacks were beaten a fair share on shorter routes, both outside in the slot, but the back seven collectively kept tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill from connecting on home runs with Mahomes. When Mecole Hardman is the Cheifs’ leading receiver, it’s a great night for a defense.
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The Bills didn’t make any offseason additions there; Edmunds has evolved into a better all-around playmaker and Poyer and Hyde have become in lockstep with each other in zone. The Bills schemed better to put themselves in comfortable spots. Hyde was in the right spot when Mahomes and Hill couldn’t connect, and he turned his INT into a pick-six before Rousseau got his pick.
The Chiefs played into the hands of the Bills’ deep zone by not running the ball with someone other than Mahomes enough early in the game. Mahomes forced passes that weren’t there, and the combination of pressure and coverage led to a lot of misfires underneath.
The Bills broke their tendencies against Mahomes and the Chiefs didn’t deploy the necessary countermeasures. That made Mahomes feel like he was back in Tampa in Feburary.
No one receiver, all of them
The Bills knew that Chiefs top cornerback Charvarius Ward was out for the game. That meant a lot more Allen passes to wide receiver Stefon Diggs, his BFF and dominant go-to guy, right? Diggs did catch a 61-yard strike, but he had only one other catch in the game on just five targets. Allen decided to carve up the Chiefs with two new downfield toys, breakout third-year tight end Dawson Knox (three catches, 117 yards, one TD) and savvy new No. 2 wideout Emmanuel Sanders (three catches, 54 yards, two TDs).
Long scoring bombs early to Sanders and Knox set the tone: The Bills would be the versatile aggressors in the passing game, much like Mahomes is in throwing downfield to HIll and Kelce. The Bills didn’t need much more from their other receivers with that trio going off, but they still managed to get chunk gains throwing to breakout second-year running back Zack Moss.
The Chiefs were dazed and confused in coverage as a more mature Allen distributed the ball at a higher level. Their weaknesses at linebacker — which sometimes trickle down to safety — mean they struggle to cover tight ends and backs. As much as the Bills like spreading the field with wide receivers, credit offensive coordinator Brian Daboll for diversifying how Allen got his big pass plays, something the Chiefs didn’t do enough with Mahomes.
No limit, all Allen
Allen is strong athlete with terrific rushing skills, but that part of his game had been reined in a bit before Week 5, given how well had been passing to more targets. Daboll and Allen didn’t hold back against the Chiefs, knowing how much they had trouble with big-armed, mobile QBs in previous games — see the losses to Lamar Jackson’s Ravens and Justin Herbert’s Chargers.
They came out running with Allen in key spots and didn’t stop until the final scoring drive. Through his 11 carries for 59 yards and the game’s first TD, Allen made it clear he would take over this game with his legs, arm and improvisation, not Mahomes. He gave an overwhelmed Chiefs defense another element about which to worry.
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Allen still has moments of wildness where it looks as if he’s running with reckless abandon or looking too much for the big play, which leads to short possessions. But he was fast, furious and focused Sunday, to the point he would do anything he needed to win the game and knowing he had the green light from Daboll and McDermott.
It takes a talented defense that’s deep everywhere to contain Mahomes. It also takes a quarterback who’s capable of playing at Mahomes’ usual lofty level against the Chiefs’ defense. The Bucs had both in the Super Bowl, the latter just happening to be the GOAT, Tom Brady.
The Bills’ defense did everything it had to do against Mahomes. Allen made sure he took care of the rest as Buffalo screamed to everyone that it’s the new AFC championship favorite.