Weekend Look Ahead

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5 things to watch for in Bills vs. Chiefs | Week 6

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Gabe Davis (13) touchdown celebration Buffalo Bills vs Kansas City Chiefs - AFC Divisional Playoff at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, January 23, 2022. Photo by Bill Wippert

1 – Master improvisors

The Josh Allen-Patrick Mahomes matchup is easily understood. Both are phenomenal, game-changing talents that are capable of carrying the offensive load for their teams. And what both of them arguably do best is improvise when the design of a play or a protection breaks down.

Whether it's Allen running for yards on a broken play, or Mahomes scrambling and stopping short of the line of scrimmage to toss a shovel pass to a receiver in the end zone, both make the unlikely possible.

All of that creates headaches for opposing defensive coordinators because there is not much that can be done to prepare for those kinds of off script plays.

"There are so many things that make it hard as a defensive coordinator to prepare for what he's capable of doing because there's some things you can prepare for, but he does things that you can't prepare for," said Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier of Mahomes. "You can show some plays on tape and say there aren't many guys that can do this. There are so many rarities in his game, and he's a special player for sure. And you just got to find a way to disrupt the timing somehow. But he's going to make some plays, he's too talented not to. You just got to limit the number of plays that he makes, but he's going to make some plays."

The same can be said for Allen, who has already put more than a handful of off script plays that have resulted in major positive gains for Buffalo's offense.

"Josh Allen has those big guys up front. He's a big guy," said Chiefs radio analyst Danan Hughes in an appearance on the 'Bills by the Numbers' podcast this week. "He's part of the run game. So yeah, they respect that offense no doubt. They know they're in for a dogfight in this game. But at the same time, the Chiefs feel like their defense is faster than last year. They're making more plays. They're creating a little bit more noise in the backfield. And hopefully they can disrupt things."

Allen is second in the AFC in rushing yards by a quarterback with 225. Only Baltimore's Lamar Jackson has more (374). But both he and Mahomes also have the best touchdown to interception ratios when throwing on the run this season (3:0) according to NextGen Stats.

2 – Spreading the wealth

If there is a change in Kansas City's passing game this season it's the distribution of targets by Patrick Mahomes. With Tyreek Hill no longer part of the equation after he was traded to Miami last offseason, the Chiefs and Mahomes have focused on hitting the open target in their passing game.

The result is a wider distribution of passes. Through the first five games the team's leader in receiving yards, TE Travis Kelce, is only getting 22 percent of the targets. New slot receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is next with 18.5 percent followed by new field stretcher Marquez Valdes-Scantling with 16.4 percent. Even Clyde Edwards-Helaire (9.5%) and Mecole Hardman (9%) are garnering close to 10 percent of the targets.

That's why Bills head coach Sean McDermott believes that all Kansas City has done with their receiving corps is reset the deck.

"Tyreek is a player with elite speed, but they went out and found speed too," McDermott said. "They still have Mecole Hardman and they've got the other guys that they brought in. They've got the speed with Valdes-Scantling there. He's an elite (speed) player as well. And then they brought in Juju (Smith Schuster) as well. Andy (Reid)'s never going to be without weapons. He's just always stockpiling them. It seems like they retool every year, and they make it very hard to defend, not only from a weapon standpoint but schematically as well."

The diversity of weapons has been instrumental in allowing the Chiefs to stay on the field and extend drives. They have accumulated more first downs on offense than any team in football with 124 and stand second only to the Bills in third down conversion rate (52.5%). But NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week admits it doesn't look quite the same.

"Mahomes is just going to throw the open guy," said Baldinger. "That's their game but the one thing that's missing is the threat of the home run. Right now, they just don't have that player. So, it's a little bit different. They just don't have that kind of juice. All those guys are good. They're all good players. JuJu has got his role. He's not a guy that's going to win against man coverage and run away from people. He doesn't have that kind of speed. Valdes-Scantling does but he's got issues with his hands. He's dropped balls. But I think they completed balls to nine different people on Monday night. The offense is really good. It's really creative, a lot of formations. A lot of motions that you got to prepare for."

3 – Bombs away again?

Buffalo's passing game had been largely kept under wraps from Week 2 through Week 4 as the opposing defenses made heavy use of a Cover two shell to keep everything in the Bills passing game in front of them. It forced the Bills to utilize more of a short to intermediate passing game to move the ball and get in scoring range. That changed in Week 5 when Buffalo took advantage of an injury-riddled Pittsburgh secondary.

Kansas City's secondary doesn't have quite the same injury list for their defensive backfield but starting CB Rashad Fenton is suffering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice the last two days. Rookie first-round pick CB Trent McDuffie may return from injured reserve from a hamstring injury this week. But if Fenton can't play on Sunday, the Chiefs may be forced to start a pair of rookie corners in McDuffie and seventh-round pick Jaylen Watson.

Healthy or not, with the return of Isaiah McKenzie to the lineup and the emergence of rookie Khalil Shakir last week, Buffalo's passing game could do some big-play damage again on Sunday.

"Just watching the Raiders attack Kansas City last week and then watching what Buffalo did to Pittsburgh... I've never seen Buffalo attack like that," said Baldinger. "They went after Levi Wallace repeatedly from the first series of the game. And then Levi gets an interception in the end zone against Gabe Davis. It was a great play. And then Buffalo gets the ball back and the very next play they go right after Levi Wallace for a 62-yard touchdown. They never stopped attacking in that game.

"And if you watch what the Raiders did, with Davante Adams, they threw five deep shots to Davante Adams against Kansas City. He had two touchdowns and he had two defensive pass interference penalties on deep shots. I'd go after these corners and safeties in Kansas City and let my guys go. I saw the little protection scheme they had last week back there next to Josh just making sure that he had a chance to really launch a missile down the field. So, I think this is just going to be bombs away from a Buffalo standpoint."

Buffalo set a team record last week averaging 10.22 yards per play, which was the third-highest single-game per play average in league history. They also averaged 12 yards a pass play. Will Kansas City's defensive scheme allow the Bills to take similar shots down the field?

The Chiefs' defense is more than aware of Buffalo's firepower.

"The pass game for sure," said Chiefs LB Darius Harris when asked what stands out about the Bills offense. "They have athletes at the quarterback position, receiver, running back – overall the running game and passing game. They have a very good team, so just making sure we're on top of our things."

4 – Is Bills' 'D' the difference?

One could easily make the argument that the main reason why the Bills acquired Von Miller in free agency was to close out games like the one in last year's Divisional Playoff in Kansas City. Miller is a quintessential difference maker particularly when the game is on the line. One who is universally respected in the league and can close out a victory with one play.

"Von is a special player," said Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. "He's a Hall of Famer – first ballot Hall of Famer. He's won two Super Bowls because of his leadership and, obviously, his play. And (he's) someone you need to know where he's at every single play."

"I think the acquisition of Von Miller is kind of the Bills' attempt to win that final possession," said Chiefs radio analyst Danan Hughes. "Not saying that he won't make noise during the game because he will. But having guys like Von Miller, Aaron Donald, you can look across the board at defensive guys that make an impact at crucial times in the game. The Chiefs are going to have to plan for Von Miller. As soon as they break the huddle they're going to have to know where number 40 is because he can be a game breaker."

Thus far this season the Chiefs have been middle of the pack in sacks per play allowing eight takedowns of Mahomes on 189 drop backs, but they have given up the fifth-most pressures this season with 54 in five games and the ninth-most QB hits with 18.

But Miller is all too aware that just when you think you've got Mahomes corralled that's when he escapes and makes an unconventional play.

"He's always running away and throwing left-handed passes on me, on and off the football field," said Miller. "So, I've got a lot of respect for all of those guys. It's going to be a tough game. There are no freebies in the NFL, but it's a game that we're excited about. And I'm looking forward to going back to Arrowhead Stadium."

The Bills are fifth in the league in sack percentage.

5 – Missing piece?

Kansas City's defense is still fitting their pieces together on the back end where they have three new starters this season. It has compromised their effectiveness in defending the red zone through their first five games. The Chiefs rank 31st in the league in red zone defense when it comes to keeping opponents out of the end zone.

They're giving up touchdowns at a rate of better than 81 percent (81.3%). Opponents have scored 13 touchdowns on 16 red zone possessions. Fortunately, the Chiefs offense has been able to bail them out scoring enough points of their own to win games more often than not.

"I think what the issue has been these younger defensive backs are in these one-on-one situations and you can only learn by getting that experience," said Chiefs writer for Arrowhead Pride in an appearance on 'One Bills Live.' "It's the pass game in the red zone where they could be a little bit better. Until these guys garner that experience, they're going to get beat in the red zone."

Buffalo's offense hasn't been extraordinarily productive in the red zone where they've cashed in on 10 of their 18 red zone opportunities this season (55.6%) to rank 21st in the league. Last week, the Bills were just 1-for-4 in the red zone due in part to an interception in the end zone and a fumble at the goal line.

"Situationally, we've got to be better in the red zone and being careful with the football," said Josh Allen. "There were a couple of times in the red zone, we gave the ball up. So, moving forward, we can't have those. That's something that we've been working on, and we'll continue to learn and grow from. But as we start progressing in this season, we'll have to tighten that up and start playing complementary football and allowing our defense to play off of us and vice versa."

The Bills held their first practice of Week 6 in Orchard Park as the team prepares for a showdown against the 4-1 Kansas City Chiefs. This gallery is presented by Gabe's Collision.

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