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4th and 1: The Playoff Ready Guide

4th and 1: The Playoff Ready Guide
Posted at 4:58 PM, Nov 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-27 17:58:32-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Chiefs have finished the toughest portions of their schedule and came out on the other side with a 9-2 record.

Through six road games, the Chiefs have maintained a 3-2 record against teams currently in playoff contention, and two of those losses we decided by field goal.

Kansas City has answered the bell in their ability to come back from a deficit, perform well in big games and shown a resiliency on both sides of the ball that could take them far in January.

The Chiefs have some flaws though that need to be fixed over the next six weeks for a February trip to Atlanta to become a possibility.

LISTEN: 4th and 1 Chiefs podcast talks Chiefs' playoff run. 

Patrick Mahomes finds his Zen in big games
The second-year veteran has been battle tested in his first season as the starter. He has experienced tough defenses in the Chargers, Broncos, Jaguars, Patriots and Cardinals. But the toughest moments he went through were in Denver on Monday Night Football, Patriots on Sunday Night Football and the Rams this past week.

All were moments that included the pressure to make plays on a national stage. Mahomes turned the ball over seven times in the Chiefs' two losses this season, with four of those turnovers leading to 28 points. He will need to find a balance earlier in these games going forward this season.

The Chiefs have a small margin for error with their defense’s performances. Mahomes will need to settle his nerves quicker by taking what the defense gives him to obtain a rhythm for himself and the offense. He will also have to break his tendency of scrambling to his right when the pocket breaks down.

Reduce the penalties
The Chiefs have 117 penalties this season with five games left to go. In 2017, the Chiefs had their most penalties in a season under Andy Reid with 134. Kansas City must reduce the penalties based on poor technique and focus. The three biggest categories for the Chiefs penalties are: offensive holding with 22, defensive holding with 18 and false starts with 17. False starts are a focus penalty because the offensive players know the snap count.

A healthy Sammy Watkins
The offensive loses a lot of its matchups and ability to exploit defenses one-on-one when Watkins is on the sidelines. Defenses shift their attention to putting their best coverage corners on Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill and providing bracket coverage to the other depending on the situation. There is a noticeable drop off from Watkins to Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson. Defenses notice it too by their willingness to utilize more pressure and zone coverage.

Stop the doubles
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton needs to find an answer for the double teams his defensive line experiences. Teams have routinely attacked the Chiefs in their sub packages and base defenses by doubling the defensive linemen and going to the second level to wall off the inside linebackers. Opponents are attacking the Chiefs between the tackles because they don’t have an answer. A playoff team with a stronger defense will exploit this weakness of the Chiefs if they can make a handful of stops against the Chiefs offense.

Creativity in the pass rush
The Chiefs need to expand their creativity in attacking opposing quarterbacks. Kansas City has added in a wide-nine and wide-three concept to collapse the pocket with their speed. It has been successful the past two weeks. Sutton will need to add in some loops, twist and disguising some blitzes over the coming weeks to become playoff ready. The mission of the defense needs to be getting the quarterback off his spot, forcing turnovers to get the offense more possessions and keeping points off the board. This defense has the rotation and speed to accomplish these goals, it just must be willing to do it.

Alter the inside linebackers
Ben Niemann, Dorian O’Daniel and Anthony Hitchens are the inside linebackers that need to stay on the field. Niemann is a fundamentally sound football player in his technique and zone coverage. O’Daniel has the speed to matchup with running backs, effectively rush the passer and be effective in zone coverage. Hitchens has the athletic ability to help in both aspects, but he needs faster help beside him. Reggie Ragland at this point is more of a goalline and short yardage specialist.
 
The Chiefs need to spend the next five weeks treating their games as dress rehearsals for the playoffs. Kansas City must begin to form their playoff mindset. The team has most of the resources it needs to succeed for a playoff run but the defensive coaching staff must alter its predictability through self-scouting during the bye week.

If the Chiefs can improve on the things listed above, a trip to Atlanta is within their grasp.

Nick Jacobs can be found on Twitter: @Jacobs71 and can also be heard on the 4th and 1 podcast brought to you by 41 Action News. 4th and 1 is available on iTunesGoogle Play  and TuneIn. You can check out all the 41 Action News podcasts here.

The 4th and 1 Chiefs podcast is published once a week during the off-season.