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The Five Biggest Takeaways From the Bills’ Win Over the Chiefs

Sunday’s matchup was a welcome respite from some of the sloppy football we’ve seen so far this NFL season—and it offered a few insights into these juggernaut teams that might meet again in January

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

I hope Tom Brady was watching Bills-Chiefs on Sunday. Two weeks ago, the 45-year-old Buccaneers quarterback lodged a complaint about the quality of football he had been seeing early in the 2022 NFL season. It wasn’t just the ramblings of a cranky old man stuck in a bad offense himself—it’s a take that’s also been echoed by fans.

The numbers back up Brady’s contention that the football hasn’t been great this season. Scoring is down for a second consecutive year, passing numbers are down across the board as offenses try to adjust to defenses better equipped to stop the passing game, and offensive play has largely been hard to watch.

But Buffalo’s 24-20 win on Sunday was a welcome respite from all that sloppy ball. Sure, the game may not have fully quenched the public’s thirst for scoring—the over/under was set at 54 points—but the quality of play was undeniable. And given the rest of the results we saw around the league this week, it was clear that we were watching the NFL’s two best teams. Apologies to the 6-0 Eagles, but even fans in Philadelphia have to realize that everybody else is vying for third. The game just looks different.

That’s the big takeaway from Sunday’s game at Arrowhead, but it’s not the only lesson we learned about these two juggernauts and how their seasons might play out. So we’ve identified five more big takeaways from Buffalo’s big win. Let’s start with the alien the Bills have under center.

Josh Allen has taken another leap into the Mahomes stratosphere

Before we get to the actual analysis, let me get something out of my system: OH MY GOD … JOSH ALLEN! This dude is not real. I refuse to believe it. Did you see him jump over that guy on the game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter? He jumped over an entire human being. And then just started running again like it was the normal thing to do! Look at this nonsense:

Allen also threw some passes on Sunday—40 of them, actually, completing 27 for 329 yards and three touchdowns. It was the third straight time he’s thrown for more than 300 yards and three-plus scores against the Chiefs in Kansas City, and Buffalo has won two of those games. When Allen has shared the field with Mahomes over the past two years, it’s been really difficult to see much of a difference between the two. If Patrick Mahomes has raised the bar on QB play over the past four-plus seasons, then Allen has cleared it like he did that poor Chiefs defender. Can we watch that again? I swear it will be the last time.

I’m highlighting that spectacular feat of athleticism, but that’s not how Allen closed the gap on Mahomes. He’s done that by getting really freaking good at the boring—some might say nerdy—aspects of the position. This isn’t performative quarterbacking to appease his coaches, either. Allen will always try to hunt down the biggest play possible. But with defenses getting better at taking away the deep parts of the field, Allen stays mindful of his underneath options. The 26-year-old—HE’S NOT EVEN IN HIS PRIME YET; WHAT THE HELL!—used to view those shorter throws with the level of contempt a child might have looking at a plate of vegetables. They were a last resort. Something he had to do because his coaches said so.

That’s not the case any more. Allen is throwing those shorter passes more often, and he’s throwing them quicker.

Josh Allen on Throws Under 5 Air Yards

Season Attempts/Game Comp% Yards/Dropback EPA/Play Success Rate Time to Throw
Season Attempts/Game Comp% Yards/Dropback EPA/Play Success Rate Time to Throw
2022 22.33 76.1% 5.53 0.06 54.9% 2.19
2021 18.71 73.0% 4.65 -0.05 47.2% 2.35
2020 17.44 75.6% 5.29 0.08 51.6% 2.41
2019 12.88 68.9% 4.62 -0.11 39.4% 2.22
2018 11.67 70.7% 4.45 -0.02 42.1% 2.42

As recently as the 2021 season, defensive coordinators were able to make Allen uncomfortable using disguised coverages and pressures. This year, though, he knows where his outlets are, and knows when to utilize them. The play from Sunday’s game that stands out most isn’t that ridiculous run—we haven’t even talked about him juking L’Jarius Sneed—or his game-winning throw to Dawson Knox. It’s this pass to Khalil Shakir that picked up 14 yards.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo threw all sorts of pre-snap looks and coverages at Allen during the game. The play above ends up being a five-man pressure, and the Bills star sniffs it out early. But instead of just calling for the snap and hoping for the best, Allen slows things down and points out to Shakir that if those two defenders rush the passer, he’s “hot” and has to shorten his route to provide the quarterback with a quick outlet.

This is where Allen has taken the next step. Even last season, these quick, easy-looking responses to defensive trickery gave him issues. Not anymore! If you blitz him, he’ll beat you. Play soft on the back end, and he’ll find an answer underneath. Allen has been capable of matching Mahomes in the play-making department since he entered the league. Now he’s doing the small things that separate the good quarterbacks from the truly elite.

Patrick Mahomes has to be a midrange shooter now

Andy Reid gave it an honest effort. He tried to restructure the Chiefs offense in a way that would force defenses to come out of the two-high coverage shells that have been so effective at limiting Kansas City’s deep passing game over the past two years. He did it by putting Mahomes under center, where the threat of the run is at its highest, with more big bodies in the box to help the blocking effort. And it worked! Well … kind of. The Chiefs have seen more single-high safety coverages early on this season, but they’re still having problems accessing the deeper parts of the field. And when they fell behind 17-0 early in a Week 5 win over Las Vegas, Reid went back to the roots of his offense and largely scrapped the under-center plays. Before playing the Raiders, the offense had been under center for 61 snaps. Since falling behind 17-0 in that game, they’ve run only two such plays, all in the clash against the Bills.

Maybe this is a sign that the Chiefs are officially over their ex, Tyreek Hill, and have stopped trying to recapture the magic of the 2018-20 era, when they were pushing the ball downfield seemingly every time Mahomes dropped back to pass. Or maybe it just goes to show that when times get desperate—when they fall into a hole or come up against a team capable of beating them—the Chiefs will revert back to what they do best. Either way, the experiment appears to be over.

Instead of trying to create deep shots in the passing game, Mahomes and company have been more focused on the intermediate areas, with Kelce serving as the centerpiece of the passing game. The smooth tight end will always be Mahomes’s first option against man coverage, and now the Chiefs are finding more ways to get him into dangerous spaces against zone. With the Bills playing plenty of Cover 2 on Sunday, Kansas City asked Kelce (and others) to run a bunch of intermediate out-breaking routes between the deep safety and the cornerback responsible in the flats.

Kelce had three big plays in that zone, as you can see in his route map, via Next Gen Stats:

The Chiefs offense simply isn’t built to get defenses out of those two-high shells—not with a run game built around scat running backs who are at their best in the passing game. But they have a quarterback who can make throws into areas of the field other passers just aren’t capable of attacking consistently—specifically that Cover 2 hole on the perimeter.

If Kansas City is going to solve its two-deep problem, it will need Mahomes to continue making throws like that.

Von Miller was worth the money

After racking up 42 points in last year’s playoff win over the Bills, the Chiefs managed just 20 in Sunday’s loss. I don’t know that Buffalo’s defense, as a unit, played all that better in the rematch—things were fairly similar from an X’s and O’s standpoint. But there was one key difference: The Bills had Von Miller on the field this time.

It may have felt as if Mahomes was under more pressure in this game than in the January tilt, but Buffalo’s pressure rate was basically identical. This time, though, the Bills turned that pressure into sacks. Miller had two sacks himself, in addition to a key tackle of Mahomes on a third-and-13 scramble, and he also pressured the Chiefs QB into throwing the game-losing interception late. Just look at how the quality of Buffalo’s pressure this game affected Mahomes’s stat line:

Mahomes Against Buffalo’s Pressure

Game Pressured Dropbacks Sack Rate EPA/Play Yards/Play Success Rate
Game Pressured Dropbacks Sack Rate EPA/Play Yards/Play Success Rate
2021 playoffs 21 13% 0.67 9.1 53%
Week 6 22 17% 0.01 5.2 32%

Some may have balked at the $120 million contract the Bills handed Miller in the offseason. It’s a lot of money for a 33-year-old who has a long history of injuries. But those are the types of gambles contenders have to make. Miller is a true game changer, and had he been on this team in 2021, the result of last year’s outing may have been different. The Bills paid a lot of money to make sure that was the case this season, and so far, the investment looks like a smart one.

Kansas City needs to add another receiver

Playing against the Chiefs with Tyreek Hill was always a math problem: You needed two guys to cover Hill, his primary defender and a safety over the top; two more to bracket Kelce underneath, because you couldn’t trust a smaller corner or slower safety to do it on their own; and an extra pair of eyes to make sure Mahomes stayed in the pocket. With only 11 defenders on the field and eight other Chiefs players to account for, it was nearly impossible to do all of those things without rushing only three, and giving Mahomes extra time in the pocket to pick apart the secondary isn’t a viable strategy over the course of a 60-minute game.

Now that Hill’s gone and defending this passing game isn’t the mathematical conundrum it once was, defenses have been free to play more aggressively, especially on passing downs. Kansas City is still seeing its fair share of two-high zone coverage on early downs, but opponents have also been more willing to play tight man coverage with only a single safety deep. As we covered above, Mahomes has remained effective by making difficult throws into other areas of the field, but defenses have been able to play more Cover 1 without getting gashed in on third downs—when opponents don’t have to worry about the run and can throw an extra defender at Kelce. So far this season, Mahomes is seeing Cover 1—that’s man-to-man coverage underneath with one safety deep in the middle of the field—on 33.7 percent of his dropbacks. That’s up from 19.9 percent in 2021 and 23 percent in 2020, according to TruMedia.

Mahomes has been fine against those coverages, but he also hasn’t done anything that would deter defenses from playing them. He’s on pace to set four-year lows in completion percentage, yards per dropback, and success rate on plays against Cover 1.

Free-agent additions Marquez Valdes-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster have never been know to create separation as route runners, and neither guy is much of a ball winner—Valdes-Scantling got outmuscled by rookie Kaiir Elam on Mahomes’s first pick on Sunday—which creates issues when defenses play man and throw a second defender at Kelce. Until the Chiefs find another threat who can beat man coverage consistently—whether it’s a free agent like Odell Beckham Jr. or a trade target like Carolina’s D.J. Moore—defenses will be able to play tighter to routes and force Mahomes into more difficult throws.

Buffalo has created the ideal offensive scheme

While Allen is a quarterback who can do anything you can possibly ask of him, there are only a few offensive minds bright enough to actually design an offense that highlights his versatility to the fullest extent. Now, it’s still early in their partnership, but it appears first-year offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey is that guy.

Heading into the season, the goal seemed to be to build an offense that had conceptual versatility. “We’ve got a lot of juice,” Allen told The Ringer’s Kevin Clark in August. “So it’s finding ways to put the ball in the hands of our playmakers, getting the right people on the field at the right time. Whether that’s 11, 12, 13, zero [personnel], 10, whatever.”

And based on Sunday’s result, Dorsey has figured it out.

Buffalo can go light with three and even four receivers on the field at once. They can put multiple backs in the backfield or multiple tight ends on the line of scrimmage. They can line up under center or in the gun. They can dial up old-school, downhill-run plays, or call more modern option plays designed around the QB. Allen has become a surgeon on underneath stuff, but he’s still throwing rockets to the deep and intermediate parts of the field. And he’s as comfortable throwing to the middle of the field as he is outside the numbers.

This offense can do anything at any time, and it does it all at a high level. This isn’t just the best offense in the NFL today. It’s one of the most comprehensive attacks this league has ever seen.