On a weekend full of intriguing quarterback matchups, Jaguars-Chiefs might just present the best one in terms of recent form. Over the final eight weeks of the season, Trevor Lawrence and Patrick Mahomes both ranked in the top five of several statistical categories, leading their teams to strong finishes. After a Week 11 bye, Lawrence and the Jaguars won six of their final seven games to claim the AFC South. Mahomes and the Chiefs won seven of their final eight to earn the coveted No. 1 seed in the AFC and, in turn, a first-round bye.
Those strong closes to the season came after a Week 10 meeting that the Chiefs won, 27-17. Kansas City jumped out to a 20-0 lead and out-gained Jacksonville, 486-315. Despite committing three turnovers, the Chiefs controlled the game throughout, and, unlike last week against the Chargers, Lawrence couldn't lead any sort of comeback.
So, what can the Jaguars do to keep their magical late-season run going? And what must the Chiefs do to ensure a similar outcome to the first meeting? Let's take a look:
When the Jaguars have the ball
There are seemingly endless reasons behind Lawrence's massive jump from his rookie season to this second season, but none is bigger than his ability to absolutely destroy blitzes. The numbers are staggering.
|Trevor Lawrence expected points added per dropback (with league rank)||2021||2022|
vs. 4 pass rushers
vs. 5 pass rushers
vs. 6+ pass rushers
Against the Chiefs in Week 10, Lawrence took a season-high five sacks, and three of them came when Kansas City didn't blitz. Overall on the day, Lawrence posted -0.13 EPA per dropback when not blitzed (his fourth-worst this season) and 0.49 EPA per dropback when blitzed. Here's why:
|Trevor Lawrence Week 10 vs. Chiefs||Not blitzed||Blitzed|
Air yards per attempt
Percent of attempts at or behind line of scrimmage
Time to throw
The trend? The Chiefs were happy to sit back in coverage, force Lawrence to throw short, and then come up and tackle. Overall, Lawrence threw 12 passes behind the line of scrimmage -- his second-most in any game this season -- for just 53 yards. Here's an example of the Chiefs dropping seven into coverage and then getting a tackle for loss by Carlos Dunlap, who reads the play perfectly.
It's worth noting here that Chris Jones is a huge reason the Chiefs can succeed without sending extra pressure. The first-time first-team All-Pro had 1.5 sacks in the Week 10 game. He finished the season with 15.5 sacks (tied for fourth in the NFL) and 77 quarterback pressures (fifth), and his 60 pressures on non-blitzes only trailed Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons. And that's despite Jones playing most of his snaps at defensive tackle. The Chiefs do a great job moving him around, though: His 27 defensive end snaps against the Jaguars were his second-most in any game this season, and that's where both of his sack involvements came from.
One way Lawrence can counter here is trying to hit more intermediate routes. As we mentioned, Lawrence attempted a ton of passes behind the line of scrimmage against the Chiefs, and that came at the expense of intermediate throws: Only five of his 40 attempts (12.5%) were in the 11 to 20 yards downfield range, his second-lowest rate this season.
This game, however, proved to be something of a turning point. Over the final seven games of the season, nearly 24% of Lawrence's throws were in the 11 to 20 yard range; before that, it had been under 20%. Against the Chiefs specifically, Lawrence had success in this range: 3-for-5, 44 yards and a touchdown, with all three completions coming against the blitz. He'll have to hit on these throws Saturday to keep the Chiefs defense from creeping up too far.
Furthermore, expect Evan Engram to be a bigger part of the game plan. He had just three catches for 14 yards in the first matchup and, following that game, had just a 16.9% target share on the season. That's up to 21.5% since. Plus, the Chiefs allowed nine receiving touchdowns to tight ends this season (tied for fifth-most in the NFL) and gave up a 101.9 passer rating when tight ends were targeted, 20th in the NFL.
When the Chiefs have the ball
Speaking of tight ends, it should come as no surprise that Travis Kelce is in line for a huge game. That's generally the case every week, but it's especially true against the Jaguars, who really struggle against the position.
|Jaguars Defending Tight Ends This Season||NFL Rank|
Yards per attempt
Kelce had six receptions (on seven targets) for 81 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. More than half of his yards came on a crossing route in the first quarter that went for 46 yards.
This has been a major problem area for the Jaguars, and not just against tight ends. Jacksonville allowed 10.2 yards per attempt when a crossing route was targeted this season, fourth-highest in the NFL. The Chiefs hit on this concept several times in Week 10, including on this touchdown to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Mahomes is as good as it gets, but he's not impervious to pressure. Specifically, pressure when not blitzed. Considering how great of an improviser he is, Mahomes actually struggles significantly in these situations, sometimes because of his improvisation skills.
|Patrick Mahomes when Pressured and Not Blitzed This Season||NFL Rank (out of 33)|
The good news for the Jaguars is that this is one of the best features of their defense. It ranks sixth in pressure rate without blitzing, and it was able to force Mahomes into one of his six interceptions this season when he was pressured but not blitzed.
Unfortunately for Jacksonville, the turnover advantage wasn't enough to really challenge Kansas City in Week 10. Since then, though, the Jaguars have played terrific football. So, too, have the Chiefs. The adjustments by both teams from their Week 10 meeting will be crucial in determining which will advance to the AFC Championship.