Through the first five weeks of the season, there has been a clear divide between the top two teams in the league and everyone else.
It’s no coincidence that these two teams are the only unbeaten sides remaining, as the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams have looked like the unmistakable favourites in their respective conferences.
Talk of whether or not they can go undefeated is still premature. If they’re perfect ahead of their showdown in Week 11, then that’s worth a real conversation. But that’s no sure thing with the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals next on the schedule for the Chiefs, while the Rams have to travel to face the New Orleans Saints in Week 9.
Regardless, it seems like Kansas City and Los Angeles are on a collision course for the Super Bowl. Here’s a look at how they stack up right now and how they’ve taken the league by storm through the first third of the season.
Both are at the top of the list of MVP candidates as Goff is averaging 345 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions for the league’s best passer rating at 119.7, while Mahomes is throwing for 303 yards per game to go with 14 scores and two interceptions for a passer rating of 112.7, ranking fifth.
Jared Goff is on pace to set a new single-season record for passing yards and is averaging 10.4 yards per attempt with a 119.7 passer rating— Danny Kelly (@DannyBKelly) October 8, 2018
The reason Mahomes and Goff have been so efficient is because of their downfield passing, which has picked up chunks at a time and led to quick-strike scores. Goff and Mahomes rank one and two in the league in most 20-plus yard completions, with 28 and 25, respectively.
Part of that has been coaching – more on that coming – but their arm talent and ability to put the ball where it needs to be is undeniable.
The run game has been a secondary form of attack for both offences, but it’s been more than just a change-of-pace option.
Todd Gurley and Kareem Hunt rank second and fourth in the league in rushing, at 415 and 376 yards respectively, and their impact has extended beyond the instances when they’ve touched the ball. By forcing defences to respect their ability as ball-carriers, they’ve allowed the passing game to flourish off play-action.
Heading into the Seattle game, the Rams used play-action on 40% (!!) of Jared Goff's dropbacks.— Anthony Amico (@amicsta) October 8, 2018
He was averaging 13.3 (!!) YPA on play-action.
Jimmy G btw ranks second in PA%.
I love good coaches.
And because both offences like to use jet sweeps and end-arounds to leverage the speed of their receivers, the threat of Gurley and Hunt between the tackles has opened up running lanes on the outside.
The Rams and Chiefs will never be power offences built on the run, but they have just enough balance to keep defences guessing.
SCHEME EM UP
As touched on earlier, coaching has been instrumental in unlocking both these teams’ potential, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Andy Reid has always been considered a quarterbacks guru, but in Mahomes he has arguably his most talented weapon yet – and he’s unleashing the gunslinger while at the same time putting him in the best position to succeed. The college-like spread concepts the Chiefs are employing has managed to somehow give Mahomes simpler reads and plenty of options at once, in part due to the dangerous pass-catchers he has at his disposal. Because Mahomes can hit every blade of grass on the field, Reid’s play-calling has taken advantage of space beautifully.
Corner routes to your FB. Andy Reid is crazy. Also, LASER. pic.twitter.com/8KetWufVYP— Clay Wendler (@ClayWendler) October 7, 2018
The Rams, meanwhile, similarly put a concerning amount of pressure on defences by building off simple concepts. It’s not that Sean McVay is calling intricate plays that are designed to beat any defence – it’s that the plays are fungible enough to beat specific types of coverages. It also helps when your trio of wide receivers – Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp – can be used in indistinguishable ways to keep defences from keying in.
Reid and McVay are putting on coaching clinics week after week, and while the talent they’re working with allows them to do so, they’re getting the most out of it.
As dominant as Kansas City and Los Angeles have been, it’s not as if they’re without flaws – nearly all of which reside on defence.
The Chiefs are far more one-dimensional as their defence has been one of the worst in the NFL, allowing a league-worst 461.8 yards per game and an average of 25.8 points. They had an encouraging performance against Jacksonville this past weekend, forcing five turnovers to take the pressure off the other side of the ball, but they still have issues to work out. The play in the secondary has been particularly bad, but if they can get Eric Berry back at some point this season – the star safety is dealing with a heel injury – that could go a long way in getting the defence up to average. With that offence, average is all they need.
Los Angeles’ defence hasn’t been bad, per se, but it’s underperformed considering the talent the unit possesses, which created high expectations. They rank ninth in yards allowed (341.4) and seventh in points (19.6), but they’re surrendering the fourth-most yards per rush (5.0) and are tied for the fifth-fewest sacks (10). That last stat is troubling because a defensive line featuring Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh should be eating quarterbacks alive, but that hasn’t been the case. And the loss of Aqib Talib in the secondary has hurt a group that has been burned too many times. Still, the pieces are too good for the unit to significantly hamper the team, but they are vulnerable right now.
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