Can Ja’Marr Chase be stopped? How the Chiefs hope to limit the Bengals’ WR

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Chiefs apparently had Ja’Marr Chase and the Cincinnati Bengals where they wanted them in the fourth quarter of a week 17 game between the teams this season.

With the score tied at 31, the Bengals faced a third and 27 from their 41-yard line with less than four minutes left. The best scenario at the time seemed to be a long field goal and a three-point lead for the Bengals. But that would give Patrick Mahomes plenty of time to run after the winning or winning score.

Except that Chase came through – as he had done the entire match – with a big game to ruin the Chiefs’ day. The Chiefs put up seven players and left Charvarius Ward alone to cover Chase, and Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had time to make a well-placed throw.

Ward was in a decent position and his fingers grabbed the ball, but he could not stop Chase from playing a better game and grabbing the ball for a 30-yard win. First down, the Bengals clock runs down and knocks in a winning field goal.

Mahomes never got a chance with the ball again. Chase finished with 11 catches for 266 yards, the latter being the 16th most ever by a receiver in an NFL game. He had catches of 72, 69, 35 and 30 yards, the first two for touchdowns.

The Chiefs and Bengals meet again on Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium (15:00 ET, CBS), where Cincinnati is looking to get another big game from Chase – or one of its other talented receivers – and Kansas City is trying to Prevent it.

“We’ll have to play that cat-and-mouse game,” said Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. “As dynamic as Ja’Marr Chase is, there are definitely some other weapons out there as well.”

How did Chase do it?

What happened against the Chiefs and against the Tennessee Titans in last week’s division round in the NFL playoffs was not new to Chase.

Maybe that’s why he did not sound so surprised when he found out he had broken another receiver record during his debut season. With five catches for 109 yards in the victory over the Titans, he became the first rookie in NFL history with several 100-yard receiving games in the playoffs.

When he heard about the farm, he uttered a simple answer to a word: “Fantastic.”

Although Tennessee tried to take Chase out of the game, Bengals coach Zac Taylor was able to produce goals for Chase, which turned into big plays. Before Sunday’s game against Kansas City, Chase said it is “hard not to believe” that he will be the main target against the reigning AFC champions.

Chase said he expects a good amount of zone defense, with two collateral splitting up the back of the formation. But he knows that all early plans are likely to change over the course of the game.

“It’s really about adjusting on the go when the time of the game comes,” Chase said.

The fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft is a major reason the Bengals played one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Cincinnati led the NFL in yards per. experiments (8.1). During the regular season, Chase was third in the league in catches of 20 or more yards, just behind Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp and San Francisco 49ers’ Deebo Samuel.

Although Kansas City plays a lot of zone coverage, which is what the teams have tried to use to slow down Chase and quarterback Joe Burrow, the relationship between the two LSU teammates can be a big factor – as it was in week 17 wins over Kansas City.

“They took advantage of some one-on-one opportunities,” Taylor said. “There were accurate throws and coverage awareness, and Ja’Marr made some really great games. They were on the same side against some of the zone coverage.”

Said Spagnuolo: “One of the things we found out first hand is that their quarterback and that receiver really work well together. They know each other from their time together at LSU and it makes a difference. You can watch it on the confidence and the way they play. The two are a dynamic duo, no doubt about it. “

Cincinnati’s receiving corps is not limited to the excellent rookie. Second-year player Tee Higgins had more than 1,000 yards in just 14 games this season. Slot receiver Tyler Boyd finished the season with 828 yards and has been a key target for Cincinnati’s offense over the past few years.

“This match, I’m not quite sure how they would try to play us because I think we’ve seen almost every single cover,” Boyd said. “Many teams try to do many different things [neutralize] us because we have so many weapons. “

But as Kansas City learned in the first game against Cincinnati, Chase is perhaps the most dangerous and should be considered.

For Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, Chase’s ability to be very special has been evident since his NFL debut against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1.

“It’s like he went to another level,” Awuzie said. “All the tools, everything was there, but I think he just exploded. And every fight it looks like he’s gotten really better.”

How do the chiefs stop him?

Chase should look bigger than life for the Chiefs after his big fight against them in December. Coach Andy Reid said Chase’s ability to expand to get catches was an issue for the Chiefs and that 6-foot Chase is playing bigger.

“He knows how to set up routes, especially for a young guy,” Reid said. “Then he’s strong when he gets the ball in his hands. He has great core strength and lower body strength and fast feet to go with. So he’s the complete package. He’s one of those guys who is not 6-foot- 4 but plays as if he is 6-foot-4. He has great range. “

The Chiefs often had one or more players around Chase on their catches, but still could not get the job done. Chiefs missed several tackles and linebacker Nick Bolton said improvement in that area is a priority this time around.

“We did not perform as we wanted,” Bolton said. “We did not tackle well. It’s something we can clean up on our side, tackle better and make plays out there in space.”

The Chiefs did a great job in the division round, covering the Buffalo Bills’ leading wide receiver, Stefon Diggs. He caught 103 passes in the regular season but had three catches for seven yards with a long win of five yards against the Chiefs.

But one of his teammates, Gabriel Davis, avoided coverage against the Chiefs well enough to have a Chase-like game. Davis caught eight passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns.

The same type of thing can happen to the Bengals if the Chiefs overcompensate in coverage on Chase, with all the talented receivers on Cincinnati’s list.

“It’s not like they have one weapon and you commit two people to him and you’re free at home,” Spagnuolo said. “They are all capable of ruining the game. We have to pay attention to all three of them. The quarterback knows where to go with the ball. He’s sharp enough to know if you take one of his fire away, he’s going somewhere else. “

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