5 keys to victory for Bengals in AFC Championship game vs. Chiefs
By Aaron Burd
The Cincinnati Bengals are one win away from going to the Super Bowl. No, you’re not dreaming, this is the reality we are in. In Joe Burrow’s second year as an NFL quarterback, he has taken the Bengals to the AFC Championship.
Going into the 2021 season, the Bengals were the betting favorites to finish at the bottom of the AFC North. Eighteen weeks of the regular season and two weeks of playoff football later, and the Bengals are AFC North Champions and will face Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs for a chance to continue their Cinderella season.
Despite this, advancing to the Super Bowl will be their toughest task yet. The Chiefs are considered by many to be the best team left in the playoffs, and their home-field advantage at the incredibly loud Arrowhead Stadium is a tough task for even the most experienced teams.
That being said, the Bengals have already beaten the Chiefs this month, and they absolutely have a chance to do it again. There are five things that the Bengals must to do to pull off the upset on Sunday.
Get to Mahomes with four defensive linemen
The toughest task for any team facing the Chiefs is stopping quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In just four seasons as the Chiefs starting quarterback, Mahomes has led his team to four AFC Championship games. Stopping the future Hall of Fame quarterback is nearly impossible, but there are at least ways of slowing him down.
Mahomes is perhaps best known for his ability to decimate defenses who send blitzes. Because of this, the Bengals must be able to pressure the 26-year old quarterback and get him on his back with just four defensive linemen. To blitz Mahomes is a death sentence, but letting him stand in the pocket without pressure is just as bad.
Trey Hendrickson will be the biggest X-Factor for the Bengals’ pass rush. All season long, the 2021 free agent addition has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks, accumulating 14 sacks in the regular season and one huge strip sack in the Wildcard Round. If Hendrickson can get to Mahomes, the rest of the defensive line will be able to get their chances as well.
Speaking of the rest of the defensive line, if Hendrickson has a quiet day, someone else will need to step up. The most likely candidates would be either Sam Hubbard or B.J. Hill, who have 7.5 and 5.5 sacks respectively. Usually the pass rush runs through Hendrickson’s ability to create for those around him, but in such a crucial game, the Bengals can’t afford to rely on just one player.
In their first meeting with the Chiefs, the Bengals did not sack Mahomes once. To beat the Chiefs without getting to the quarterback is an anomaly, not the blueprint. To steal a win in Arrowhead, Hendrickson and company are going to have to put Mahomes in the dirt.