The Chiefs enter the 2022 season on a run of four consecutive years making it to the AFC championship game or Super Bowl. Last year ended for them when they fell apart and gave a game away at home to the Bengals, losing in overtime one week shy of the Super Bowl. As they look to make a fifth consecutive deep run into the playoffs, their division has become arguably the most difficult in football and they lost a key piece of their historically good offense.
The biggest change for this year will be the offense’s loss of all-pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Hill was used in a dynamic role all over the field and targeted in the short, intermediate, and deep areas of the field as a moveable chess piece that defenses had to account for. The Chiefs will not try to replace the “Hill” role in their offense with just one player, rather Andy Reid will have a somewhat redesigned offense built around the strengths of the players they do have. By all camp accounts, newcomer Juju Smith-Schuster will operate as the de facto WR1 this season – meaning he will have the highest snap count and be the most targeted of the group. As stated earlier, it won’t be a straight one-for-one replacement for Hill as JuJu has a different skill set and doesn’t match Hill’s straight line speed. He will likely be used on a lot of the shorter and intermediate routes and used interchangeably with Travis Kelce as they take turns attacking the seams and in-breaking routes. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was also brought in and will be the “#2” while being used often as a vertical field stretcher on the perimeter. Finally, Mecole Hardman maintains his role as the third receiver of the group and will be used on gadget plays and manufactured touches, with some deep shots of his own mixed in.
As for how this game plays out on this side of the ball, it will be very interesting to see how Arizona approaches the game philosophically. In last year’s playoff loss to the Rams, the Cardinals blitzed on 50% of Stafford’s dropbacks – despite Stafford having the best season of all NFL QB’s against the blitz – and he tore them apart. Mahomes has similarly been much better against the blitz than when facing four or fewer rushers during his career, while Arizona ranked 4th in the league in blitz rate last season. Complicating matters even more for the Cardinals defense will be the fact that they lost Chandler Jones, who was second on the team with 10.5 sacks last year, and linebacker Jordan Hicks, who was second on the team in tackles. There was a portion of last season where the Chiefs offense struggled as defenses had supposedly “figured them out” and began dropping back into Cover 2 and Cover 3 shell coverages while bringing less pressure. Eventually, the Chiefs adjusted their approach and took the easier underneath openings that defenses were giving them and got back on track, but we can unequivocally say that this defensive approach has shown much greater promise against the Chiefs offense. Meanwhile, the Chiefs have continuity and talent on one of the top offensive lines in the league while the Cardinals may have one of the least talented defensive fronts at this point.
The Chiefs won’t completely abandon the run by any means, but they have an all-world QB playing behind an elite offensive line and have been one of the highest pass rate over expectation (PROE) teams in the league since Mahomes took over, so it is safe to say they should be relatively pass heavy. The Cardinals already have a philosophy of bringing pressure through the blitz and are at a heavy disadvantage up front, making it likely that they stay true to themselves here and are aggressive against a team that will have to “prove” that they are the same explosive team without Tyreek Hill. This could line up for a game of fireworks for the Chiefs offense as Mahomes will get single coverage and open spaces to throw his receivers open.