Chiefs looking forward to Patriots in AFC Championship Game
For his first appearance on the field in a game, Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins didn’t seem to show any signs of being physically compromised by the foot injury that forced him to miss six regular-season games.
Watkins played 93 percent of the offensive plays (81 of 87 snaps) on Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts, his first game since the Chiefs played the L.A. Rams on Monday Night Football on Nov. 19. Watkins, who’d missed the Chiefs’ previous game leading into the Rams game, played just five snaps against L.A.
“Being on the field was great, just giving those guys the energy and we all feeding off each other” Watkins said. “It was a blessing.”
In his return against the Colts, Watkins caught six passes for 62 yards including a 34-yard reception on the Chiefs’ opening drive. He finished the game having played 11 more plays than teammate and fellow wideout Tyreek Hill (70 snaps).
Immediately after the game, Watkins said he felt great. He credited the coaches and training staff for getting him ready to play. He also indicated that the plan all week was for him to be able to play the full game against the Colts.
“I definitely had good confidence in what the training staff and I put in the work to do,” Watkins said. “During the week, I just kept getting better and I felt great in the game.”
Berry’s absence: With safety Eric Berry inactive Saturday, the Chiefs used Jordan Lucas, Dan Sorensen and Eric Murray for the majority of the game. Sorensen and Lucas were on the field for 84 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive plays (47 snaps), while Murray played 80 percent (45 snaps). Sorensen stayed on the field and played linebacker in passing situations with Murray and Lucas as the safeties.
By comparison, Lucas and Murray played a combined 13 defensive plays in the last game Berry played (against Seattle). Lucas’ playing time came primarily after Berry left the game due to snap-count restrictions.
“I’m not disappointed,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Berry not playing against the Colts. “We’ve had great communication through the process, and (it’s) most important when he and if he can play that he can protect himself and play at the level he wants to play at. He didn’t feel like he was at that level, which he was great at communicating.
“It’s one of those deals. If he can go, he can go. If he can’t, he can’t. I’m proud of the guys that have stepped in and played.”
Erving takes job back: Cam Erving jumped back into the starting lineup at left guard after Jeff Allen had taken over that spot when Erving went down with a knee injury. Allen maintained the job even after Erving was healthy (Erving was inactive against the Los Angeles Chargers, but active against the Seahawks).
Erving played 19 snaps against the Raiders in the regular-season finale when Allen came out of the game. Allen did return to the lineup in that game. However, Erving played every offensive play (87 snaps) in the divisional-round playoff game against the Colts.
The fact that Allen went from being a starter back to a bench role is worth keeping an eye on, particularly with the Chiefs needing to make a decision on whether to activate offensive lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from the injured reserve list this week.
Outside backers: The Chiefs clearly went into Saturday’s game with the intention of switching up some of their pass-rush personnel and wanting to keep fresh legs on the edge. Rookie outside linebacker Breeland Speaks (28 snaps) played just five fewer defensive plays than Justin Houston (34 snaps) against the Colts. Meanwhile, Dee Ford (41 snaps) played the most of the Chiefs’ outside linebacker/edge rushers, at 73 percent of the defensive plays (41 snaps).
Tanoh Kpassagnon played just nine snaps, while the three-man group of Speaks, Houston and Ford rotated and provided different looks against the Colts’ offensive line.
Inside linebacker mix: Rookie linebacker Dorian O’Daniel has taken on the role of third-down/passing-situation linebacker. Depending on the personnel groupings of the offense and how the Chiefs decided to match up, O’Daniel’s playing time has changed drastically from game to game.
With O’Daniel inactive Saturday due to an ankle/calf injury, the Chiefs used Sorensen as the linebacker on passing downs next to starting linebacker Anthony Hitchens (47 snaps). Reggie Ragland, known more as a run-stopper, played just 19 snaps.
The New England Patriots use multiple personnel groupings, including a fullback and multiple tight ends at times. Fullback James Devlin played 42 percent of the Patriots’ offensive plays (33 snaps) against the Chiefs during the regular season, which could mean a heavy dose of Ragland this weekend in the AFC Championship Game.