KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Steve Spagnuolo famously served as a foil to Tom Brady, so it’s worth considering when the Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator compares Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to the most successful QB in NFL history.
“He’s elite,” Spagnuolo said Thursday as the Chiefs continued preparations to host Burrow and company in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. “… It’s hard to compare a quarterback to the best there ever was, but he (Burrow) certainly seems on his way to it. We have so much respect for this quarterback and what he does. But we will try to find a way to slow it down if possible.
That has proven challenging over the past two seasons for Kansas City, which is winless in three games against Cincinnati during that span.
Burrow outpaced Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during that span, averaging over 327 yards with eight touchdowns and just one interception in his three wins, including an overtime comeback win in last season’s AFC title game.
The Bengals average 6.5 yards per game with at least 21 first downs in each game and boast a 54.3% third down conversion rate in their last three meetings.
“We have to do much better,” said Spagnuolo.
He said “the only thing that jumped out” was the length of the pushes the Bengals mounted against the Chiefs’ defence.
“That means our quarterback doesn’t have the kick, so somehow we have to make sure the drives are shorter and we can get the ball back,” Spagnuolo said. “So, I’m talking about tenure time.”
Cincinnati has dominated the game clock in the past two meetings, so it wants to see a better performance against the run.
But the NFL is a quarterback league and Burrow is among the best right now.
“This guy is elitist in everything he does,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s not just about throwing the ball. He’s throwing him in the right spots, he’s making the right decisions, he’s bailing himself out when he’s being rushed by some good passers-by. You have to find a way to be in control a little bit, because he’s cunning.’
He cautioned that running with too much control means the pass rush never hits home, which isn’t ideal against the new “Joe Cool” either.
“He never panics in his pocket,” Spagnuolo said. “It looks like he has six eyeballs around his head, right? Seriously, we saw this last night – (defensive line coach) Joe (Cullen) and I were watching – and there’s a rusher coming and it looks like he’s going to catch it. Joe didn’t do much, but he made one move, never lost his balance, took a couple of steps and hit the ball downfield.”
Kansas City’s secondary and passing rush, in particular, will need to step up to earn a third-place Super Bowl berth in the last four seasons and keep Burrow from returning.
The Chiefs’ starting coverage will need to be tight enough to give the pass rush time to come home, and once there, AFC Defensive Player of the Year finalist Chris Jones and company need to finish off Burrow.
“Besides the arm talent he has, he can throw all kinds of pitches: deep balls, short balls,” said Kansas City safety Justin Reid. “He is also very patient. He makes excellent decisions with football, he almost never reverses it. It’s really hard to get the gimmicks you sometimes see quarterbacks giving the ball away. But with him, you really have to take it away; he won’t give you anything.
It will be up to the bosses to accept if they want to continue down the road to Arizona.