AFC Championship X-factor: the Run Game

            With a win launching either team into the Super Bowl, both the Chiefs and Patriots will be sure to maximize their successes and mitigate their mistakes. The Chiefs boast the dynamic passing game of the young, vibrant Patrick Mahomes with multiple versatile weapons in Travis Kelce, Tyreke Hill, and simply too many other options to name. New England will be heavily leaning on Tom Brady, the man who needs no introduction and is so electric in the playoffs. While both offenses will be taking off through the air, the surprising difference in this game will come on the ground.

            The NFL has evolved offensively this season and its been amazing to see so many unique mobile quarterbacks this season. Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, and Lamar Jackson highlight just a few of the dual threat quarterbacks the league has to offer. While the game needs that deep threat passer with a strong arm (and the mobile aspect is a welcomed plus), it is impossible to generate the best version of the passing attack without the run game to keep defenses off balance. A solid run game allows the quarterback to have some pressure taken off himself and it forces defenses to cover both aspects and must prepare for both. I equate the importance of the run game to the post play of NBA centers.

            While the NBA is putting up record points and high scoring thrillers, it should come as no surprise that the 3-point shot is so vital and has become so crucial to NBA teams. While three points will always be worth more than two, it’s impossible to just shoot 3’s: the defense will know it’s coming every time. The impressive post play of centers will force defenses to play tighter defense down low and dominant centers attract major attention; thus, that extra help will free up shooters to have more space and a greater chance to succeed.  

            Too much of one thing in life is never a good thing. Granted, my NBA analogy is not perfect by any stretch, but the key thing to focus on is balance. I don’t believe a team can win a game only throwing the football as bold as that sounds. The run game may be overlooked when compared to the excellence of quarterbacks like Mahomes and Brady, but it can’t go undervalued and will be the difference maker in the game this weekend. Damien Williams for the Chiefs and Sony Michel for the Patriots will be so influential in this matchup.

            Crazy enough, both running backs have rushed for the same number of yards (129) this postseason. Michel has two more rushing touchdowns this post season, but I am not going to put a crazy amount of stock in these numbers since both have only played one post season game and both were offensive blowouts. I also don’t believe it is important to compare them either simply because they function in different ways. Michel is purely a rusher while Williams is a healthy mix of both a pass catcher and a rusher.

            Every NFL coach knows simply how critical the run game is to the success of both the team and the offense. While passing may be more exciting and ultimately easier to chew off big gains, the run game is the grit and tenacity of the offense that sets the pace for the game. If you can’t run the ball, your pass game may still work, but it won’t be able to be as powerful as it could be. While everyone may be watching the quarterback play, the run game may be the biggest factor to consider in this AFC Championship matchup.

           

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