Despite destiny putting the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills on a postseason collision course, neither defense was equipped to deal with the opposing quarterback. The sheer level the two were playing may have made it near impossible, but with so many quarterbacks in the AFC that can create and extend with their legs, neither team had a pass rushing threat with the speed to disrupt their timing.
After the 2020 season, the Cleveland Browns made the decision to release Adrian Clayborn, a designated pass rusher the team acquired because of his ability to win one on one matchups. He continued to defeat blocks as a member of the Browns, but he struggled to run down athletic quarterbacks. He looked like he was running in quicksand, muting any impact he might have made.
The Browns signed free agent pass rusher Takkarist McKinley to replace Clayborn. McKinley offered tremendous speed off the edge. His career had been disappointing, but that particular skill made him attractive to the Browns.
The Browns saw where the conference was heading. Allen, Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow all stand in their way if they want to get to the Super Bowl, let alone win it. All of them are capable of making game winning throws, but that game changing mobility made it necessary to get someone that could come off the edge and at least make them nervous, force them to make quicker decisions.
Fly off the edge on the side of the quarterback's throwing arm and try to limit their ability to roll to that side. Attack from the back side and have the necessary speed to threaten the quarterback's blind side if they try to slow down and scan the field.
The Browns didn't stop with McKinley. They selected Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Browns rarely blitzed him this season, but his range was valuable in defending quarterbacks once they crossed the line of scrimmage, discouraging some from trying.
The Bills had the top defense in the league in 2021, but they didn't have a single player that could scare Mahomes with speed near the line of scrimmage. Drafting Gregory Rousseau and Carlos Basham in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft may have bolstered their defensive line overall, but didn't offer much help in defending Mahomes.
The Chiefs didn't have much to defend Allen either. They were able to acquire Melvin Ingram at the trade deadline in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers and he made an impact on the game, but even that only went so far against Allen. The fact Allen is the fully evolved form of Cam Newton only adds to the difficulty of defending him.
Both quarterbacks were operating at the peak of their powers, but it's difficult to imagine that someone that could threaten them with speed wouldn't have made a difference. It's a massive oversight for two teams that can expect to see each other on an almost annual basis with their seasons on the line.
With McKinley suffering a torn Achilles' at the end of the season, all but wiping out his 2022 season, look for the Browns to find another avenue to address this area.
One player that may benefit from Sunday's quarterbacking masterpiece could be Michigan edge rusher David Ojabo. His speed and athleticism combined with a developing skill set profile as a player that can help to combat quarterbacks who can win with their legs as well as their arm.
Should he be available at 13th pick, it wouldn't be a surprise for the Browns to pull the trigger, adding him to the fearsome duo of Myles Garrett and pending free agent Jadeveon Clowney, giving them one of the more feared, diverse pass rushing attacks the league has to offer.
Two other teams that stand out as potential landing spots for Ojabo are the New York Jets, who have two top ten picks and face the Buffalo Bills twice per season as well as the Denver Broncos, who are at least slated to pick 11th. Everything with the Broncos will depend on their ability to acquire a quarterback this offseason, but a team that sees both Mahomes and Herbert twice per season will likely be in the market for a speedy edge rusher.
Their linebackers and secondary were a catastrophe this past season but no defensive front is better equipped to defend every type of quarterback than the Pittsburgh Steelers. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith on the outside with Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt (injured much of the season) on the interior. No matter the quarterback, that front is a nightmare.
With so many quarterbacks who can take over the game with their legs as well as their arm, it's critical teams adapt ways to defend them. Everyone doesn't get to have a T.J. Watt, Micah Parsons or Devin White, but they must at least have the option to bring speed into the game in an attempt to generate pressure and disrupt these passing offenses.