Why Melvin Ingram III Is the Chiefs’ Secret Weapon Against the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game

The road to the AFC Championship hasn’t been the smoothest ride for the Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid’s squad has had its ups and downs in the 2021 NFL season. Still, the Chiefs are heading to the AFC Championship Game for the fourth year in a row.

The emergence of Melvin Ingram III has been one of the highlights of Kansas City’s late-season run and could play a role against the Cincinnati Bengals. Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce remain the stars for the Chiefs, but the defensive end is the secret weapon in the rematch.

Melvin Ingram III has been a game-changer for the Chiefs

Melvin Ingram III helps lead the Chiefs to AFC Championship Game against the Bengals
Melvin Ingram III of the Chiefs reacts during game against the Las Vegas Raiders | David Eulitt/Getty Images

The 2021 season didn’t quite start the way Melvin Ingram III had planned. The 10th-year edge-rusher signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers after spending nine seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers.

Ingram played a sizable role through the first few weeks of 2021. However, his role decreased as the season progressed.

According to ESPN‘s Brooke Pryor, the three-time Pro Bowler expressed frustration after playing 26% of the defensive snaps against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 6. As a result, the Steelers traded Ingram to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for a sixth-round pick.

The Chiefs easily won the trade, especially considering what they gave up to get a key contributor. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s unit struggled mightily in the first half of the season. However, the defense not so coincidentally turned things around once Ingram arrived.

The South Carolina product hasn’t exactly filled up the stat sheet. He recorded 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, and one forced fumble in nine games with the Chiefs. Still, he’s made his imprint on multiple games thanks to his motor and veteran experience.

Why the 3-time Pro Bowler can shine against the Bengals

While Melvin Ingram III is not an every-down starter for Kansas City’s defense, he could see a lot of run against the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.

The 32-year-old defensive end was on the field for 75% of the snaps in the win over the Buffalo Bills in the Divisional Round. He could see a similar snap share against Cincinnati.

The Bengals boast an explosive offense with plenty of weapons. However, the Tennessee Titans exposed a glaring weakness — the offensive line. Tennessee’s run defense is one of the best in the NFL, so it wasn’t surprising to see it contain running back Joe Mixon. The Titans’ pass rush was the story, though.

Tennessee sacked Joe Burrow nine times, the most the offensive line has allowed all season. Pass protection was a significant issue in 2020, and it ultimately cut Burrow’s rookie season short. The front office put a Band-Aid on the problem, but it reared its ugly head in the Divisional Round.

Ingram thrives in the trenches, wreaking havoc in the backfield. Even if he’s not racking up sacks, he can undoubtedly make life difficult for Cincinnati’s offensive tackles.

Cincinnati cannot afford to let its franchise quarterback take that kind of punishment again. Unlike the Titans offense, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will make the Bengals pay.

Kansas City’s defense must play better in the AFC Championship Game

The Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills put together one of the most dramatic finishes in recent memory during the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. The fireworks were on full display, but the defenses were nonexistent down the stretch.

Buffalo ended the game with 422 yards of total offense. The Chiefs gave up several big plays through the air, including four Gabriel Davis touchdowns. Had the overtime coin flip gone the other way, the Bills may be in the AFC Championship Game instead.

Kansas City’s defense must step up to the plate against the Bengals. The unit should be familiar with the opponent after losing to Cincinnati in the regular season. The Chiefs surrendered 475 total yards to Joe Burrow and company during the 34-31 Week 17 loss. They can’t allow that to happen the second time around.

Melvin Ingram III, Chris Jones, and Frank Clark must take advantage of the mismatches on the edge. Getting after Burrow will be the key to stopping Cincinnati’s offense and advancing to the Super Bowl. If the second-year quarterback is on his heels, that’s less time he has to get the ball to Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.

If the defense doesn’t put all the pressure on the offense, Kansas City could represent the AFC in the Super Bowl for the third year in a row.

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

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