MIAMI, Flor. - Going up against Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl will be the most challenging task the defense of the 49ers will have faced this season. Mahomes has been on tear ever since taking over as the starting quarterback for the Chiefs in 2018.
What makes Mahomes unique is that he defies quarterback logic, like throwing across your body or throwing to the backside on the run. He is that special of a talent that he makes fantasy become reality.
One of his traits that makes him a frustrating matchup is his mobility. He's not going to run all over a defense like a Lamar Jackson - that isn't his M.O. But he will use his legs to find the ideal look to throw his receiver open. It doesn't matter if his receiver is on the backside of the field or 30 yards deep. Mahomes will target his man if there's even a sliver of an opening.
The use of the scramble drill is what gives him that edge that teeters him to the top as the best quarterback. Defending the scramble drill is tough for any defender in the league to account for because it turns into backyard football.
To gain the best understanding of it, I asked former receiver James Jones of NFL Network about this style of football and how to counter it. Jones excelled at the scramble drill during his tenure with the Packers.
"You got to understand that you're going to have to cover for seven or eight seconds." He said. "When I was in Green Bay, that was a main focal point of our offense. If the play breaks down or if there's pressure, you get outside of the pocket, let's go to the scramble drill and make this secondary cover for seven to eight seconds."
Jones also mentions that nine times out of 10, a receiver will always manage to break open if the defense is forced to cover for seven to eight seconds. That is something that the 49ers' defense has hardly had to do this season because of their vaunted pass rush. However, even against top of the line pass rushing team's, Mahomes finds a way to manipulate the pocket to break free and gash the defense.
"It'll be key for the Niners' front-seven to keep Patrick Mahomes in the pocket. Force him to throw from in the pocket because if he gets outside the pocket clean and is able to extend the play with all of the speed that they have on that offense - man it's going to be a tough cover for seven to eight seconds for the Niners."
Just like they have all season long, the defensive front of the 49ers will play critical role in succeeding the game. The edge rushers must not run too far up field so it does not create a lane for Mahomes to escape the pocket without issue. Setting the edge is one of the best way to get to Mahomes. Keep him in their and allow the inside rushers like DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead to get there.
The defensive front has to be perfect on all accounts and have done so in a plethora of games. Sunday against the Chiefs will not be a game for them to slouch on. Otherwise, they will put their secondary and linebackers in a pickle situation where they are at the mercy of Mahomes. Any of the receivers can easily break off of their routes and find the soft spot.
If this situation occurs too many times in the game, then the coverage guys on defense will start to tire out. That is, however, a big if. Much like how Mahomes is a quarterback that the 49ers have never faced - the defense of the 49ers is unlike a defense Mahomes has ever faced.
The Titans in the AFC championship game had linebacker Jayon Brown act as a spy to keep Mahomes in check if he wanted to run with it. Clearly, he did not do a sufficient enough job when Mahomes blew past him and the rest of their defense for the 20 yard touchdown run.
It'll be vastly different if Mahomes wants to do the same against the linebackers of the 49ers, who can break on the ball like a speeding bullet.
Former cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is now an analyst for NFL Network, believes it will not be an easy day scrambling for Mahomes when he faces the 49ers on Sunday.
"Fred Warner is a different athlete. Dre Greenlaw is a different athlete. Kwon Alexander - these are 230 pound linebackers who could very easily be strong safeties." He said. "If those guys are spying him, then that's a little bit different."
This will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the day when the 49ers and Chiefs finally take the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. Mahomes is a top-tier quarterback, but the 49ers' defense are no slouches either. If they can keep his mobility in check, then it will make their jobs much lighter on defense.