How Patriots Defense Should Attack Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs Offense
Remember Patrick Mahomes? With all the Lamar Jackson hype, Mahomes has seemingly taken a backseat to the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback.
Mahomes is only one year removed from his 50 touchdown, MVP season, although, he has not looked half as good so far this year and has battled through injuries as well.
Last time the New England Patriots saw Mahomes was the AFC Championship game. He was silenced in the first half, however, in the third and fourth quarters, he threw three touchdowns and then finished the game with a 117.0 passer rating. The Patriots' defense has gotten a lot better since that night. The Chiefs' offense in some ways has gotten worse.
Mahomes is coming off a 40-9 win against the Raiders, where he did not overly impress, however, he made some throws that reminded fans of why he was considered the next best thing during last season. So, while Mahomes has not been able to do what he did last year so far, how should the Patriots attack a still top-five quarterback with the ability to beat your defense on any given play?
Let's find out by talking about Mahomes' strengths and weaknesses and then get into New England's gameplan against the 3rd-year QB.
What does he do well?
Mahomes is an electric playmaker. He is a backyard football player with a cannon of an arm and a group of speedy receivers that can be easy to lose in space.
Sometimes he will be in a spot that fans just wonder how he can get out of. He time and time again has thrown himself out of this situation and put his receivers in a good spot to make a great play.
Mahomes has all the tools. He throws with some of the best touch and anticipation you will see out of a quarterback in this league. His arm strength might be the best in the league. He is a technician in zone coverage and makes so many big plays when he finds the weak spot in the zone.
The above video shows the perfect touch by Mahomes to tight end Travis Kelce.
Besides picking apart zones, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid also dials up many read-pass options for Mahomes. In fact, the Chiefs run RPOs more than any other team in the league. Which is something the Patriots have had to deal with a whole lot over the last few weeks.
The Patriots have had their struggles against RPOs, which is one of the very few ways their elite defense has been exposed this season. RPOs will be a great way for the Chiefs to not just confuse New England's linebackers and attack the middle of the field through the air, but also to get the ground game rolling on a day when two of Kansas City's top RBs will be absent because of injuries. Expect many RPOs from the Chiefs against New England's top defense.
Where is Mahomes vulnerable?
When the man coverage is tight, Mahomes is at his worst. Watch the first half of the AFC Championship again. The Patriots were in man coverage against Kansas City's speedy receivers. They took Tyreek Hill out of the equation, and confused Mahomes with crazy blitz stunts, attacking all kinds of gaps.
Man coverage with pressure in his face is not something he excels under.
Lately, since his knee injury earlier in the season, Mahomes has also seemed slightly trigger happy and skittish in the pocket because of his offensive line.
For example, in this clip here, Mahomes escapes a pretty clean pocket, overreacting to the pressure, and to make matters worse, throws across his body, to the other side of the field, on the run. The pass should have been intercepted by Nevin Lawson. Lawson was the only man in the area, however, he dropped a potential pick six.
Mahomes has been throwing off his back foot a lot more this season. Some have even said that he has looked like an old Brett Farve lately.
How to attack?
The Patriots should dial up some tight, man coverage and zero blitzes against Mahomes, which has been New England's bread and butter this season.
Now, Reid is not just going to let Belichick call the same game he has called for both previous matches against the Chiefs in the first half.
In the first half of both games last year, Belichick played tight man coverage and dialed up some blitzes. Then, once they went into the locker room, Reid forced them to adjust and both times New England started playing more zone coverage in the second half, which is where Mahomes can really do damage.
Needless to say, the game will be a chess match of constant changes between both sides. Reid will likely try to use some pick plays and some RPOs for sure to attack the Patriots' tight man coverage. The Patriots will try to bring pressure in the face of Mahomes and make him throw more riskier, bolder passes against one of the better secondaries in the league.
Look for Jamie Collins to line up a lot against the left side of that offensive line, which right now is really struggling. If Collins can generate pressure on Mahomes' blindside and the Patriots can get in his face early, Mahomes may get very uneasy.
Matchup wise, Jonathan Jones will look to have a bounce back performance and cover the speedy, rookie receiver Mecole Hardman.
Jason McCourty's status is unknown but if he is active, he will likely be covering Sammy Watkins. Watkins, almost by default, is the Chiefs' most physical receiver. Putting JC Jackson on him might spell disaster. McCourty is a lot more technical and serves as a nice matchup for Watkins.
Lastly, Gilmore will likely see some time on Hill. However, he may also cover Kelce for some of the matchup. During the Eagles game, Gilmore spent some time on Zach Ertz and you should expect him to do the same against Kelce. Jackson may also see some time on Hill. The second year CB excels against deep ball receivers.
The gameplan will change throughout the game. A smart mind like Reid will force New England to adjust. However, until that happens, this will be the best method against Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense.