By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Patrick Mahomes is dangerous no matter where he is on the field. But the Chiefs quarterback is especially explosive when he has a chance to improvise.
The combination of Mahomes’ laser rocket arm and Tyreek Hill’s breakaway speed is the most lethal combo in the league after plays break down. When Mahomes escapes pocket pressure and the rigidly organized game of professional football becomes one big scramble, that’s when Mahomes can really burn you. The Patriots learned that the hard way in their first matchup against the Chiefs, a skin-of-their-teeth 43-40 win in Week 6 in which the Chiefs scored 31 points in the second half.
Mahomes posted an impressive 106.5 passer rating when outside the pocket in that game. Unsurprisingly, his yards per attempt jumped from 8.6 inside the pocket to 13.4 out of it. The Pats did a better job keeping Mahomes in the pocket in the first half of the game, forcing him into a lot of hurried, errant throws and a 24-9 lead at halftime.
“You just can’t make mistakes; they know how to capitalize on those,” said Mahomes when asked about the Chiefs’ early struggles in Foxborough. “We had opportunities in the first half. I missed them with throws, or we missed them with assignments, or whatever the scenario was. You can’t make those mistakes if you want to beat teams like the Patriots, who have found ways to win for a long time now.”
Edge rusher Trey Flowers certainly knows how to keep his discipline on the edge. The challenge for him and the rest of the defensive line will be to balance keeping Mahomes contained with speeding him up.
“Absolutely, I think [the key is] to keep him in the pocket but to also keep pressure on him, not letting him feel comfortable,” said Flowers. “But, obviously, he’s an athletic quarterback. He can throw just as well outside the pocket as he can inside the pocket. I mean, on film, you see him not even looking where he’s throwing and he’s able to hit it, too. I mean, he’s a very accurate quarterback, so we want to keep him inside the pocket but keep pressure on him.”
If Mahomes is able to leak out of the pocket again, the challenge then falls on the secondary. That might be an even bigger problem, considering they’d have to keep up with Tyreek Hill all the way down the field. Mahomes’ aforementioned ability to make more than all the throws – sidearm, no-look, what have you – only makes it harder to know where the ball is going to go.
“I think one of the things is that at times, you have kind of a clock in your head of when the ball’s coming out or when the rush will get there, you just kind of know, you have a feeling on plays. Against Mahomes, it’s a little different,” said safety Devin McCourty on Wednesday. “Like that ball might not come out, he might run backwards ten yards, he might go back across the field, like he just has that ability. Usually you talk about if a guy is on one side of the field, he kind of cuts off the other half, but if you watch him, he makes throws across his body that get to the receiver.
“It’s more of an awareness of understanding what’s still alive with him and that’s what we mean when we say that the whole field is still alive because of his arm strength and athletic ability to buy time.”
Sunday presents a polar opposite of how the Patriots attacked the Chargers’ Philip Rivers. They executed a lot of stunts that freed rushers up the middle, flushing the relatively immobile Rivers outside the hash marks. That’s something they won’t want to do even once against Mahomes.
They had plenty of success with the plan of keeping Mahomes in the pocket for the first half of the last game. In the AFC Championship Game, it’s a matter of stretching that plan out over 60 minutes.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.