FOXBORO -- Are the Patriots in a position to try and confound Patrick Mahomes?
Even though they’ve been outstanding for six of their last eight defensive quarters (the second half against Indy being the exception) and Mahomes is just six starts into his NFL career (all wins), this might not be the time to try and make Mahomes' brain overheat with a bunch of sophisticated schemes.
The complement of complementary skill position players the Chiefs have is one reason. From versatile tight end Travis Kelce, to whippet-quick wideout Tyreek Hill to long and athletic wide receiver Sammy Watkins and dangerous running back Kareem Hunt, KC can play a few different styles.
Then factor in Mahomes’ arm strength, accuracy and mobility which allow him to buy time and create on the move. And toss in the myriad motions and formations the Chiefs use, identifying who’s lined up where and doing what is a big enough pre-snap chore.
But it’s not just about Kansas City. Last season, the Patriots were undone in the season opener against the Chiefs by defensive breakdowns that led to long touchdowns. There was a 75-yard pass to Hill early in the third. In the fourth, there was a 78-yard pass to Kareem Hunt and a 21-yard run by Charcandrick West. The Patriots led that one 27-21 entering the fourth and lost 42-21.
What impresses Belichick about Mahomes? 'Pretty much everything'
After the game – and for weeks following – communication breakdowns were an issue.
It took until nearly November for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to find the right scheme to fit his players’ skills.
But as they enter this game against the 5-0 Chiefs, Kansas City coach Andy Reid expects the Patriots to do what they do. Which is whatever is best for flustering an offense.
“(Patriots head coach Bill Belichick) is going to form fit the defense to your offense and do what he feels is best there,” Reid said on Monday. “It might be completely different than the week before. He has done a great job of that over the years. The same thing on offense. They are going to fit it to what they think are your tendencies and matchups and everything else. I think he is great at that.”
Asked if this will be Mahomes’ “greatest test,” Reid predicted, “(Belichick) will have something new. (Sunday’s opponent, Jacksonville) was more diverse in the Cover-3 deal that you might have seen with Seattle. (Jags head coach Doug Marrone) branched off and worked a bunch of things in there so they threw a lot of stuff at him. I would tell you Bill, will do the same thing. He is going to find what he feels is best and he will test you. You have to trust your eyes and what you see and go play.”
The same goes for the defense though because Reid’s offense is forever morphing as well.
“There’s so many shifts and so many motions, they’re attacking you from everywhere from an offensive standpoint,” Jason McCourty said on Monday’s Quick Slants. “Tyreek Hill is outside lined up at receiver in a normal spot, then he’s in the backfield. Then they bring in (5-9, 175-pound wide receiver) De’Anthony Thomas and move him around. Then they bring in Sammy Watkins, he’s in the slot, he’s on the outside. Travis Kelce’s in the backfield, he’s split out wide, there’s just so much that you have to prepare for with so many weapons, I don’t know if there’s a quarterback playing better than Pat Mahomes right now.”
Over Belichick’s career, his teams have had great success against young quarterbacks. They are 16-5 against rookie quarterbacks and 9-0 at home.
The caveat? Mahomes isn’t a rookie anymore. And he sure isn’t playing like it either.