At 25, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL. He’s 32-8 (including the playoffs), was an MVP in his first year as a starter, a Super Bowl MVP in his second and just became the fastest quarterback to reach 10,000 yards passing – doing it in 34 regular-season games.
In short, he’s preternatural.
He’s also unstoppable … or so it seems. New England last week came close to handcuffing him but, in the end, Mahomes solved the Patriots’ puzzle, throwing two touchdowns en route to a 26-10 victory, the Chiefs’ 13thconsecutive victory dating back to last season.
So how do you defend the guy? Better yet, how do you solve him? Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy has an idea, and he shared it with us on “The Eye Test” during last week’s inaugural broadcast.
“It’s simple to defend Mahomes,” Dungy said. “But it’s not easy. You have to have some elements. You have to have four guys who can create pressure and rush the passer without blitzing.
“I thought that was the key (last Monday night when the Patriots played the Chiefs). Bill Belichick watched Baltimore blitz and get torn to shreds. He watched everybody go after Mahomes and said, ‘That’s not the idea.’ (So) they rushed three. They rushed four. They had some different guys coming, and they were able to get pressure. But they did it without five and six guys.
“And then you have to sit back and play some zones, which Bill Belichick is not a ‘zone guy.’ But they played some zones Monday and made (Mahomes) throw the ball underneath and made some tackles.”
Consider Dungy an expert on this subject. He was the coach in Tampa Bay who handcuffed Kurt Warner and “The Greatest Show on Turf” in the 1999 NFC championship game, with the Bucs intercepting Warner three times and holding St. Louis to five points through three-and-a-half quarters.
Then Warner hit Ricky Proehl with a 30-yard touchdown pass with just under five minutes left, and that was that. Final: Rams 11, Tampa Bay 6.
Nevertheless, Dungy did something no one else that season could: Frazzle Warner and the league’s highest-scoring offense. Including the playoffs, the Rams never scored fewer than 21 points that year and 13 times scored more than 30.
Of course, that was before the NFL stepped in with rules changes that eviscerated defenses. Still, Dungy believes the lesson hasn’t changed: Great rushes can trump great quarterbacks like Mahomes – provided the pressure comes from a four-man rush.
It happened to Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLII when the Giants stunned the 18-0 Patriots, and it happened to Brady again in Super Bowl XLVI when the Giants repeated the trick en route to a last-minute victory.
“Tom is like Patrick Mahomes, Peyton Manning,” said Dungy. “A lot of the great ones are like that. If you can’t get pressure you’re going to die. He’s going to kill you. If you have to blitz to get pressure, he’s going to kill you. Because he’s seen all the blitzes, he knows where the ball has to get out and he can get it out quickly and accurately.
“To stop guys like that you have to be able to rush with four guys and cover with seven, mix different coverages but still get pressure. And that’s what you see from great defenses in the playoffs. That’s what they’re able to do.”
But that’s not all.
“The other thing you have to do,” said Dungy, “is when you force them to throw 35 passes and you’re playing a lot of zone, you have to intercept the interceptable ball. And that’s where New England didn’t do it (Monday) night.”
He’s right about that. The Patriots dropped two and a third was overruled by overzealous officials who called Mahomes down before he was separated from a ball that fell into the arms of New England’s Shilique Calhoun.
“If they intercept two of those balls that they had in their hands,” said Dungy, “they would’ve been in great shape. That’s what we did in that game against the Rams. We did everything (right) except (on) the last ball they threw to Ricky Proehl, Brian Kelly just missed it. Otherwise, that might’ve been a 6-5 win for us.”