All season, it has felt like the only topic any NFL podcast or show wanted to discuss was the Kansas City Chiefs’ inability to pass the ball efficiently against two-high safety coverages — commonly called Cover 2.
Even as the Chiefs began to win, the notion continued. Pundits still (rightfully) pointed out the team’s continued low scoring — but then when the Chiefs’ offense had better games, blamed opposing defenses for failing to use Cover 2.
Over the last three weeks, Kansas City has averaged 39 points per game — and the statistics show that it’s not enough to say defenses simply aren’t running what has worked against the Chiefs.
Over the last 3 weeks, the Chiefs passing offense gained a first down on 46% of their plays against two-high coverages, the highest number in the league.— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) December 28, 2021
And in the team’s 36-10 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked as confident and comfortable while operating from the pocket as he has at any point this season.
He attributes that to the number of times he’s dropped back against a defense in a two-high coverage shell.
“Seeing it a lot, you figure out answers and stuff you can do to combat [it] and have more success,” Mahomes told reporters during his Wednesday press conference. “Then just finding that happy medium, where you’re taking shots still and attacking — but at the same time, hitting the guys underneath; guys are creating a lot of yards when they get the football in their hands at running back, tight end and receiver. I’m just getting the ball out of my hands and letting those guys make plays.”
Without tight end Travis Kelce — who was on the team’s Reserve/COVID list on Sunday — Mahomes had help from his secondary playmakers. Wide receiver Byron Pringle’s two touchdown catches can be credited to the former K-State wideout getting open and dodging tacklers after the catch. Running back Derrick Gore got open on a scramble drill that led to a 50-yard gain.
These plays happened against a mix of coverages — but primarily, they were two-high shells, as head coach Andy Reid pointed out on Wednesday.
“We saw a bunch of it [on] Sunday,” Reid emphasized to reporters. “Teams are mixing more than what we think, so we’re seeing some shell, seeing some single-safety looks, we’re seeing some man — they throw a lot of stuff at you.”
Mahomes has improved not only through his experience playing against those coverages, but also from his overall growth as a player. He’s towards the end of his fourth season as the team’s full-time starter — and his fifth overall.
Mahomes acknowledged that defenses’ strategies to test his patience might have paid off more often when he was younger.
“I think it just comes with maturity and experiences,” he said of his improvement in being patient. “If I was a little bit younger in my career, I might’ve tried to force the issue and make a lot of big plays happen. From learning from those experiences when I have tried to press too much, I’ve learned to trust my teammates, the coaching staff [and] the plays that are getting called to get the ball out of my hands and let guys make plays. At the end of the day, it’s all about winning.”
One defensive strategy that Mahomes has never had trouble defeating is the blitz. Before they knew much about him, defenses would constantly send blitzes — but as Mahomes consistently succeeded against them, they have been deployed against him much less often.
This season, he’s rarely had the chance to beat them — but when he does, he takes advantage. A lot of the credit for that can go to Reid, whose experience has helped Mahomes be prepared in those situations.
“It’s such a big part of the game today,” noted Reid. “When I first got in the league, blitzes were relatively simple — but these defensive coordinators are so creative; they’re bringing people from everywhere except the popcorn vendor. You’ve got to spend time on it; there’s no easy way around it. I’ve been blessed to have some great offensive line coaches that spend the time doing that, quarterback coaches that love it and quarterbacks that love it. They get in — and they’re willing to sweat over it for a day or two to get it right so they can perform with it on Sundays. There’s no easy way around it, other than that.”
That work has paid off. This season, Mahomes has been blitzed on just 15.5% of his dropbacks — less than any other starting quarterback. On those plays, he has a 70% completion percentage, has gained 8.7 yards per attempt and scored seven touchdowns — which adds up to a passer rating of 112.2.
Over the last three weeks — whether defenses have chosen Cover 2 or a stubborn blitz strategy — the Kansas City offense has taken advantage. As the games get more important, the experience that Mahomes (and his teammates) continue to gain can only benefit them.