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Patrick Mahomes previews matchup against Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer

The Kansas City quarterback has gotten used to two-high coverages — but Buffalo’s duo may play it better than anyone.

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes started the playoffs with a bang against the Pittsburgh Steelers, going for over 400 yards and throwing five touchdowns in Kansas City’s 42-21 victory. It was the kind of performance of which everyone knows he is capable — and maybe even expects.

But during a rough stretch in the middle of the season, it wasn’t the kind of game we usually saw from the Chiefs’ star quarterback — beginning with Week 5’s 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Mahomes finished that game with a 70.9 passer rating and just over 5 yards per attempt.

The Bills were one of the first — and best — teams that neutralized the Kansas City offense by truly staying in a soft Cover 2 zone and never sending more than four pass rushers; in Week 5, they didn’t blitz even once.

But since then, the Chiefs have faced that approach plenty of times — and Mahomes has naturally adjusted to attack defenses in the areas that have been left vulnerable.

“When teams are playing these deep coverages and they’re really focusing on Tyreek and Travis — and all these other receivers we have — getting the ball to the running backs in space then making one guy miss usually ends up being big gains,” Mahomes explained to reporters on Wednesday.

That adjustment has led to some big performances from the running backs in the passing game — including Darrel Williams’ 101-yard receiving game against the Las Vegas Raiders and 60 yards in two other games. It was Jerick McKinnon, however, who took advantage of those short passes in last Sunday’s playoff opener, in which the veteran running back had six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.

“Jerick did a great job of that this week,” said Mahomes. “When we run the ball, you see the stuff over the top opens up. You just have to be patient with that — and whenever you get a chance to hit over the top, you make sure you execute that one.”

But the backs aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of the soft coverage. Mahomes can also benefit from teams emphasizing coverage in the intermediate to deep levels of the field; he knows he can take off and get easy yards.

“You’ve seen it from me in the playoffs before,” Mahomes noted of his scrambling ability. “It’s when teams really focus in on Tyreek and Travis — where they have two people on both of them. Then other guys are getting covered in man coverage situations — [and] it kind of opens up lanes for me to run.”

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Mahomes totaled 29 rushing yards against the Steelers — with 23 of those coming on one scramble in which the middle of the field had been left completely vacant. He finds success by being confident in his athletic ability.

“I’ve been telling Tyreek I’m getting faster every year, too,” smiled Mahomes. “So I got a little bit of speed there. When the opportunity is presented, I try to get first downs and get out of bounds.”

Against Buffalo earlier this season, Mahomes totaled a career-high 61 rushing yards by scrambling, gaining decent chunks of yardage when it was the best option. It was necessary because of how well the Bills’ secondary had executed its game plan. That started with their star safeties Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde — to whom head coach Andy Reid gave proper respect on Wednesday.

“I’d say they’re one of the better ones in the league,” Reid told reporters. “They’re great communicators. They can get everybody lined up where they need to get them lined up, they can cover — and they can tackle.”

Mahomes will be facing the tandem for the fourth time in the last two seasons, so he’s well aware of the talent they possess.

“They’re very smart, very athletic and have a great understanding of what they want to do as a defense,” Mahomes said of Poyer and Hyde. “They’re two Pro Bowl-caliber players. It’s hard to get two safeties like that on the same team — and they play well off of each other. They know how to kind of rock the two high shells to go to one high. They both can play up top or down low, so it’s a tremendous challenge to try to get a read for what they’re doing.”

In preparation for this game, it’s safe to assume Mahomes will want to keep an eye on each of those players as much as possible. Buffalo will trust them to mix up the coverages they play — and when they do, the Chiefs will have to execute big plays to take advantage.

Here is a good example of such a play from the last matchup. Although the Chiefs missed this chance, it shows how they can take advantage of Buffalo playing with only one safety over the top.

That game, however, happened over three months ago. Since then, Mahomes has improved his defensive recognition — and has also improved his pocket presence, leading to more checkdowns in rhythm to counter soft zones.

That improvement was all so he could make it back to this game — and redeem himself for another one that was well below his standards.

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