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Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs offense getting used to expecting the unexpected from defenses

Opposing defenses are throwing everything and anything at the Chiefs, even if it’s not what they’d do against another team.

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

When you’ve been at the top of the mountain, every team is doing its best to bring you down.

That’s what the Kansas City Chiefs have dealt with since winning the Super Bowl three seasons ago. The target on their back has not gotten smaller, even if the team is different from the one that raised the Lombardi Trophy in February 2020.

It’s not just an opponent’s effort that rises when they match up with the Chiefs, but it’s also their on-field strategies. Head coach Andy Reid recognizes that and talked through it with reporters on Wednesday before practice.

“With the record that we have, we seem to get different looks than maybe what the team has shown traditionally,” Reid explained. “We’ve seen that for the last couple of years now and you’ve got to be able to be a little flexible on your feet there to maneuver around it. We’re lucky that we’ve got guys that can retain, we got a quarterback who gets it, and so we’re able to pull a couple of things here and there if needed.”

The Buffalo Bills’ defensive game plan in Week 6 was a good example of this. They are traditionally a zone-heavy defense, not relying on man coverage or any coverages with only one safety deep. However, they played more man than zone against the Chiefs, forcing Kansas City to adjust on the fly.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is trying to get used to expecting the unexpected. He talked through this same topic with reporters before practice on Wednesday.

“I think it’s just defenses are throwing us different pitches,” Mahomes shared. “They know that last year was kind of more shell and zone coverages, and they had some success with that, and then we kind of started beating that, and then they went back to the man coverages again now. They’re doing a good job of trying to mix and match it where they’re not going to let us get the same coverage in the same situation every time. They’re going to keep changing it.”

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Again, Buffalo executed these change-ups well. On the game-ending interception, the Bills mixed man and zone coverage — tricking Mahomes into thinking that his intended receiver was being covered only by the cornerback chasing him. Instead, another defender in zone read Mahomes’ eyes the whole way and jumped the route.

Another way the Bills went against their traditional strategies was by using packages on third down that featured only three defensive linemen. Linebacker Matt Milano spied Mahomes as the de facto fourth rusher. On the interception, Milano’s presence causes Mahomes to hesitate before he threw.

It was eerily similar to what the Cincinnati Bengals did in last year’s AFC Championship game. It’s not new to Mahomes, but he knows he has to perform better against it.

“It’s something I’ve seen since college,” Mahomes recalled. “It’s third-and-long (and) they want to get guys in coverage, and they also want to have someone there for all my scramble plays and stuff like that, so just continue to stay firm in the pocket, have good pocket presence and trusting the receivers and the tight ends and running backs to get open downfield even if it takes a tick longer. I have to trust that the pocket’s going to be firm.”

The pocket wasn’t always firm against Buffalo, but it is true that Mahomes had opportunities to help his offensive tackles with better management of where the pass rush was coming from.

Buffalo Bills v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

There’s room for improvement from the team’s best player in that respect, and that’s OK — because it is only Week 7. While Mahomes works through that, he is at least confident in how the offensive coaching staff is setting him up before every snap.

“We do a great job of motioning,” Mahomes noted. “Even when defenses (are) giving me the false man-zone IDs, you get a good feel by the alignment of the DBs or how the linebackers, their eyes are in the backfield. There’s little tells you can get from every defense, and I think I’ve done a great job with.”

“Now it’s about getting through your progression and getting to the right guy. And that’s something that I think I could’ve been better than I was last week, and I’ve been better this season, but as the season goes on, we want to stay on top of that.”

It won’t be the last time the Chiefs face a defense with the talent and coaching to confuse the Chiefs the best they can; in fact, the San Francisco 49ers fit that bill — and they are the next opponent on the schedule.

It comes down to how well Mahomes and coach Reid handle those moments. It could have been better against Buffalo, but now that’s just a lesson learned — experience to draw from for the next time they face that kind of strategy.

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