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The Chiefs-Bills game will feature two of the league’s best scrambling quarterbacks

This season, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Buffalo’s Josh Allen have been beating defenders with their legs.

NFL: OCT 16 Bills at Chiefs

Sunday afternoon’s Week 14 game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium will pit two of the league's best rushing quarterbacks against each other. In the past, these matchups featuring the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Bills’ Josh Allen have led to high-quality football that brought the best out of these star players.

But both have had their fair share of struggles this season.

Mahomes has had to work through what we might call a group of developing wide receivers. Their lack of experience has led to inconsistent play. That, in turn, has made it difficult for Mahomes to find a rhythm with any player outside of superstar tight end Travis Kelce. So Mahomes has scrambled more than in previous seasons, taking advantage of clean pockets (and defenders downfield) to pick up yards with his legs.

Allen, of course, has always been ranked among the league’s best rushing quarterbacks — mostly due to his ability to scramble. But in 2023, he also ranks second in total turnovers (13 interceptions and four fumbles) so his ability to run while under pressure has become more important.

A look at the numbers

Neither Mahomes or Allen have been afraid to pick up rushing yards on their own.

In a previous article, I discussed the high quality of the Chiefs' pass protection in 2023 — and how Mahomes' ability to maneuver in the pocket has helped him to have the league’s longest pocket time.

But Mahomes has also scrambled at a high rate. With 39 scrambles for 346 yards — so with five games remaining, he has already tied his total for last season. Twelve of these scrambles have been on third down — and nine of the twelve have resulted in first-down conversions. Last season, Mahomes also had four rushing touchdowns — but has had none so far this season.

The Bills’ offense has failed to find much cohesion in 2023 — but with Allen’s wild style of play, he is always a threat to take off. The quarterback has scrambled 35 times for 266 yards this season. 13 of those were on third down and eight were converted.

A look at the film

Both Mahomes and Allen do a good job of picking their spots to run — and both have used the schemes of opposing defenses against them.

On this rep, the Los Angeles Chargers have four players along the line of scrimmage and seven players standing near the first-down marker on a third-and-16. The Chiefs' pass protectors do their jobs, but no receivers are open at the sticks.

Travis Kelce and Skyy Moore both run crossing patterns — and while the Chargers’ defense eyes Kelce the entire way, only a single defender charged with defending the flat goes for Moore.

As the pass protectors work to wall off the defenders, a big void opens between Mahomes and the first-down marker. Mahomes notices it — but keeps looking downfield, forcing the defenders to remain in coverage. Mahomes finally accelerates to the sticks while picking up a good block from Moore.

The Chargers' fear of what Mahomes can do with his arm led to the quarterback earning the first down with his legs. Once again, Mahomes’ play recognition (and processing) proved to be superior.

While Mahomes takes a calculated approach, Allen thrives on chaos — and instinct.

Here we see the Philadelphia Eagles bring their four-man pass rush — along with both middle linebackers on a blitz. Five men are dropping into coverage, although there are a couple of defenders in zone coverage. Allen recognizes how open the middle of the field appears to be.

As Allen takes off into the void, the Eagles’ zone defenders try to stop him. This is where Allen’s athletic ability (and his bull-in-the-china shop mentality) take over. Using a juke to get past the first would-be tackler, Allen then accelerates into the end zone.

Allen has sometimes been criticized for his reckless playing style — but in the biggest games, he is always willing to leave it on the line.

The bottom line

Since both teams will give the utmost respect to the opposing passing attack, each of these quarterbacks will have chances to change the game with their legs.

We’re already seeing Mahomes on pace for a career-high in rushing yards (he had 381 in 2021). While it does open him up for some hits from defenders, he’s able to minimize that; most of his improvised runs result in first downs as he steps out of bounds just past the marker.

In contrast, Allen is on pace for one of his lowest seasons as a rusher — but since the Chiefs will be without linebacker Drue Tranquill (and will probably have returning linebacker Nick Bolton on a snap count), the floodgates could be open for Allen to scramble.

Both defenses will need to be ready to contain the damage each quarterback can do after a play breaks down.

It's Game Time.

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