Analysis

How to Beat the Chiefs

In his 41 career NFL games, former league MVP and reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes has only lost eight games. His only loss this season was to the Raiders — a loss he avenged with a win in Las Vegas Sunday night. So with a regular-season winning percentage of 80% with Mahomes under center, it begs the question: Can anyone dethrone the Kansas City Chiefs? And if so, how?

No team has found continued success against Mahomes in the regular season — his eight losses have all come against different teams. So when a team begins to prepare for Mahomes and the Chiefs, how should they be scheming to limit Mahomes?

“Limit” is the keyword. It’s not how you can stop Patrick Mahomes, it’s how you can limit him. In the week leading up to playing the Chiefs, teams will be looking at three major categories in regards to limiting Mahomes: controlling the time of possession, reducing the number of explosive plays and generating pressure without blitzing.

Let’s examine all three:

Controlling the Clock:

Let’s take a look at the the games Mahomes has lost and trends that emerged in those contests:

Controlling the clock is the most effective way for an opponent to reduce the Chiefs’ scoring ability. It’s simple: The less time Mahomes is on the field, the less damage he can do. Of course, this is the consensus around the league no matter the opponent. The more time you have the ball, the less time your opponent has the ball and the greater your chance of winning. This isn’t an plea to run the ball. The most effective way to control the clock and score is not always on the ground. Make first downs. Screen passes and short passes are a subset of the run game and help control possession.

In his eight career losses (Chargers, Patriots, Rams, Titans, Colts, Seahawks, Texans and Raiders), the winning team:

Controlled the clock in 7 of the 8 games (Titans in 2019 were the exception)

The average time of possession of the winning team was 33 minutes and 40 seconds (3:40 more than the Chiefs in those matchups)

In 5 of the 8 games, the winner had at least a 35:18 time of possession

In regular season losses in Mahomes career, his team has averaged a 26:40 time of possession. By comparison, the Chiefs’ average time of possession in Mahomes’ three seasons as the starter is 30:14.

Reducing Explosive Plays

Likewise, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are most dangerous when they are able to pick up large chunk plays through the air with their large array of skill players.

Mahomes began starting for the Chiefs in 2018. Since then, he leads the NFL in passing yards (12,447), TDs (103) and yards per attempt (8.4). Being able to get the ball down field with his speedy WRs for chunk plays is crucial to their success. Here are his splits in losses and wins:

Mahomes throws more often in losses, with less air yards per attempt, meaning his attempts are closer to the line of scrimmage. A closer look at the eight losses reveals that those opponents did a better job of minimizing the “chunk” plays of 20-plus yards. In the eight losses, here are Mahomes’ per-game averages for throws of 20-plus yards:

6.75 deep attempts

2.875 completions

42.59% completion%

101.625 yards

Per Football Outsiders, the average deep ball accuracy percentage in 2018-19 was 46.6%. In 2019-2020, the average deep ball accuracy percentage was 47.7%. When looking at Mahomes’ accuracy percentage specifically on deep balls in 2019, he was second in the NFL, completing 37 of 61 throws (60.7% accuracy) on throws of 20-plus yards.

Mahomes completed 60.7% of his deep throws in 2019 and 54.3% in 2018. Therefore, in these losses, Mahomes completing only 42.59% shows the ability to cut down the number of explosive throws.

How Pressure Can Affect Mahomes

Controlling the clock and limiting chunk plays help, but the Chiefs still average about 31 points per game with Mahomes at QB. Another effective way to slow the Chiefs’ offensive charge is to bring pressure.

Pressure:averages in Mahomes’ eight losses:

  • 31.81% of his dropbacks are pressured
  • Averages 14.48 pressures (hurries, sacks, QB hits)

Pressure averages in his 33 wins:

  • 22.83% of his dropbacks
  • Average 9 pressures per game against

While Mahomes is tops in the league in making defenses pay when they blitz, the ability to get after the QB without blitzing has been key. Not only does the increased pressure correlate to losing more, but in his top 18 games in terms of dropbacks pressured, he has lost seven out of those 18 games — a winning percentage of .611, compared to his career winning percentage of .805.

The pressure also affects his deep ball ability, which as stated before is a major factor in Kansas City’s success. In 2019, when he faced a clean pocket and threw a deep ball, he had 62.2% accuracy (23-for-37); when pressured, he is accurate on only 58.3% (14-for-24), per Football Outsiders.

To take this one step further, let’s look at which type of pressure (interior or edge) is most effective at limiting Mahomes’ deep ball accuracy. As mentioned previously, Mahomes attempted 24 deep balls against pressure in 2019 — 10 against interior pressure and 14 against edge pressure. Here’s how he fared:

Interior Pressure: 6-for-10 (60% accuracy)

Edge Pressure: 8-for-14 (57.1% accuracy)

(per Football Outsiders)

While it will always be extremely difficult to stop Mahomes and the Chiefs, history has shown that it can be done. If a team is going to stop Kansas City from repeating as Super Bowl champion, it will help if they can control the clock, limit big plays and bring pressure. Now let’s see if anyone can do it.

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