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Patriots have to be able to generate pressure with four defenders against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes

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AFC Championship: New England Patriots Vs Kansas City Chiefs At Arrowhead Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

You may have heard it already, but Patrick Mahomes is a pretty good quarterback. Shocking, right? On Sunday, the reigning league MVP will visit Gillette Stadium to go up against the New England Patriots, and while the team has beaten him and his Kansas City Chiefs in both of their meetings last year, the 24-year-old is certainly capable of putting considerable pressure on the top-ranked defense in the NFL and lead his squad to victory.

He is, after all, pretty good — something Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also pointed out during a press conference earlier this week when asked about Mahomes’ growth since the 2018 season: “He’s pretty good. I mean, he had a great year last year. He’s missed a couple games this year, but he’s played very well this year, too. [...] He’s an outstanding player. He makes plays very few other players in the league can make at his position.”

Mahomes’ abilities as a passer are well documented, but what stands out when taking a closer look at his numbers is his ability to adapt to pressure — especially when it comes in the form of a blitz. Whereas other quarterbacks including the Patriots’ own Tom Brady see their numbers across the board get worse when being rushed by more than the standard four defenders, the Chiefs’ third-year man actually becomes more dangerous.

Just take a peek at the following statistics, courtesy of advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus:

Patrick Mahomes against the blitz

Blitz Snaps Pass attempts Completions Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Sacks
Blitz Snaps Pass attempts Completions Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Sacks
No 297 274 174 63.5% 2,273 13 2 102.3 10.0
Yes 80 78 53 67.9% 710 7 0 126.5 2.0
Pro Football Focus

As can be seen, Mahomes has been blitzed on roughly one in five drop-backs over the course of his first 10 games of the season. The numbers show that he has routinely handled the extra rushers well and improved his statistics across the board when compared to facing the “normal” four-man pressure — all while not turning the football over even once and throwing seven of his 20 touchdowns this year against defensive blitz.

Furthermore, his accuracy went up by more than four percentage points when measured traditionally and up by more than six when using adjusted completion rate that includes drops by the wide receivers: from 73.6% to 80.3%. On top of it all, Mahomes has gained more yards per attempt when being blitzed (9.1) as opposed to facing a standard rush (8.3). His sack rate, meanwhile, went down from 3.4% to 2.5%.

Mahomes handling the added pressure well is nothing new, though. He already was pretty good at it last season as well, and posted similar numbers with the exception of his sack percentage (he was taken down on 6.4% of his drop-backs when blitzed in 2018 compared to 4.2% when not). The Patriots therefore have some experience when it comes to attacking the former first-round draft pick in regards to his ability to read blitzes and perform against them.

And last year, they did actually find some success against him while blitzing him on 35.6% of drop-backs:

Patrick Mahomes against the blitz (vs Patriots)

Blitz Snaps Pass attempts Completions Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Sacks
Blitz Snaps Pass attempts Completions Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Sacks
No 47 44 28 63.6% 467 3 2 103.1 1.0
Yes 26 23 11 47.8% 180 4 0 114.1 3.0
Pro Football Focus

While Mahomes was still terrific at beating the blitz during the Chiefs’ regular season and playoff meetings with the Patriots’ defense, his completion percentage actually went down quite a bit compared to a four-man rush, while he was also sacked on three occasions compared to only one takedown without a blitz. He also threw four touchdowns and no picks, however, while going three and two in the categories when not blitzed.

So what does this mean for the upcoming game between the two clubs? Looking at Mahomes’ statistics this season and how he performed against New England a year ago, it becomes obvious that the Patriots need to be able to generate pressure with four defenders. Mahomes will still find success, but by rushing four the Patriots can concentrate on coverage — a somewhat risky plan in case the pressure does not get home, yes, but one that could lead to success as the statistics show.

What will be most important, however, is rushing smartly and trying to confuse Mahomes and Kansas City’s offense as a whole: not tipping your hand and, as Bill Belichick said earlier this week, making the Chiefs think. “They’re probably going to have a good scheme or a good matchup that’s going to cause you a problem. So, somewhere along the line, you’re going to have to disguise and make them figure it out,” he said.

But even when they figure it out, the Patriots need to win their matchups in coverage and up front — and doing the latter with just four rushers, from whichever direction they come, could be a key to the game considering Mahomes’ success against the blitz this year.