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What the Patriots defense has to do to beat the Chiefs: Defending Kansas City starts with Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce

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Related: Asking Arrowhead Pride: James White could play a big role against the Chiefs’ improved defense

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

While Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is the NFL’s current flavor of the month, not too long back this honor belonged to the Kansas City ChiefsPatrick Mahomes — and for good reason: Mahomes was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2018 as a first-year starter, and set the league ablaze while throwing for 50 touchdown passes and leading his team to its first AFC Championship Game appearance since the early 90s.

This year, the hype surrounding the former first-round draft pick seems to have died down a bit on a national level. But make no mistake, Mahomes is still one of the best and most dangerous quarterbacks in all of football — an opinion shared by John Dixon of Arrowhead Pride. John spoke with Pats Pulpit about the upcoming matchup between the Chiefs and the New England Patriots, and Kansas City’s quarterback was a big topic of discussion.

When looking at the headlines he makes and his place in this year’s MVP discussion, one could get the impression that Mahomes has taken a step back after a spectacular 2018 campaign. However, his numbers — he has completed 227 of his 352 pass attempts (64.5%) for 2,983 yards and 20 touchdowns as well as two interceptions — illustrate that this is not nearly the case. So why has Jackson surpassed Mahomes as the latest hyped-up passer?

“Injuries, injuries and injuries,” answered John. “Mahomes himself sustained a relatively minor ankle injury in the Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. It wasn’t severe enough to keep him from the field, but it was enough to affect his mobility and his passing base. Furthermore, the injury was aggravated more than once as he continued to play; Mahomes just wasn’t getting better. So in a sense, the dislocated kneecap he suffered in Week 7 was a blessing. It forced him to get off the field for a couple of weeks and let his ankle heal.”

Due to the knee injury John mentioned, Mahomes was forced to leave the Chiefs’ game against the Denver Broncos early and to sit out their subsequent two contests against the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings. He did eventually return in Week 10 during his team’s loss against the Tennessee Titans, and appears to be back at full strength now when judged by his status on Kansas City’s latest injury reports.

“But it wasn’t just Mahomes,” continued John when speaking about the team’s offensvie injury woes. “Tyreek Hill was also injured in that Week 1 game and missed four weeks. Left tackle Eric Fisher missed eight weeks after being hurt in Week 2. Left guard Andrew Wylie missed three weeks. Right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif missed two. The offensive line that started the season didn’t play together again until Week 11 — just two games ago.”

“The Chiefs had trouble keeping the offensive line healthy last season, too. But Mahomes was 100% all year. Sammy Watkins missed about half of 2018 with injuries — but Mahomes was 100%. But injuries in all three areas together was just too much,” he said before pointing out that the Chiefs’ third-year quarterback did take a jump from his second to third year in the NFL despite not being at full strength for parts of the season so far.

According to John, this development is particularly evident when it comes to the 24-year-old’s decision-making: “Mahomes is not only making better decisions, but also making them faster. While his statistics are down because of all the injuries, he’s a better quarterback than he was in his second year — quicker to make his reads and more willing to take what the defense gives him to keep the chains moving.”

Needless to say that Mahomes is the most dangerous of the Chiefs’ offensive weapons, but far the only one that needs to be accounted for: Tyreek Hill is one of the league’s best wide receivers and heading a pass-catching group that also includes Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and outstanding rookie Mecole Hardman. For John slowing the talented receiving group down does start with Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce, though.

“If you can figure out how to do it, taking Travis Kelce out of the equation is always a good move. For years, he has been the team’s most consistent receiver — and that remains true in 2019,” he said about the 30-year-old. 12 games into the season, Kelce is leading the Chiefs in both receptions (68) and receiving yards (923) while ranking third behind Hill and Hardman with four touchdown receptions. Just as he was in the past, he is a dangerous receiving weapon and as such might draw the Patriots’ top cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, in coverage.

However, John made sure to point out that Kelce is just one piece of the puzzle and that the Patriots will also need to be able to contain the Chiefs’ other weapons along the way. This is especially true at the wide receiver position: “Tyreek Hill is obviously the deep threat the Patriots will want to contain, but as long as Sammy Watkins is healthy — which, he is — being too vigilant about stopping Hill can be dangerous, too.”

“Rookie wideout Mecole Hardman has also shown us a lot; the Patriots would be wise not to ignore him. Hardman has blazing speed — and a better command of route-running than we expected to see from a first-year player in Andy Reid’s offense,” he continued. “It’s the usual problem when trying to defend against the Kansas City passing attack: taking away one weapon simply reveals another one.”