FRANKFURT, Germany — Walking around the heart of downtown Frankfurt, Patrick Mahomes is nearly everywhere you look.
The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback has a display at the adidas store in the MyZeil shopping center. His jersey hangs in most sporting goods stores, his face adorns nearly every piece of marketing the NFL has used in preparation for its Frankfurt debut.
He’s almost impossible to miss, but that won’t be the case Sunday.
As the Miami Dolphins prepare to face the defending champion Chiefs (9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network), their main priority on defense is stopping the league’s reigning MVP.
“Just trying to keep him from having an unbelievable game,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “And try and hopefully limit the improvised plays, where he starts scrambling around, making great throws on the run, guys getting open, him pulling the ball down and running it for critical first downs. He’s really tough.
“You’ve got to defend the play they call in the huddle, which is hard enough, and then you have to defend the play that he creates after the first one breaks down a little bit.”
Mahomes’ career highlight reel is a series of extended plays, throws from difficult-to-replicate arm angles, and no-look passes.
It makes life difficult for opposing defenses.
Since his first season as a starter in 2018, Mahomes leads all active players in passing yards (16,187), passing touchdowns (121) and quarterback rating (69.4) when his time to throw is greater than 2.5 seconds. He’s a prolific off-script passer, to the point where even if a defense does everything correctly, he has a tendency to complete a pass or scramble for a first down.
“Yeah, obviously sometimes he looks like a magician with some of the things he does,” Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips said. “But at the end of the day, you just have to be disciplined in your rush. I think that’s the biggest thing when it comes to edges at least, is keeping him contained, not letting him roll out of the pocket.
“It can definitely be very frustrating, because you can rush, win, do everything perfectly and he gets the ball off. Or you could be running around, he’s running around for five, six seconds and he makes some crazy throw to [tight end] Travis Kelce down the field. I think we have to expect that to happen and know that’s going to happen a few times during the game, but not let it discourage us. We just have to keep rushing no matter what happens.”
Former Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill, now in his second season with the Dolphins, was often a benefactor of Mahomes’ ability to escape during their four seasons together.
Hill has offered one major piece of advice to his defensive teammates for when plays break down and Mahomes starts to scramble: Find Kelce.
“What I’ve been telling the guys to do is just find Kelce,” he said. “If you allow Kelce to get open, he’s like the energy of that team. Although Pat is all-world, if he finds Kelce and Kelce just catches a 2-yard pass, he somehow finds energy in that and gets that team going. They do a great job of it. And they did a great job of coaching it also whenever I was there. They got a whole PowerPoint on it and everything.”
Since 2018 Kelce leads all players with 296 receptions on passes that take longer than 2.5 seconds to attempt. The Dolphins will employ multiple coverages to limit Kelce’s impact, including possibly shadowing him with safety Jevon Holland or cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
“They’ve got weapons left and right,” Holland said. “They just get the ball to their primary guys when they need to, and they make it happen. Then of course, Pat Mahomes is special. He can scramble, extend plays, use his feet, use his mind, eyes downfield.
“It definitely adds a unique dynamic to their offense. … It’s exciting game-planning for them, because it’s something that you kind of don’t see a lot.”
Dolphins players and coaches insist there isn’t necessarily a specific key to stopping Mahomes — but to even have a chance at it, you have to stick to your plan even as the Chiefs’ plan evolves.
If your assignment is to cover, then cover, as linebacker Jerome Baker said, and if you’re supposed to rush, then rush.
When those lines get blurred, Mahomes thrives.
“Don’t try to do too much. It gets people in trouble,” Baker said. “If you’re a coverage guy and you’re trying to rush him — now you’re leaving somebody wide open. So just real simple, just do your job and we’ll be all right.”
The Dolphins’ defense has seen mixed results on extended plays this season. It has allowed the 15th-best quarterback rating (41.3) on plays with a time to throw longer than 2.5 seconds. Opposing quarterbacks sport the third-highest completion percentage over expectation on such throws (5.1%) and 10th-highest yards per attempt (8.4).
However, Miami also has recorded 26 sacks on such plays, which ranks fourth in the NFL, and has contacted the quarterback 55 times, which leads the league.
Linebacker Bradley Chubb said keeping Mahomes contained in the pocket is “way easier said than done,” and the Dolphins are prepared for him to find some degree of success Sunday regardless of what they do to slow him down.
But Miami also expects to find success of its own — as long as it remains true to its assignments.
“It’s not going to be an easy task, but that’s the goal,” Chubb said. “We might not do it every play. We might not do it half the plays. But at the end of the day, that’s the goal to keep him in that pocket. And even if we don’t, I know the guys on the back end are going to do their jobs to hold up, to reroute, to plaster and all that type of stuff. It’s more about team defense and not so much getting caught up in, ‘Oh, if he escapes the pocket, it’s going to hurt us,’ because he’s going to do that.
“He’s one of the best for a reason, so he’s going to do that. He’s going to be in those positions to make plays, we’ve just got to be in better position.”
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