KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Most coaches assume good things will happen when their defense generates enough pressure on an opposing quarterback that he must flee the pocket – a sack, an incomplete pass, a short run at worst.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph has a very different feeling when Patrick Mahomes goes on the run.
Just eight games into his professional career, the Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback has already earned a reputation for being just as good outside the pocket as inside it.
In fact, some of his biggest plays during the Chiefs’ win in Denver a few weeks ago came when Von Miller and Co. forced him to scramble.
“Your plan has to trap and contain him and keep him where you want to be,” Joseph said, “but you have no plan for when he breaks the pocket. That’s going to be effort and want-to, and he outran most of our big guys and shook off most of our pass rushers. There’s no exact plan when he’s out of the pocket.”
That’s because Mahomes has displayed a natural talent far beyond his years.
You see, most young quarterbacks escape pressure and then immediately look to limit their losses. They may chuck the ball out of bounds or take off for a short gain and then slide to protect themselves.
But what sets veterans such as Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady apart is that they have the uncanny ability to keep their eyes downfield, forcing defenses to continue covering even as they find open field. Then they have the arm strength and accuracy to deliver the ball from odd angles and off-balance positions.
Joseph explained that Mahomes has those very same traits.
“It’s very rare,” he said. “He understands the pressures of when the pocket breaks, he can do damage. Most young quarterbacks are looking to gain 4 or 5 yards and slide and he is not. He’s trying to make a play, and the problem with this guy is he can throw across his body left or right.
“So how can you combat that?” Joseph said. “You can’t.”
The Broncos did a decent job of it in their meeting earlier this season, when they had the advantage of a home crowd. But Mahomes made some adjustments in the second half and began picking apart their secondary, helping the Chiefs rally for a 27-23 victory.
“As a quarterback you always feel more comfortable in the pocket,” Mahomes said, “especially when I’m getting the protection I am now. But at the same time I like to get out of the pocket and give those wide receivers some time to make plays.”
That’s because the Chiefs have some dangerous playmakers catching the ball.
Whether it’s tight end Travis Kelce causing matchup problems with linebackers, running back Kareem Hunt out of the backfield, or speedsters Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins on the outside, Mahomes knows that if he’s able to give them enough time that somebody is bound to come open.
“Mahomes, he can make all of the throws. I think with him you just try to pick and choose whether you can make your plays,” Broncos cornerback Chris Harris said.
“I’ve been watching film on everybody else and everybody else playing these guys are scared. They’re not challenging them. (Hill) is just running around free. That’s not how we play. When we play them, we get up, we challenge them, put hands on them and that’s how we come to play. We’re not coming to be scared and let guys run for free all day.”
The Broncos acknowledge the difficulty in that, though. It’s easy enough to cover several players for a few seconds, but it’s much more difficult when Mahomes keeps a play alive three times that long.
“Listen, for anything he’s doing right now, he’s done a nice job of being such a young guy,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “but to have that ability to keep your eyes downfield when you’re outside the pocket is a big thing. Some of that comes natural to him and (our coaches) work with him on it, but a lot of it does come natural, keeping his eyes downfield and being able to throw with accuracy.
“That’s a gift,” Reid said. “Now, they work on it every day, but he does have a natural gift.”
Notes: Center Mitch Morse (concussion), linebacker Justin Houston (hamstring) and strong safety Eric Berry (heel) remained out of practice Thursday. Free safety Daniel Sorensen continued to work his way back onto the field after he rejoined the team from injured reserve earlier this week.
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