Von Miller was asked this past week in a piece by the Washington Post about how the team plans to stop Patrick Mahomes.
That’s the question everyone seems to be asking, whether implicitly or explicitly. John Elway and Vic Fangio are certainly seeking to answer that question, as some of their offseason moves indicated.
If Denver wants to have a legitimate chance to compete for the playoffs, they’re going to have to come up with a way to slay the Patrick Mahomes-led dragon in their division.
Let’s tackle the easy one first. You can’t take on the Chiefs and not be able to put up points. The Broncos scored a total of nine whopping points over two games last year against Kansas City, one of which saw Mahomes go down with injury early on, and the Flacco-led offense couldn’t muster a single point after that occured.
Perhaps this is why the usual peppy Von Miller was rather blunt when asked about stopping their division foe:
Can’t. We’ve just got to score points. If we’re able to get off the field — you can hold them to a third down here and there, but that’s on our offense. We’ve got to score on offense because you cannot — it’s not smart to go into the game and say we’re going to hold Patrick Mahomes to no points.
We have talked at length about how this offseason’s strategy, particularly in the draft, but even stretching all the way back to the hire of Pat Shurmur is building an offense that can manufacture points, in order to give the defense a fighting chance against the best offense in the NFL.
Why are they so hard to defend?
Speaking of that offense, that’s where Joe Rowles and I focused much of the conversation in this week’s episode of Cover 2 Broncos. We all know about the offense needing to improve, and there has been a lot of air time dedicated to that side of the ball this offseason, but what does the defense need to do (or not do) if they want to avoid getting torched again this year?
I am probably being kind using “torched”. Travis Kelce going off for 11 catches for 142 yards in one game, and Tyreek Hill scoring two long TDs on Chris Harris is closer to an embarrassment for a team and coach that pride themselves in a strong defense.
In order to answer the question for the defense, I watched back through the tape of those painful games, as well as several other Kansas City games from this past year (it’s been a rough week, ya’ll).
One of the things that is no surprise to anyone who has watched Kansas City recently, and immediately jumps off the tape is just how many different ways they can beat you as a defense.
They remind me of the peak New England Patriots in that regard, but in a slightly different way. The Patriots could almost change their offense to match their opponent. If you wanted to stop the run, they would spread you out. If you came out in sub packages ready to defend the pass, they would put a fullback in and run it up the gut.
The Chiefs are a different version of this. They beat you out of the same formations, and a lot of the same concepts every time, but they just have so many options on any given route concept. We all know about the speed and talent each of their skill players bring, but an underrated part of their game that Joe Rowles brought up on the podcast is their interchangeability.
Every skill player on that team can play every position up and down the line in their various pass concepts, which gives Andy Reid a ton of flexibility to move his guys around and constantly find the mismatch, because one will exist.
You need to commit a deep safety to Tyreek Hill most plays, and even with double coverage it’s a tough cover, as Chris Harris and Justin Simmons found out.
Kelce can be moved all over the formation, but one of the primary ways Kansas City deployed him against Denver in their most recent meeting, was on the backside of 3x1 sets so he would be (mis)matched up against Isaac Yiadom on the outside. You may recall this strategy from the Raiders game in Week 1, as they did the same thing with their tight end, Waller.
Kelce feasted on Isaac Yiadom in these looks.
But the minute and safety help attempts to stay on the backside of the formation, or attempts to mitigate the damage from Hill, they roll back to the strong side and find Sammy Watkins singled up on the nickel defender.
And if all of that somehow doesn’t work, and the secondary covers everything up, you still have the crazy scrambling magic of Patrick Mahomes to deal with.
I’d venture a guess that this play is one of the ones flashing through Von Miller’s mind when he says, you can’t go into a game planning to stop Mahomes.
What can you do?
Regardless of what people tried to say about “tight man coverage” early on last year as being a potential silver bullet for the Chiefs, there is no single solution to stopping their attack.
The Titans tried bracketing Hill and Kelce nearly the entire game in the AFC Championship game, and the other receivers + Mahomes’ legs beat them.
The 49ers brought a ferocious pass rush, but their defensive coordinator got too predictable with his coverage calls.
Mixing up the coverages requires having a variety of checks in your arsenal as a defense, particularly against the Chiefs favorite, and hardest to defense formation, 3x1 sets (trips). Defensive coach Cody Alexander, who we have had on Mile High Report before, has some great breakdowns of the variety of coverages one can deploy against trips. Hopefully in year two of Fangio’s scheme, the secondary will be able to install more and stay on the same page, as that was one of their primary struggles last year.
Since the problem isn’t one singular thing, the solution must also be multi-faceted. The Broncos are on the right path at least to shore up a few of the key areas that will certainly help when facing Mahomes and the Chiefs. An improved offense should hopefully keep the pressure, or be able to mitigate the occasional big play KC is going to get over on the defense, while the defensive line is vastly improved over last year’s unit, with the return of Bradley Chubb and addition of Jurrell Casey.
Watching through last year’s defensive tape overall has brought to light not only how sorely lacking Denver’s pass rush is with only Von Miller commanding all the attention, but also the need to add some firepower on the interior of the defensive, particularly for a scrambler like Mahomes.
So it’s not all doom and gloom, as Denver is definitely much more prepared this season to take on the Chiefs than they were last year. Time will tell if the secondary is able to come together with another year of Fangio’s scheme and the hopeful emergence of a young corner room.
In order to make the leap, the Broncos are going to have to prove to themselves, and the Chiefs that they are to be taken seriously in the division. Have they improved enough to notch their first win against Kansas City since the Peyton Manning Super Bowl run? That’s what we’re all here to find out.
Can Denver pull off an upset and take home a win against the Chiefs this year?
This poll is closed
Yes - both games!
Yes - one game
No - we’ll try again in 2021