Patrick Mahomes is the leader of an intimidating Kansas City Chiefs offense visiting Detroit this week.
This week, the Kansas City Chiefs are coming to Detroit to take on the Detroit Lions. The Lions, coming off an exhilarating win over a conference rival Philadelphia Eagles, are riding strong momentum into this match-up. On the other hand, so are the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City’s offense has been spectacular since Mahomes was named starting quarterback in week 17 of the 2017 season. He earned a Most Valuable Player award last season and has only improved since then. He’s an incredibly rare talent that the Lions absolutely have to contain to win.
There’s no shortage of targets for him to throw to, either. While the Chiefs best receiver Tyreek Hill will likely be inactive for the match-up due to injury, the Chiefs still have a lot of play-makers. Tight End Travis Kelce is a consensus top five tight end in football and could be argued as the best in the league. Rookie Mecole Hardman is blazing fast and provides a deep threat in Hill’s absence. Demarcus Robinson has been a favorite of Mahomes so far this season as well and has had a breakout emergence as a top receiving weapon for Kansas City. They also have former Lions draft target Sammy Watkins, who is a threat after the catch.
What makes the Chiefs difficult to defend however is that they aren’t simply a one dimensional offense. They can run the ball effectively as well. Damien Williams, LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson are all potential threats on the ground and that doesn’t even include Mahomes’ ability to extend plays or receiver reverses.
Exploring the Kansas City Offense Part 1- Patrick Mahomes
For Detroit Lions fans who don’t get to watch the Chiefs very often, Patrick Mahomes is a special talent. So what makes him so special? It’s his ability to extend plays with his feet, and save broken plays with his arm. His incredible arm strength is rivaled by few in the league. However, the one aspect of Mahomes game that goes under-appreciated is his mental agility. His ability to read and manipulate defenses, adjust, and make a play.
Mahomes is very difficult to stop and it’s been proven difficult to do so by many teams in the last 12 months. However, he isn’t a perfect quarterback, and he has made mistakes in the past. Here are some of the ways the Lions can limit Patrick Mahomes on Sunday:
- Pressure – While Mahomes is elite at escaping the pocket and extending plays similar to an Aaron Rodgers, forcing Mahomes to throw back-footed passes has lead to inaccuracy from him at times. The best ways to generate this kind of pressure seem to be stunts and overloading the edges, something that the Lions have the ability to do with Jahlani Tavai and Jarrad Davis.
- Man Coverage – Mahomes’ accuracy gets tested when he has to make tight window throws in man coverage. While he can tear apart zones (especially if they’re not disguised pre-snap), if a team can man up Kansas City’s receivers, Mahomes may force a pass. Its often the case that a defender can make a play or force an incompletion on these desperation plays.
- Levels Defense – Ultimately the best way to defend Kansas City is by defending all three levels; short, intermediate and deep. Mahomes uses a lot of short passes and checkdowns under pressure, and builds a rhythm and momentum more often than not before taking his deep shots. Preventing Mahomes from getting into a rhythm and creating momentum is paramount and defending all three levels will be crucial to doing so.
Stopping Kansas City’s Offense Part 2- Pass Catchers
One aspect of the Chiefs offense that has many Lions fans concerned coming into this week’s match-up is the Kansas City Chiefs pass catchers. One name who stands out amongst them is Mecole Hardman, a rookie who provides speed and is a threat down the field. Mahomes’ arm strength allows him to run deep routes and be a legitimate threat on any and every pass play.
Another name that stands out is Sammy Watkins. Watkins for the Chiefs has been primarily a run after catch threat who’s able to extend plays beyond the catch point. He’s someone who needs to be watched and likely will be by the Lions this week.
One more player in the Chiefs’ receiving group that stands out is Demarcus Robinson. Robinson is someone who so far has been a great compliment to Kelce in the middle and intermediate parts of the field. He’s someone who’s shown he can identify zone coverage and understands leverage he has at the line of scrimmage and at the route stem.
Keys to stopping the Chiefs receivers, fortunately, are something that the Lions could very well execute at a high level this coming week.
To limit Mecole Hardman’s impact on the game, you need someone who’s fast and respectable in man coverage. Someone like Mike Ford may have the speed to be able to cover him down the field, and an over the top safety like Quandre Diggs could also help.
To limit Watkins, the Lions could place a corner on him who tackles effectively and does a good job of keeping plays in front of him, while forcing Watkins to make a contested catch. Justin Coleman is a perfect fit for this role and should be a factor in the game plan to slowing down Watkins this week.
To limit Robinson, it will be important to have someone who’s experienced in man coverage and like Watkins force Robinson to run precise routes, create separation with all four limbs, and make contested catches. Fortunately for the Lions, Rashaan Melvin has been doing well in those departments against talented receivers so far this season.
With that, the Lions could have the pieces to be able to effectively limit Kansas City’s receivers in man to man coverage, ideally for the team limiting Mahomes and forcing him to make difficult throws.
Shutting Down the Kansas City Offense Part 3- Travis Kelce
Limiting what Travis Kelce does might be the most important part of what the Lions have to do to prevent Kansas City’s offense from turning this game into a shootout. Fortunately for the Lions however, they have done a respectable job against tight ends in the Matt Patricia regime so far… Or at least adjusting to limit them in the second half. The Lions have seen many quality tight ends in the last twelve months including George Kittle, Zach Ertz (just last week) and Rob Gronkowski amongst others.
One way the Lions have been able to shut down those tight ends is by employing double teams. Gronkowski and Ertz in particular are examples of this. Tracy Walker will play a huge role in this strategy being effectively applied this coming week. He could be the Lions’ best option in limiting Kelce in man coverage, and while it will be a test for him, he has done very well so far since being drafted by the team two April’s ago.
Limiting Kansas City’s Offense Part 4- Rushing Attack
The Chiefs have a solid running back room lead by Damien Williams that also features LeSean McCoy and Darwin Thompson. McCoy is a proven receiving threat out of the backfield, and will likely be covered by one of the linebackers in man coverage on passing situations. Most likely Jarrad Davis if healthy will be the primary defender on him. This leaves how to limit Damien Williams on the ground.
The best way to stop Williams is by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Kansas City’s left tackle Eric Fisher missed last week’s game due to injury and may not be 100% in time for the Lions game this week. He will have a difficult match-up with Trey Flowers, who created six pressure against the Philadelphia Eagles last week. A’Shawn Robinson and Damon Harrison form a formidable interior as well, which will be a huge point of emphasis for the Chiefs this week. One weak point of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense is their interior offensive line, and the Lions should look to take advantage.
On the other hand, Kennard may be in for a tough match-up this week against Mitchell Schwartz, one of the game’s top right tackles. Still, Kennard has been one of the Lions’ best players so far this year, and he may be able to win a couple of reps on Schwartz in run situations in particular.
If the Lions can win the line of scrimmage this week, they should be able to slow down the Kansas City Chiefs offense and limit what they can do in both the passing and rushing attacks.
Overall Game Plan:
The first priority has to be stopping Patrick Mahomes. Forcing contain pressure from the edge like the team has been doing so far this season will be a big help, as will Harrison and Robinson limiting his inside escape lanes. Mahomes is a great improviser when making plays outside of the pocket, so it’s unlikely we see a lot of speed rush around the edge this week to give Mahomes a way out of pressure.
From there, effectively utilizing man coverage on the Chiefs pass catchers and playing tight contested coverage while committing as few penalties as possible in the process will be the best way to shut down Kansas City’s passing attack. Winning at the first level of the defense, in the trenches, will be critical to stopping the rushing attack.
A few other things to consider include:
- The Chiefs offense is at their best in the second quarter of games. The Chiefs are middle of the pack in terms of first quarter scoring, below average in the third quarter, and near the bottom of the league in the fourth. Part of that is because the Chiefs have the lead and don’t often need to put up second half points. Making the Chiefs play a full 60 minute game on offense could have some positive affects for the Lions defense, as the Chiefs don’t have very many “gotta have it” plays, particularly late in games. If the Lions defense can shut down their second quarter and keep it close and competitive at the half, the Lions will be in good shape.
- The Chiefs are right in line with the Lions in time of possession. Both offenses average just a hair over thirty minutes of time of possession this season so far. The Chiefs may be an electric offense, but they close games out by playing efficient football late and closing games after getting out to a quick lead, very similar to what the Lions have done so far this season. If the Lions find a way to limit the Chiefs possession and keep the game as low scoring as possible, the Lions could be in for a positive week.
- The Chiefs only get 60% of their first downs through the air. They’re not a team that likes to utilize the bland and prototypical run-run-pass offense. They are not afraid of running the ball to pick up first downs on third down, and the Lions will need to be prepared for both the run and the pass in third down situations.
- Kansas City has struggled a bit to score touchdowns once they hit the red zone so far this season. They only have a 50% Touchdown rate once they enter the red area, and have struggled just a tad to finish drives. The Lions best area of the field defensively, is of course the red zone. Forcing the Chiefs to turn touchdowns into field goals will be a huge factor for the Lions this week in slowing down the Kansas City Chiefs offense.