MA­HOMES FACES UL­TI­MATE CHAL­LENGE

Chiefs’ young quar­ter­back goes up against Belichick’s Pa­tri­ots in Week 6 show­down

Regina Leader-Post - - SPORTS - JOHN KRYK Jokryk@post­media.com twit­ter.com/johnkryk

Bill Belichick’s suc­cess against first-year start­ing quar­ter­backs nor­mally is about as cer­tain as Don­ald Trump’s at Repub­li­can ral­lies.

In other words, he knows how to get the job done.

But will the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots’ head coach and de­fen­sive master­mind find a way to stymie the hottest QB in the

NFL, namely Kansas City Chiefs phe­nom Pa­trick Ma­homes?

That’s the most grip­ping sto­ry­line head­ing into Week 6 of the NFL sea­son as the un­de­feated Chiefs (5-0) face the host Pa­tri­ots (3-2) in the Sun­day night matchup.

On a con­fer­ence call this week, NBC’S top trio of an­a­lysts — exCincin­nati Ben­gals re­ceiver Cris Collinsworth, for­mer Pa­tri­ots safety Rod­ney Har­ri­son and for­mer In­di­anapo­lis Colts and Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers head coach and noted de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist Tony Dungy — went deep down that road.

The trio bounced ideas off one an­other, try­ing to pre­dict how Belichick might at least slow down the NFL’S most dynamic passer.

Belichick’s chal­lenge seems so much more dif­fi­cult this time. Ma­homes is tear­ing up the league, ev­ery week, re­gard­less of how good the op­pos­ing pass rush is (like Den­ver’s in Week 4) or how dan­ger­ous the se­condary is (like Jack­sonville’s last week).

Ma­homes leads the NFL in touch­down passes (14), and leads the AFC in both yards per at­tempt (8.6) and low­est per­cent­age of passes in­ter­cepted (1.1). And the right-han­der even com­pleted a pass left-handed against Den­ver in a clutch lategame mo­ment, with ace pass rusher Von Miller on his heels.

Sun­day night will mark Ma­homes’ sev­enth ca­reer start and sixth this year. He subbed for 2017 starter Alex Smith in Week 17 last sea­son, a dress-re­hearsal, if you will, against Den­ver. He won that game, too.

Those who might have ques­tioned the wis­dom of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid trad­ing Smith to Wash­ing­ton in March, for the pur­pose of pro­mot­ing Ma­homes as the starter, are quiet now. Ma­homes has looked so spec­tac­u­lar as a leader, thrower, scrambler, open-re­ceiver iden­ti­fier and big-play cre­ator that he’s earned the nick­name “Show­time.”

As for Belichick, con­sid­er­ing the lack of tal­ent in his de­fence’s old and creaky se­condary, what schemes might he pos­si­bly em­ploy to stop Ma­homes, or at least slow him and Reid’s at­tack­ing, cut­ting-edge, speed-laced of­fence down?

Dungy and Har­ri­son be­lieve they know.

First, know that the Chiefs em­ploy a bevy of cre­ative schemes to get the ball to their fast, tal­ented play­mak­ers in space. Those play­mak­ers are led by smurfy third-year re­ceiver Tyreek Hill (ar­guably the fleetest skill-po­si­tion player in the league), sec­ond-year run­ning back Ka­reem Hunt, and per­haps the premier tight end in the league now in his sixth year, Travis Kelce.

Through a dizzy­ing ar­ray of for­ma­tions, mo­tion, mis­di­rec­tion and run/pass op­tion plays (RPOS), Reid stretches a de­fence both hor­i­zon­tally and ver­ti­cally to de­grees sel­dom seen in the NFL.

The Chiefs em­ploy RPOS as much or more than any other team. In these plays, a quar­ter­back reads a spe­cific de­fender — typ­i­cally a weak-side or strong-side line­backer — sus­pected of hav­ing both run-play and pass-play re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The QB quickly as­sesses af­ter the snap which way that de­fender is cheat­ing and does the op­po­site. If that de­fender cheats to­ward the run, the quar­ter­back passes over or be­hind him. If he cheats to­ward the pass, the quar­ter­back hands off to the run­ning back.

“Like a lot of things in foot­ball, they’re re­ally noth­ing new,” Dungey said of RPOS. “Peo­ple are (act­ing) like it’s new. The first time I saw this was when Ron Turner was the of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the Chicago Bears in 1997, and they were run­ning them against us when I was in Tampa.

“The se­cret to de­fend­ing is very sim­ple. It’s not easy, but it’s sim­ple. You have to have the front seven de­fend the run with­out the help of the se­condary, and you’ve got to be able to play man-toman cov­er­age. Teams that have both of those el­e­ments can stop the RPOS, but not many peo­ple do. That’s the big prob­lem.”

The Pa­tri­ots most de­cid­edly do not. Their se­condary by NFL stan­dards is old. And worse?

“Their de­fence is slow,” said Har­ri­son, a strong safety with

San Diego from 1994-2002 and New Eng­land from 2003

08, mean­ing he played on two of Belichick’s five Su­per Bowl cham­pi­onship squads.

“When I look at de­fences, I look at their speed, their size and their ac­tiv­ity. This is a very, very slow de­fence, so they’re go­ing to have to play smart. They’re go­ing to have to make sure they’re more po­si­tioned. They have to con­cen­trate on play­ing smart and mak­ing sure they don’t give up the big play.”

That’s why Har­ri­son said he pre­dicts Belichick will em­ploy a sim­ple, soft zone de­fence.

“With all the crazi­ness, the last thing you want is a lot of com­pli­cated de­fences,” he said.

This would be the op­po­site strate­gic thrust the Pa­tri­ots em­ployed in last year’s opener, when New Eng­land de­fend­ers tried too of­ten to cover Chiefs re­ceivers man-to-man and got to­tally em­bar­rassed, giv­ing up 537 to­tal yards in a 42-27 maul­ing.

“All of the big plays came against man cov­er­age,” Dungy said. “Any time you call man cov­er­age, you’re go­ing to have a speed mis­match some­where against that Kansas City of­fence. Two or three guys are just go­ing to have speed ad­van­tages. (You) have to be very care­ful with manto-man cov­er­ages.”

Belichick is renowned, too, for aim­ing to take away what an of­fence wants to do most. In Kansas City’s case this year with Ma­homes at the helm, Reid wants to rack up yards in big chunks. Collinsworth, Har­ri­son and Dungy all pre­dicted Belichick will try to take away the big plays by em­ploy­ing a deep, soft zone.

That whole con­ver­sa­tion was sparked when Collinsworth asked: “Is it pos­si­ble that (New Eng­land) sits back there with two (deep) safeties and goes, ‘If you want to beat us with (run­ning back) Ka­reem Hunt, then go ahead?”

An­swered Dungy:

“I think that’s ex­actly what they’ll do, try to take away the pass­ing game, that deep pass. Coach Belichick doesn’t mind if you move the ball, just stop them in the red zone and force them to (kick) field goals.

“When I was with Indy, we went up there one year, in 2004, in the same type of si­t­u­a­tion.

And they gave us run looks the whole game. We ran the same run­ning play 12 times in a row, and ran the ball down there un­til Edger­rin James fum­bled at the two-yard line. And it was a per­fect series for them,” said Dungy. “They took away what we did best and that was the ex­plo­sive throw. They gave us some things, we ran the ball and made yards, but we didn’t score. And I think you’re go­ing to see the same type of plan, to some­how slow down that ex­plo­sive pass­ing game.”

Har­ri­son played safety for the Pa­tri­ots in the 2004 game Dungy ref­er­enced, and said he re­mem­bers that strat­egy well.

“We didn’t care about you run­ning. You could have run for 300 yards and it didn’t mat­ter,” Har­ri­son said to Dungy. “But what we did was we had a lot of em­pha­sis on the red zone. We made sure that we forced you guys to go on 10-, 12-, 14-play drives, and when you got to the red zone we said, hey, our goal is to hold these guys to a field goal, or try to cre­ate and force a turnover.

“One thing about Belichick, his men­tal­ity is bend but don’t break. We’re go­ing to force them to ex­e­cute, es­pe­cially with the young quar­ter­back. They’re go­ing to show him a bunch of dif­fer­ent looks, try to show him some things he hasn’t seen, but not give up that big play. You want to see a young quar­ter­back that doesn’t have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence do that, time and time again.”

Reid has been a head coach in the NFL for more un­in­ter­rupted years than Belichick, be­gin­ning in 1999 with the Ea­gles and mov­ing to the Chiefs in 2013. The two men are good friends, and Reid said he knows to ex­pect strate­gic curve­balls from Belichick.

“He is the best at that,” said the 60-year-old Reid. “He mixes and matches, and he does that whole thing. He can change up and give you a com­pletely dif­fer­ent look one week than the other. So, we make sure we have plays that are good ver­sus all, and you go in and play.”

Ma­homes un­der­stands he’s in for a chal­lenge.

“Coach Reid says it. When you play in this league you want to play against the best, and they’ve been one of the best for a long time. It’s an awe­some op­por­tu­nity to get to go up against them, and see what we can do.”

Pass the pop­corn.

Coach Belichick doesn’t mind if you move the ball, just stop them in the red zone and force them to (kick) field goals.

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kansas City Chiefs quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes is off to a tor­rid start this sea­son and leads his 5-0 Chiefs into Foxboro, Mass. against head coach Bill Belichick and his New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots in a Week 6 matchup that is sure to test the young sig­nal-caller.

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