KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For one half of the AFC Championship Game, it appeared Patriots head coach Bill Belichick found the kryptonite for Patrick Mahomes, double teaming one of his favorite weapons in Tyreek Hill and bringing pressure from different directions in making the Chiefs dynamic offense one dimensional.
Then the wunderkind quarterback rattled off 31 second-half points and sent every defensive coordinator in the league back to the drawing board.
“How are they going to stop Patrick and this offense?” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid asked rhetorically as the team opened its offseason workouts. “What are they going to do?”
Mahomes took the NFL by storm last season, and opponents never saw the blitzkrieg coming. Teams had only one regular-season game from Week 17 of 2017 on tape along with a smattering of vanilla-flavored preseason snaps. Reid's offense no longer holds the element of surprise.
“You’re not going to sneak up on anybody, you know that,” Reid said.
So how does Mahomes follow up an MVP season with a bull's eye squarely on his jersey?
Right now, we’re going back to the fundamentals, the basics, and we’re going to really do an evaluation of what we need to improve on and what we need to keep making better as this season comes upon us,” Mahomes said.
Phase one of the NFL's offseason program limits players to strength, conditioning and physical rehabilitation. But players spend most of their time in position group meetings and the film room with cutups from last season. Reid and his offensive coaching staff will work breakdown every drop back and throw from last season, searching for ways to improve on near perfection.
“Normally, you start it off by going through plays and then you branch out from there to situations and that is how we break it down,” Reid said. “Z-In, here is your 20 Z-Ins that you ran. What can we do better here? How are teams defending you? Your foot work, when you are working the back or the Z or Y, those type of things.”
One of the knocks against Mahomes coming out college was that his footwork lacked refinement. “I always work on my feet,” he said.
Mahomes wasn't always pleased with his footwork last season, especially throwing from the pocket.
“I don’t want to say lazy, but basically lazy with how I was handling my feet in the pocket,” Mahomes said. “It would disrupt timing on throws, so keep working on those things so they can be more and more consistent as I go on.”
Once the coaching staff and quarterbacks finish with Z-in, it's on to every Y-Out, X-Hook and everything in between.
“You go to the next play, and the next play, and the next play and kind of chisel through that,” Reid explained. “Then you come back and hit all your situational football.”
Mahomes did the same thing during last offseason but with one exception. He watched cutups of Alex Smith running the Chiefs' offense, not himself.
“To see himself do it, not to watch Alex do it, which was a help, but now you get to see yourself do it. How can you make yourself better in these situations? ‘Well, what did I do good? What did I do bad?’
“Evaluate it. I think that will be priceless.”
That's the price of success in the NFL at the highest level. Reid served as an offensive assistant in Green Bay when Brett Favre rattled off back-to-back MVP awards and won three in four seasons. He sees similarities in how Favre and Mahomes manage high expectations by putting in the work every day of the year, especially the offseason.
“The great ones put that pressure on themselves, but they handle it,” Reid said. “That is just how it rolls. They love to play the game, so you can put them out in the parking lot and they go play. And they do it well. He just needs to continue to do that.”