KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The latest edition of the greatest show on turf rolls into Denver Monday night, and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes faces the latest test in his young career when he faces the Broncos, a team that saw him last season that he shouldn't surprise with his arm strength and field vision.
“Whether it's an advantage or not I can't tell you that, I don't know that,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said about Mahomes tangling with the Broncos for a second time. “But they have seen him and we'll see how it goes.”
Mahomes made his regular-season debut in last year's Week 17 regular-season finale. The quarterback staked the Chiefs to a 24-10 advantage before leaving the game in favor of third-string quarterback Tyler Bray. The Broncos rallied to tie the game, however, and Mahomes re-entered the contest for his team's final drive, leading the Chiefs to a game-winning field goal.
Mahomes finished the game 22-of-35 passing for 284 with an interception. The performance showed Broncos linebacker Von Miller all he needed to see to project the potential of Mahomes.
“From that game you could tell he's going to be the future,” Miller said. “He's a great quarterback, he can make all the throws, quick, athlete, young. He's got everything you want.”
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph believes that preview offers a small edge, but says Mahomes has more command of the offense than he did just nine months ago.
“We have a full game on him,” Joseph said. “When you watch (this year's) games, I think offensively they're a lot different. Obviously last year in Week 17 he was probably operating under probably 35 percent of the offense.”
Just as that game serves as a scouting report for the Broncos, it proved formative for Mahomes as well. That was the only regular-season game tape he had to watch and breakdown during the offseason, and now he's revisiting that performance again during this week's preparation. He's curious to see how last year's game changes how the Broncos approach him after this red-hot start.
“They have a lot of talented guys over there, so they're going to try and make adjustments and do what they can do to kind of disrupt what we do,” Mahomes said.
Disrupting the Chiefs sounds easier said than done. The Chiefs lead the league with 39.3 points per game. Mahomes set an NFL mark with his 13th touchdown on the season, the most touchdown passes during the first three weeks of an NFL season.
Joseph believes the key to slowing the Chiefs offense lies with putting Mahomes in an uncomfortable position, specifically third down. The Chiefs have faced just 26 third downs on the season, the fewest of any team in the league. Mahomes and company converted 50 percent of those plays, the second-best success rate in the league.
But forcing the Chiefs into third down means Joseph can unleash his best weapon, Miller and the Broncos pass rush.
“We have to get into third down so we can turn our guys free and obviously rush the passer,” Joseph said.
Mahomes may have only four games of experience under his belt, but he already understands that he needs to keep an eye on Miller at all times.
“They move him around, they try and get him different ways he can rush the passer and make plays,” Mahomes said. “The thing is with their defensive front, they have weapons all over the defensive front, so you always know where Von is but you have to have a plan for their whole defense, so we’re going to have a good one going in.”
Reid built a respect for Miller and other members of the Broncos defense when his staff coached in the Pro Bowl following the 2015-16 seasons. He expects the only legacy of the first meeting between Mahomes and the Broncos to serve as motivation for avenging a loss.
“That's a proud bunch,” Reid said. “We had a few of those guys in the Pro Bowl, and they're a proud bunch and they love playing. They're going to bring it.”