The second-year quarterback has gone from turning heads to being a legitimate MVP contender with consistently impressive performances in the Chiefs’ flawless start.
Mahomes already has 13 touchdown passes – the most by a player in the first three games of a season – without tossing a single interception, while Kansas City’s attack is averaging a league-best 39.3 points.
Denver, however, have an advantage heading into the AFC West match-up that none of the Chiefs’ first three opponents had.
Unlike the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers or San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos have actually faced Mahomes before. In Mahomes’ first career start in Week 17 of last season, Denver limited the young gunslinger to 284 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 27-24 loss.
The circumstances are much different this time around though. Most importantly, Mahomes is no longer a rookie and had a full offseason and training camp to be groomed as the starter. Secondly, he didn’t have home-run hitter Tyreek Hill or reliable tight end Travis Kelce on the field for his first start as Kansas City chose to rest many of its top players ahead of the playoffs.
On paper, the Broncos defence has the personnel to make Mahomes and the Chiefs’ lives difficult. With playmakers like Chris Harris in the secondary and Von Miller and Bradley Chubb pass rushing off the edge, Denver are capable of disrupting Kansas City’s rhythm.
To do it, they’ll have to not only apply pressure, but get to Mahomes before he can get the ball out cleanly. Kansas City’s offensive line has only given up four sacks this season – tied for second-fewest in the league – but Mahomes has been under pressure on 37.1 per cent of his dropbacks, which is the third-highest rate.
The reason Mahomes has still thrived despite the pressure has been two-fold. The Chiefs’ scheme has put him in the best position to succeed by designing plays that utilise space to get his receivers open, but Mahomes has also used his mobility and arm strength to do much of the heavy-lifting, as he did on that jaw-dropping scramble and laser throw for a touchdown last week.
Unless Miller and Co can put Mahomes on his heels, the Broncos could end up being the latest victims of the high-powered offence.
THE CASE FOR KEENUM
Even if Denver’s defence can rise to the challenge, they’ll need contributions from the other side of the ball, which has seen unreliable play from Case Keenum.
The quarterback has done just enough to improve on the putrid play the Broncos received at the position last season, but he’s been far from good. Keenum’s passer rating of 71.6 ranks 29th in the league, while his five interceptions are tied for the most by any quarterback.
If there was ever a time for Keenum to get going, it would be against a Chiefs defence that has shown almost no resistance. Kansas City have given up a league-worst 474.0 yards per game and rank 30th with an average of 30.7 points surrendered.
The secondary has been a mess without star safety Eric Berry, who is reportedly recovering from a heel deformity.
Without their leader, the Chiefs unit has also been undisciplined, missing a league-worst 36 tackles and being flagged 16 times, third-most among all teams, according to Pro Football Focus.
With how well their offence has played, Kansas City’s defensive issues have been so far masked, but at some point the Chiefs will have a game in which they can’t simply outgun their opponents.
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