Bill Belichick doesn’t lose often, but he knows you can learn more in defeat. Belichick and the New England Patriots found the perfect way to stop Patrick Mahomes, despite losing 26-10 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night.
The defending Super Bowl champions improved to 4-0, despite an average performance from Mahomes.
New England blanked Mahomes in the first half of the 2018 AFC Championship Game by blitzing in front of man coverage. Belichick opted for something safer this time.
The Patriots usually rushed only three of four, while bailing eight or seven into coverage.
Dropping eight took away Mahomes’ primary receivers and allowed the Pats to play combination coverage. Some targets were locked up in man, while others were shuttled through zones.
— Michael Giardi (@MikeGiardi) October 5, 2020
Joejuan Williams (33) played zone in the middle and kept eyes on Mahomes. Once Mahomes moved off any underneath routes, Williams doubled Watkins, leaving even less room to fit the ball into.
Blanket coverage consistently forced Mahomes to hold onto the ball longer than he wanted.
From @ESPNStatsInfo: The Patriots got pressure without blitzing:
Blitzes Patrick Mahomes on only 2 of his 20 dropbacks in the 1st half (10%).
The Patriots were able to get pressure (sack or duress) on Mahomes on 8 of 18 dropbacks (44%) — sending 4 or fewer pass rushers.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) October 6, 2020
New England made sure the tight end paid a price for every route he ran:
Shilique Calhoun BOOM pic.twitter.com/lIhkyONTNb
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) October 5, 2020
This encapsulates why the Patriots have been tough to beat in big games under Belichick. He’ll sacrifice pressure by having a pass-rusher play in coverage to negate a specific threat.
Most teams won’t forego their familiar defensive blueprint just to stop one player. Belichick has always believed taking away what the opposition does best is more important.
Beating up inside receivers is nothing new in Belichick’s philosophy. His defenses have been doing it since his days as coordinator for Bill Parcells with the New York Giants.
Kelce eventually made a big play or two in the fourth quarter, but it was a frustrating wait for Mahomes until then.
Patriots have given the Chiefs nothing on four of their six possessions. pic.twitter.com/aRgBalPgG4
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) October 6, 2020
Mahomes was credited with two touchdown passes, but both were glorified long handoffs to Hill and Mecole Hardman at the goal-line. His final stat line of 19 out of 29 for 236 yards told a more accurate story of how well the Patriots defense played.
Nobody has lived off man coverage more than the Pats in recent years, but Belichick wisely opted for zones this week. Keeping two safeties deep and flooding the underneath passing lanes with as many six defenders slowed Mahomes to a crawl.
He couldn’t go long and instead had to settle for scrambling around and waiting for his receivers to uncover. It was often a fruitless wait thanks to the way the Patriots clamped on in-breaking routes and had safeties double up on deep crossers.
The Pats lost, but their wounds were self-inflicted. Devin McCourty and Jonathan Jones dropped sure interceptions. Officials mistakenly negated a strip-sack by Shilique Calhoun that would have resulted in a Mahomes fumble returned for a touchdown.
There were also costly errors on offense. Backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Jarret Stidham combined for three interceptions, including a pick-six by Tryann Mathieu.
The Pats botched managing the clock when Hoyer took a sack at the end of the first half. Spiking the ball would’ve allowed New England to kick a short field goal and tie the score at 6-6.
Hoyer was strip-sacked in the third quarter the next time the Patriots entered the red zone. Mistakes like those are how you waste a superb defensive effort.
Belichick still found a way to slow Mahomes the rest of the league should copy. It’s a riddle Andy Reid and his staff need to solve if the Chiefs have any chance of a repeat.