Patrick Mahomes hasn’t been bad against the Cincinnati Bengals in their past three meetings. The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t won any of those three games, but there’s more to winning and losing games than a quarterback’s production, no matter how often you hear otherwise.
In the three meetings, Mahomes has completed 67.3% of his passes for 757 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. His 101 passer rating is good. But the Bengals have also done well in not letting Mahomes go ballistic against them, often because of their willingness to throw different looks at him.
Mahomes hasn’t had more than 275 yards in any of the three meetings. In the second half and overtime of the AFC championship game last season, he struggled as much as we’ve ever seen him struggle. Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is adaptable during games, and that has presented a challenge to Mahomes and the Chiefs.
In Sunday’s AFC championship game, Anarumo and the Bengals defense will be creative.“It’s never the same,” Mahomes said this week of the Bengals’ scheme, via Harold Kuntz of Fox 4 in Kansas City
Bengals flustered Mahomes last postseason
There were a few reasons the Bengals came back from a 21-3 deficit against the Chiefs in last season’s AFC championship game, but the key one was flustering Mahomes with a schematic shift.
In the first half, Mahomes got the ball out fast, and the few times he didn’t, he found something after scrambling. His 5-yard touchdown to Travis Kelce was a vintage Mahomes play.
Then in the second half, the Bengals often dropped a lineman, giving them eight defenders in coverage, and Mahomes was indecisive. He’d hold the ball but couldn’t find anything open.
And the Bengals kept Mahomes from running against three-man rushes by sometimes employing a spy. He would just stick in the pocket with the coverage zones flooded.
“They just had a spy on me, for the most part, and I’ve usually done a good job getting around that guy, but they had a good game plan,” Mahomes said via The Athletic. “They were doing a lot of similar stuff in the first half. We were just executing at a higher level.”
The Bengals threw a lot of looks at Mahomes, coverage-wise and in the pass rush. On a key play in the second half, the Bengals had a safety blitz to Mahomes’ right from Vonn Bell, they dropped defensive end Trey Hendrickson into coverage on Mahomes’ left, and as he drifted to his left, Mahomes threw a forced pass that was tipped at the line and intercepted by defensive tackle B.J. Hill.
Anarumo can throw a lot at a quarterback. In that AFC championship game, he made the bold call to double up on the three-man rushes against Mahomes, and it flustered the star quarterback.