Jaguars’ tough task: Slow down Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) (Charlie Riedel, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Job one when facing the Kansas City Chiefs is finding a way to contain quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Can it be done?

Three teams beat Kansas City this year. The Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 held Mahomes to one touchdown and his lowest quarterback rating of the season, 78.5.

Three weeks later, the Buffalo Hills picked off Mahomes twice in a 24-20 win at Arrowhead Stadium.

Then, in Week 13, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Chiefs when they held Mahomes to just one touchdown and 223 yards, a season-low until the final game of the season when Mahomes didn’t play the whole game.

Those were the Chiefs’ three losses. Mahomes is likely to win the Most Valuable Player award for a second time. He led the league in passing yards and touchdown passes and was second in the NFL in quarterback rating. He’s great when given time to throw. He’s dominant against the blitz. He can scramble and he has a cannon for a right arm.

Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL right now.

“We need to focus on trying to keep him in the pocket so he can’t improvise, but at the same time, that’s what he does,” said Jaguars’ defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell. “He’s going to be off time, and we just have to understand that we still rush the passer, be relentless, and in coverage, just got to blast the receivers. It’s going to happen. He’s going to break the pocket. You just have to understand that stay in coverage, don’t come across, let our front go and try and contain him.”

Mahomes is just 27 years old and already he has led the league in categories 13 times. He has directed 15 game-winning drives. This year, despite losing speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins in a trade, he threw for more yards than he ever had before.

“You either go four, you go five, you go six, you go seven [rushers],” Caldwell said. “We have a variety of defenses we can throw at him. We’ll study him, try to take advantage of what we do well, just go out there and play our game and let the chips fall.”

In the first meeting with the Chiefs, the Jaguars defense didn’t stress Mahomes much. They didn’t sack him although safety Andre Cisco did come away with an interception.

“This is what you are in it for,” Cisco said. “As a defense, we’re happy with our improvements. It’s good to see where you stand against an offense like this.”

In the first 10 weeks of the season, ending with the loss to the Chiefs, the Jaguars forced 14 turnovers. In the seven regular-season games after, they forced 13. In that same stretch, the Jaguars improved their sack numbers by more than one per game from 1.6 to 2.7. Opponents threw for over 300 yards three times in the first 10 weeks, including my Mahomes. In the last eight games, including the playoff win over the Los Angeles Chargers, they allowed only one 300-plus yard passing game.

The Jaguars are a better defense than they were in the first meeting and Mahomes is a unique challenge to stop.

“We have to prepare differently than with any other team,” said defensive lineman Arden Key. “You have to put your track shoes on and be ready to run. The first time we lost to them by 10 points. All of the explosive plays we gave up, it’s on us.”

The Jaguars know they will have to score in bunches to beat Kansas City.

“I’m blessed to be in this moment,” said outside linebacker Josh Allen. “Right now, we look forward to this opportunity. We want to get to the Super Bowl and that’s another team in the way. We have to be prepared for anything to happen. We need to win this game.”