How did the Broncos defense slow down Patrick Mahomes?

Denver Broncos DL Shelby Harris. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos DL Shelby Harris. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

While the Broncos were embarrassed by the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, one unit played exceptionally well: the Broncos defense.

The Denver Broncos defense held the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs’ offense to 10 first-half points and gave Denver’s sputtering offense a chance in the second half. Unfortunately, the offense couldn’t capitalize on the outstanding performance by the defense.

So, how did the Broncos’ defense slow down the Chiefs?

Note: I am looking primarily at the first half of the game, as the Broncos’ offense gave the team no chance for a comeback in the second half.

1. The Broncos defense was not fooled by Kansas City’s “Window-Dressing”

Denver’s defense gave up a jet sweep to Mecole Hardman on the Chiefs’ first offensive play. Following the 13-yard scamper, the Broncos were not fooled by the Chiefs’ pre-snap motion, or “window dressing”.

The Broncos’ linebackers played a huge role in the defense’s discipline against the Chiefs. For every movement the Chiefs ran, the defense knew exactly what to do, and were not fooled by the different alignments the Chiefs used to scheme receivers open.

Along with the linebackers, Denver’s defensive line played well against the Chiefs. The Broncos used two defensive lineman and two outside-linebackers in their base defense. While the defensive lineman ate up blocks by the Chiefs offensive line, Denver’s linebackers read the running lanes and met the Chiefs’ running backs in the backfield on numerous plays.

The Chiefs have enough talent to make defenses look silly, but they also scheme their players wide open through pre-snap motion. The Broncos’ defense was not fooled by the Chiefs’ “window dressing”, and was a big reason the Chiefs were held to 10 first-half points.

2. Patrick Mahomes felt the pressure from the Broncos

Going into Sunday, I did not think Vic Fangio would find success blitzing Patrick Mahomes.

According to PFF Premium Stats, Patrick Mahomes dropped back 26 times on Sunday. The defense blitzed on seven of those drop-backs, and Mahomes completed 50 percent of his passes for 41 yards and took a sack.

While the Broncos did not blitz at the rate they had the previous two weeks, head coach Vic Fangio chose his spots wisely.

The defensive line still caused problems for the Chiefs even when Vic Fangio only rushed four players. The defensive line tallied four sacks on Mahomes, with Malik Reed leading the way with two sacks followed by Dre’Mont Jones and Bradley Chubb each with one.

Overall, Patrick Mahomes couldn’t find his rhythm from the pocket due to the Broncos’ pressure. The Chiefs did not convert a third down in large part because of the defensive line’s presence.

3. The Broncos shook their schemes up to throw Mahomes off his game

Vic Fangio’s scheme is widely regarded as a zone-heavy defensive scheme. Against the Chiefs, the Denver defense flipped the script.

The Broncos used a heavy dose of man-coverage against the Chiefs to great effect. Denver’s secondary looked very confident in their matchups in man-coverages, and it showed on Sunday. The Chiefs’ offensive weapons were held in check, with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce held to 55 and 31 yards respectively, per ESPN.

Additionally, the Broncos used plenty of post-snap movement to confuse Patrick Mahomes. The defense would often line up in a two-high-safety look before the snap, then would rotate to a single-high safety look after the Chiefs snapped the ball.

Here’s an example of the safety rotation employed by the Broncos:

This post-snap movement by the Broncos defense changed what Patrick Mahomes saw on offense, and altered his decisions with the football. This split second of processing the defense allowed the Broncos’ pass-rush to hit home for a pressure or sack.

The Broncos changed up their tendencies on defense, causing Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense to think. In my preview of Sunday’s matchup, I said that the Broncos’ defense had to make Mahomes uncomfortable, and couldn’t let him “fly on autopilot”. The defense was more than up to the task and showed their ability on Sunday.

While the Broncos were blown out against the Chiefs, the defense certainly was not the problem. The defense showed why they deserve to be in consideration for the best in the NFL and did what few other defenses have done: slow down the Chiefs.

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The Broncos will have to rely on their defense while the struggling offense finds their footing in the coming weeks.