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Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' challenges against defenses that already know their tricks

There was a time during Patrick Mahomes' career when opponents dared him to beat them with man coverage, and when the Chiefs quarterback proved he could do it, they began running deep shell coverages to protect against the long ball.

Mahomes solved that riddle last year, too. And now many defenses are going back to man coverage.

Indeed, perhaps no other team in the NFL sees a greater variety of defenses, and vast departures from an opponent's norm, than Kansas City.

And while part of it has to do with Mahomes running the plays, and part of it Andy Reid calling them from the sideline, the biggest factor may be the fact that they've been working so seamlessly for so long.

"The things we've seen is a mix - a huge mix - and that's kind of the flavor of the league right now, I think," Reid said Wednesday. "And then they'll pick a little more of something percentage-wise to play against you, and man has been what we've seen, and we're lucky we saw it in training camp with our own defense."

There is an old adage in sports that "the tape never lies," that what is put on game film is the reality of the situation.

The Chiefs are finding that the tape at least misleads

That's because defenses have learned they have no choice but to do things out of their own comfort zone, in effect throwing Reid and the Chiefs a curveball in their game prep.

So a team that may blitz a certain percentage of the time on third down might drop into deep coverage, or a team that uses certain personnel on first down might do something else.

It's part of the chess match that is the NFL. But the difference is that while teams typically engage in those matches in the week leading up to the game, the Chiefs are forced to maneuver their pieces once the ball is kicked off.

"Defenses are definitely throwing us different pitches," Mahomes said. "They know last year was more shell coverage and zone coverages. They had success with that, we started beating that, and now we're back to man coverage. They're mixing and matching it. They're not going to give us the same coverage every time.

"For us," Mahomes said, "it's about having good-versus-all plays and then getting to the right checks and progressions."

The Chiefs have done that marvelously most of the season. They're fifth in the league in total offense, fourth in passing offense and tops in the league in scoring, even after last week's 24-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

The solution isn't a simple one. Sometimes the Chiefs go back to plays they ran last year, or more often, ones that they may have installed in training camp with little expectation that they would pull them out during the regular season.

It has forced Kansas City to be more nimble on offense than ever before.

"Normally it's that whole grouping of plays that you put in during camp. It's like a reservoir you draw from as you go through the year," Reid said, "and you might have to draw from that earlier than you think."

That's especially true when there's familiarity from a defense. In the case of Buffalo, not only did Bills coach Sean McDermott work for Reid in Philadelphia, the teams have met five times since 2020. And in the case of the San Francisco 49ers, whom the Chiefs play Sunday, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans played for Reid with the Eagles.

"We've seen that the last couple of years now. You have to be a little flexible on your feet there to maneuver around it," Reid said. "We're lucky we have guys that can retain, we have a quarterback that sees it, and we're able to pull a couple of things here and there if needed, and our coaches have good retention there that's needed."

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