Chiefs’ high-flying offense faces a challenge in Jaguars’ stingy defense
Or more accurately, an amalgamation of the best to ever play it.
“You are talking,” Marrone said, “about someone that is a combination of a lot of the greatest players that have ever played that position with the way he is playing.”
Now, the question is whether the NFL’s best defense can slow him down.
The Jaguars (3-1) head to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday to face Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-flying offense in what is arguably the game of the week. Jacksonville’s only loss came by a field goal to the Titans, while the Chiefs (4-0) are coming off a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback win in Denver.
And whereas the Jaguars are allowing a paltry 259 yards per game and top the league in scoring defense, the Chiefs are putting up 410 yards and an NFL-best 36 points per game.
Much of that is due to Mahomes, who is averaging close to 300 yards passing. He has already thrown 14 touchdown passes without an interception, and his ability to make plays when everything breaks down — like that audacious left-handed pass against the Broncos — has turned him into an early MVP front-runner.
“He gives you challenges every which way,” Marrone said, “whether you put him in the pocket (or not). He can make every throw. He makes quick decisions. You get him out of the pocket and he can extend plays. He is athletic enough to run and run for a long way and take it to the house. He has great command, and he has great weapons around him and an outstanding offensive line.
“Right now, offensively, what you’re seeing is that it’s kind of unbelievable,” Marrone said, “which is going to be a great challenge. We have our hands full.”
To the Jaguars’ credit, the Chiefs are saying the same thing about their defense.
Their defensive front is anchored by Calais Campbell and allows fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. Telvin Smith is one of the game’s top linebackers. And the defensive backfield is led by cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, who have made life miserable for quarterbacks all year.
“This is by far the best defense we’ll have faced,” Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill said, “but I’m always up for a challenge. The best always go against the best, so we’ll be ready.”
The Jaguars will be without running back Leonard Fournette, who is again sidelined by a lingering hamstring injury, and backup cornerback D.J. Hayden. The Chiefs remain without star safety Eric Berry, who has been “day to day” for about two months with a troublesome heel.
The Chiefs have won nine straight regular-season games dating to last season, but the Jaguars have found it far more difficult to string together victories. The Jaguars never won more than three in a row last season.
“It’s something we’ve struggled a bit with,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said. “This is the perfect opportunity to kind of break that mold of going up and down back-to-back weeks, playing good and then following it up with a poor performance.”
The Chiefs could have an advantage in backup QB Chad Henne, who started 53 games over six seasons in Jacksonville. He also appeared in two games in mop-up duty last year. The familiarity gives Kansas City the ability to diagnose and understand the Jacksonville offense.
The Chiefs finally got running back Kareem Hunt going last week against Denver, and last year’s NFL rushing champion responded with his first 100-yard game this season.
It was a good reminder for the Jaguars that they can’t focus entirely on Mahomes and the Chiefs’ pass offense.
“You would think that, but that’s not the case. I’m being honest,” Marrone said. “We understand the running backs. We understand how good the line is. We obviously know the weapons on the outside. We obviously know that the field will be stretched. We’re going to have to play well. It will be a challenge .”
The party-like atmosphere that was prevalent in Kansas City throughout the 1990s has returned with the success of Mahomes and Co., and Marrone is keenly aware of it.
“It is going to be so damn loud,” he said. “We will all have to be on the same page. I don’t think a lot of people will be able to hear a lot of things when you go that. That is probably one thing about Kansas City: It is probably the loudest place I have ever been.”