Arizona Cardinals defense must play unafraid vs. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs
TEMPE — There’s no way around it: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is that dude.
In the span of four seasons as Kansas City’s starting signal caller, Mahomes has amassed a regular season MVP, a Super Bowl victory and MVP honor, Offensive Player of the Year, four Pro Bowls and an All-Pro nod. That’s what happens when you throw for no fewer than 26 touchdowns on a 66% passing.
He’s elite, downright dangerous going off-script and can burn even the stoutest of defenses with his ability as a runner. Just ask his former college head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who had a front-row seat to what was eventually going to take the NFL by storm. Now, he’ll watch from the other sideline on Sunday.
Even before all the injuries — freak accident or not — and question marks hit the Arizona Cardinals over the course of the offseason, Week 1 was already going to be a tall task for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
And if the Cardinals want to pick up a season-opening win for a third straight season under Kingsbury, Arizona’s defense cannot take the field thinking the Boogeyman is under center.
“He’s going to move the ball, he’s going to buy time, he’s going to scramble and make big plays,” Joseph said Thursday. “No one stops those guys. … They’ve been good for a long time, I faced them in Denver … I faced them here in preseason last year. Nothing’s changed, he makes plays.
“Having a great plan is going to be key and not being afraid to play on our terms is going to be key also. They’re going to move the ball anyway, so why sit back and be scared? That won’t work all day. We’ll see how that works out. We have a good plan and I believe in our plan and we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
For Joseph, it’s about being great in the red zone and on third downs. Winning the battles there, on top of being advantageous when Mahomes slips up, will certainly give the defense a real shot at making the QB’s day a rough one.
It’s not just Mahomes that you have to deal with on this Chiefs team, either.
Sure Tyreek Hill is no longer on the roster, but Travis Kelce is still one of the best tight ends in the game, hands down.
Wide receivers Marquez Valdez-Scantling and JuJu Smith-Schuster present a pair of new faces, though are big targets and have flashed over their respective careers alongside big-name quarterbacks. And you can’t forget about the Chiefs’ RB room led by Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
And while the talent on the other side may appear unsurmountable to some, especially given Arizona’s string of offseason misfortune, Joseph remains confident in the continuity this relatively young unit has built over the years.
“I’m comfortable because nine of 11 starters we’ve drafted and developed, outside of (J.J. Watt) and (Nick Vigil). All those kids are ours, so they know what they’re doing. We have a great staff and they’re being coached hard every day. So to beat us, you got to beat us. It won’t be easy. We’re young but we’re experienced in the system.
“That’s the way you want to be on defense. … We’re going to play hard and fast and attack people. The national perception our defense is young and is a bunch of unknowns but we don’t feel that way.”
Of those young guys that Arizona is really counting on to help lead this unit is star backer Isaiah Simmons.
After a huge leap forward in Year 2, the versatile backer picked up even more responsibility and will now quarterback the defense under Joseph’s watch.
It’s a tough job but Simmons is proving the defensive coordinator right in his decision to hand the star backer the green dot.
“He is so clear-minded on the field,” Joseph said. “Last year, I was watching him mic’d up — his rookie year actually — and I was shocked how relaxed and how comfortable he was on the field. That was an indicator that he could do it. … He’s the perfect person to do it for us.”
And as far as Joseph’s self-proclaimed good plan? Safety Budda Baker thinks it’s a great one.
“I’m definitely amazed, definitely amazed,” Baker said Thursday. “He does so many different things. We have a lot of different types of defensive styles and defensive techniques that will come to show. You guys will see and you guys won’t really know what’s going on but it will definitely be cool to watch.”