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Why Patrick Mahomes’s pocket awareness differentiates him from other QBs

Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL with 14 TD passes, but he finally threw his first two picks on Sunday against Jacksonville. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

FOXBOROUGH — Bill Belichick’s most-used adjective is “tremendous,” at least when he’s being nice. Listen in to the next few news conferences, and it will start sticking out.

But for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Belichick leveled up in his verbiage.

“He’s got a fabulous arm,” Belichick said via conference call Monday. “Can throw the ball out of the stadium.”

You don’t only have to rely on parsing Belichick’s word choice to know that Mahomes and the Chiefs pose a significant challenge to the Patriots this Sunday.

So far this season, Kansas City is averaging 35 points per game, the best number in the AFC. Their season-low points output is 27. Andy Reid, Mahomes, and a talent-laden cast of offensive players are marrying a fundamentally West Coast scheme with some of the Air Raid concepts the second-year quarterback was familiar with at Texas Tech, and to great effect.


“I would say the thing that makes him so different and play so well is how mobile he is, but then how well he is throwing the ball down the field,” said safety Duron Harmon. “I think they said two weeks ago versus Denver he was like 10 for 12 for 190-something yards, out of the pocket, which is like, crazy. That lets you know the type of athlete and quarterback you’re dealing with.”

Patriots 32-year-old backup Brian Hoyer, bless his heart, has primarily been playing the role of Mahomes this week. Others have chipped in, too.

Running back Kenneth Farrow, a practice squad member who re-signed Tuesday, was scrambling around in the backfield during one moment of that day’s practice, presumably mimicking Mahomes.

“I would say there’s probably not too many people in the league that can mimic what Mahomes does. He’s a special talent, a really good quarterback, a really good football player and we know we won’t see what we’ll see on Sunday during the practice week,” Harmon said. “But our best bet is just to watch as much film, to familiarize ourselves with him that way and try to get the best looks we can.


“Hoyer’s doing a good job of doing the Mahomes look for us, so we’re appreciative of him.”

Harmon said that having played Cam Newton in the preseason and Deshaun Watson and Blake Bortles in the regular season helps somewhat in preparing for Mahomes. The Patriots have had a lot of practices when keeping containment has been a priority.

Where Mahomes has differentiated himself, though, is with good pocket awareness. He doesn’t usually bail out of the pocket unless he should.

“To me you’re either a good pocket passer or you’re a scramble quarterback and you know, obviously, he does both well,” said linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Mahomes leads the league with 14 passing touchdowns and just threw his first two interceptions Sunday. Mahomes is fifth in the NFL in passer rating (112.7), fifth in yards per pass attempt (8.6), and third in yards per completion (13.5).

“He’s on fire, man,” Hightower said.

Hightower said Mahomes plays like a quarterback who’s started a lot more than six NFL games, and that he sees that maturity in Mahomes’s decision-making.

“One thing that he does really well that you don’t really see a lot of young quarterbacks do is he tries to protect himself on a lot those runs . . . where it’s just him going out of bounds or getting down,” Hightower said.


So, what’s a defender to do? With both the West Coast elements of the Chiefs offense and some of the concepts taken from the college game — such as run-pass option plays and frequent use of motion — the ball is coming out quickly and timing is important. If the Patriots rush can disrupt that timing, the coverage players have an easier job.

With an offense that’s varied, and one that makes a point of running many plays out of the same formations, it’s hard for a defensive front to find the right balance between aggression and containment. The Jaguars’ defensive line is one of the best out there, and they couldn’t bother Mahomes enough to keep him from throwing for 313 yards. But that’s the name of the game.

“We know what we have to do,” Harmon said. “But it’s always harder doing it, especially dealing with a guy like that.”

Nora Princiotti can be reached at nora.princiotti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.