The Dolphins bring baffling blitzes. But Patrick Mahomes punishes pressure. What to do?

Joe Schad
Palm Beach Post
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Miami Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham (40) celebrates sack of Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, November 15, 2020.  (ALLEN EYESTONE / THE PALM BEACH POST)

To blitz or not to blitz, that is the play call.

For Dolphins coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer, it is the decision that perhaps has kept them up at night this week.

The Dolphins host the Chiefs on Sunday. The last time Kansas City played at Hard Rock Stadium, they won a Super Bowl.

In order for Miami to pull an upset, their 2nd-ranked scoring defense must find a way to disrupt the Chiefs' 2nd-ranked scoring offense.

"We know they are a good team," Dolphins safety Bobby McCain said. "We know they’ve got really good players. So do we."

The Dolphins' defensive identity of 2020 is based in success on third down and the red zone, and creating turnovers. But perhaps most importantly, Miami has consistently delivered a ferocious, unpredictable blitz. 

Miami has blitzed on 41.1 percent of downs, second only to Baltimore (42.2 percent) this season. The Dolphins have been willing to bring any number of players, from any positions on the field, at any time.

"Look, they’ve got a lot of explosive players," Dolphins coach Brian Flores said of Kansas City. "We always want to be aggressive. The game is aggressive. It’s an aggressive game. We want to call it aggressively. We want to call it aggressively in all three phases."

But here's the rub — and I don't mean Kansas City barbeque. No quarterback in the NFL burns the blitz as well as Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs.

Mahomes is rarely blitzed, but when he has been this season, the punishment issued is 12 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and 138.8 rating, best in the NFL.

"He’s a very good decision-maker," Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said of Mahomes. "He does a very good job of keeping his eyes down the field. I think he has a very good feel of what’s going on on the field, so he doesn’t necessarily sit there and look at the rush. He’ll keep his eyes downfield and look for matchups. The guy’s a tremendous player."

Like great Patriots defenses of years past, Miami's defense is somewhat bend-but-don't break. The Dolphins are actually 15th in the league in yards allowed per game.

That means Miami (8-4) is going to give up yards to the Chiefs (11-1). 

The Dolphins are first in the NFL in third-down defense. They're ninth in red zone defense. And tied for second in forced turnovers.

Does it make most sense to rush only three or four players for the majority of Sunday's game, hoping to keep the score close and limit big plays?

Flores may have offered a small clue this week when he said this: "We’ve got to play a disciplined football game, defend the deep part of the field and force them to execute, which they do a good job of executing. Not give up anything easy.”

More:Noah's Arc: Dolphins rookie cornerback Igbinoghene flashes improvements

Not give up anything easy would probably mean preventing long-gainers to speedsters Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman with a mixture of man and zone coverages, and by flooding the passing zones in an attempt to frustrate Mahomes.

"They make you defend every blade of grass," Boyer said.

It's easier said than done. But in the rare instances where Mahomes has made a mistake, it's usually because he's lost his patience.

"Look, this is a great quarterback," Flores said. "You put him up there with the other guys you’ve seen do something similar – the Aaron Rodgers, the (Peyton) Mannings, the (Tom) Bradys. He’s an elite quarterback. I think that goes without saying. So it’ll be an incredible challenge for us. If you make a mistake, he’s going to make you pay for it."

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambles during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions.

Added Dolphins rookie defensive lineman Raekwon Davis: "He’s accurate with his throws. He’s quick. He gets it out real fast, he gets it out hot and he’s fun to watch. He makes unbelievable throws. It’s crazy how he makes them throws.  He’s a nice quarterback. It’s crazy I’m fitting to play Pat Mahomes."

Mahomes, only 25, is already a league MVP and Super Bowl MVP. But he is human. Can Miami force him into a few key errors? Will they force the issue?

"You still want to be aggressive, but you can’t be too aggressive," linebacker Jerome Baker said. "Ultimately, our defense is built on being aggressive."

The Dolphins' defense is balanced, but the players with the most Pro Bowl pedigree are the corners, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones. Miami has trusted them to defend top opposing receivers this season, usually 1-on-1, and they've lived up the challenges. 

Jones understands the challenges Hill, known as "Cheetah," presents.

"He’s got a special gear," Jones said. "We probably haven’t seen speed like this in a while."

More:This is the Lynn Bowden the Miami Dolphins thought they traded for

This week, Dolphins players were marveling at how unorthodox Mahomes can be, with his various arm angles and broken-play magic.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, some Chiefs players were discussing how Miami's defense offers unique packages and how they seem to blitz without fear.

It will be absolutely fascinating to see how much pressure Boyer dials up. Does he dance with the scheme and philosophy that brought Miami to this moment?

Or does he say to himself that the Chiefs just require a different approach?

More:Eric Rowe watches tight end film like you watch Netflix. Here comes Kelce.

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