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Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes learned a few lessons in last year’s AFC title game – Kansas City Chiefs Blog



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — His first experience in the AFC Championship Game last year taught Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes a few truths about football this deep into the season. The main lesson: to be ready for anything the opponent might throw his way.

Mahomes will take those lessons into this year’s AFC title game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium (3:05 p.m. ET, CBS).

“Last year they caught us a little off guard with the coverages they played at the beginning of the game,” Mahomes said of the Chiefs’ overtime loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. “We made adjustments and were able to score points later in the game, but you want to make sure that you’re just preparing for everything. You know that [the Titans have] a good defense. They do a lot of different things, play a lot of man, play a lot of zone and so you know they’re going to throw different coverages out there against you.”

The Chiefs were the NFL’s highest-scoring team in the 2018 regular season but were shut out in the first half of the championship game when the Patriots blanketed Mahomes’ receivers with man-to-man coverage. The Chiefs eventually adjusted and came back to take the lead on the Patriots before losing in overtime.

Falling behind 14-0 at halftime again is something Mahomes and the Chiefs are trying to avoid.

Succeeding against man coverage is an area where Mahomes and the Chiefs have improved since early this season. In the first seven games, Mahomes threw against man coverage 69% of the time, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, and had a QBR of 65, a completion rate of 58% and a touchdown rate of 3.6% on those throws.

Since he returned from his knee injury in Week 10, Mahomes has a QBR of 77 against man coverage, a completion rate of 62% and a TD rate of 8.3%. Mahomes threw four touchdown passes in last week’s divisional round win over the Houston Texans.

“They played quite a bit of man, almost every snap,” coach Andy Reid said of the Texans. “Our guys have battled through it. I think we’ve gotten better at releases. … I think we’ve done a better job coaching it. I’ll take responsibility for that. We’ve spent a lot of time at that. The faults were my problem. … Changed some things up and got it straightened out.”

The Chiefs are now confident against any coverage.

“I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us,” wide receiver Tyreek Hill said. “That’s no disrespect to [anybody]. That’s just the confidence I’ve got in myself and just the wideouts I’ve got around me, including the tight ends and the running backs. No DB unit, no secondary unit, no linebackers or any defense can guard any of us. Man-to-man, it’s just easy for us to beat. If you just allow us to run through zones, it’s even easier.”

The early struggles against man-to-man coverage were part of the learning experience for Mahomes in his second season as a starter.

“The second year in the NFL is a tough year for quarterbacks, a tough, tough year,” Reid said. “There are some great minds in the National Football League that are coaching the defensive side of the ball. They have a whole year, offseason, to study, and they’re going to come back with their absolute best against you and he answered it and he did it through some adversity with injuries or players that weren’t playing, whatever it might be.

“He didn’t flinch. He kept the same attitude, the same work ethic, and he went after it. He had a major injury that he pushed through where the coaches and the trainers and the doctors all had to back him off.”

Mahomes played through three significant injuries this season, though only the dislocated kneecap prevented him from playing in a game. He missed 2½ games in the middle of the season.

The Chiefs had a rash of other offensive injuries as well. Hill missed four games early in the season and the Chiefs were forced to start five different offensive line combinations.

The Chiefs scored 114 fewer points than in 2018 but had their highest-scoring game of the season last week when they tallied 51.

“He’s learning how to win when things aren’t perfect,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said of Mahomes. “Now he’s making plays with his feet in the pocket. He’s making a call at the line of scrimmage and giving us an opportunity to pick up pressure from a late-rotating safety.

“Don’t get me wrong: You always want to see those games where we can have 400, 500 yards passing and a lot of points. But you have to know how to win when things aren’t perfect.”

Mahomes in 2018 threw 50 touchdown passes and for more than 5,000 yards during the regular season, becoming only the second player in NFL history to accomplish the feat. This season, his touchdowns were down to 26 and his yards down to 4,031.

But his interceptions also were down, from 12 last season to five.

“Understanding Coach Reid’s game plan and knowing the big plays are going to come,” Mahomes said in explanation. “He’s going to dial up the plays where you can take the shots. Having the experience of more and more games, I really understand that more now. I obviously want to go for the big shot with all the speed and playmakers we have on the field but just let it come to you and not force it.

“In general I’m more prepared just [because of] the experience I’ve had this year. I still feel there are times where the defense gets me. But that happens. … Whenever I get an unscouted look, I’m able to fall back on stuff I’ve done in my short career and hopefully I’ll keep building that memory as I go.”

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Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy withdraws from Colorado coaching search



Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has withdrawn his name from consideration for the Colorado head-coaching job, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Bieniemy’s decision, as first reported by 9News in Denver, follows that of Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who also has dropped out of the search, sources told ESPN’s Chris Low on Thursday.

Bieniemy starred at running back for Colorado from 1987 to 1990 and finished his career as the school’s career rushing leader (3,940 yards). He had two assistant coaching stints with the Buffaloes following his NFL playing career.

He has spent the past seven years with the Chiefs. Bieniemy drew interest from several NFL teams for head-coaching vacancies this offseason, but they all went in different directions.

Colorado is looking to fill the vacancy after Mel Tucker left to take the Michigan State head-coaching job earlier this month.

Bret Bielema, the former Arkansas and Wisconsin coach, also has interviewed with Colorado officials for the job and is a prime candidate along with Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.

Darrin Chiaverini has been serving as interim head coach.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Mark Schlabach contributed to this report.

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Dolphins’ focus at combine: Tua Tagovailoa, O-linemen and more – Miami Dolphins Blog



The Miami Dolphins head into next week’s NFL scouting combine armed with more than $90 million in salary-cap space and 14 draft picks, including three first-round selections. Talk about ammunition to rebuild a franchise.

NFL free-agency decisions will happen in mid-March and the NFL draft kicks off in late April, but the early imprints of the Dolphins’ moves will be made at the combine in Indianapolis. There, the smoke screens will be thick among NFL circles because many executives will attempt to hide their teams’ true draft intentions in an effort to ward off other teams’ interest in their targeted draft prospects.

Here are the most important questions lingering as the Dolphins soon head to Indianapolis:

What do Tagovailoa’s medicals look like?

This is the single most important question for the Dolphins between now and April 23. If Tua Tagovailoa‘s medicals check out, the Dolphins should be considered the favorites to land him as their franchise quarterback with their No. 5 pick or via a trade up. Oddsmakers already have Miami and Detroit (No. 3 pick) as co-favorites to land Tagovailoa.

There are early, positive reviews about Tagovailoa’s recovery from his hip injury, but the Dolphins’ doctors will be sure to evaluate further. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross visited Alabama last season to watch Tagovailoa play, and a few weeks ago he had this to say on the former Crimson Tide quarterback: “He’s a great player. I just worry about his health.”

Tagovailoa and the Dolphins are a perfect fit for one another — if his medicals check out. A big step toward finding the answer will come at the combine, where the quarterback isn’t expected to participate in on-field drills but will go through interviews as well as the medical evaluations.

Who are the Dolphins’ alternative picks at No. 5?

There has been a lot of speculation that if Tagovailoa’s medicals come up positive, then he could move up to become the No. 3 pick behind Burrow and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. Whether it’s Detroit or a team outside of the top 5 trading up with the Lions, the Dolphins could have competition for Tagovailoa. So, Miami must prepare for a scenario in which it cannot get its intended prospect.

Finding a franchise quarterback is priority No. 1 for Miami, and the top alternative appears to be Oregon’s Justin Herbert. If for some reason the Dolphins pass on a quarterback at No. 5 and focus on an offensive tackle or a defender at No. 5, then Utah State quarterback Jordan Love could become an option at No. 18 or No. 26.

The Dolphins will utilize the combine to interview and watch the non-Tagovailoa options such as Herbert, Love, Alabama offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons.

Which players should Miami target in its pursuit of starting offensive linemen?

There is no Dolphins unit that needs more of an overhaul than the offensive line, and the goal this offseason should be to find multiple long-term starters via free agency as well as the draft. Expect Miami to be aggressive in free agency by targeting offensive tackles and/or guards.

Tennessee Titans free agent Jack Conklin leads the offensive tackle market, and would be a plug-in right tackle for the next five years (potentially protecting Tagovailoa’s blind side). Quality offensive linemen always get paid, and Conklin is probably looking at the deals that Ja’Wuan James (four-year, $51 million deal) and Trent Brown (four-year, $66 million deal) received as comparable contracts. There are more starting guard options, but they won’t be had at discount prices with the Patriots’ Joe Thuney and Washington’s Brandon Scherff leading that class. Green Bay’s Bryan Bulaga, Detroit’s Graham Glasgow, Seattle’s Germain Ifedi and New England’s Ted Karras could be fits at more palatable prices.

There seem to be five offensive linemen who have separated themselves as first-round draft prospects at this point (Willis, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Louisville’s Mekhi Becton and Houston’s Josh Jones). An ideal Dolphins draft could be landing one of those O-linemen at No. 18 or No. 26.

Which top-tier defensive talent best fits in Miami?

Though Miami is flush with cap space, don’t expect a wild shopping spree this offseason. Instead, the Dolphins could make selective splashes for players who fit well in coach Brian Flores’ scheme.

Edge rusher is one of the Dolphins’ biggest needs, and it seems like a smart bet they will find at least one starter on the free-agent market. Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, Seattle’s Jadeveon Clowney, Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett, Pittsburgh’s Bud Dupree and Baltimore’s Matthew Judon are expected to land massive deals. A few edge players will likely receive the franchise tag, but for now it’s a deep class that Miami should be very interested in.

Looking for a name outside of this group who makes sense for Miami? Try Buffalo’s Shaq Lawson or New England’s Kyle Van Noy (who isn’t a true edge player but fits Flores’ scheme perfectly).

A few other non-edge defenders who would be good fits in Miami include Titans cornerback Logan Ryan, Patriots defensive tackle Danny Shelton, Texans defensive tackle D.J. Reader and Broncos safety Justin Simmons.

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Marshawn Lynch has ‘fun, pretty substantial role’ in HBO’s ‘Westworld’



Marshawn Lynch is all about those androids, boss.

Yes, that was Lynch flashing in HBO’s trailer for Season 3 of the sci-fi series “Westworld,” which premiered Thursday. In the trailer, the Seahawks running back walks behind actor Aaron Paul in a particularly dramatic scene about 54 seconds into the clip, sporting a T-shirt with the word “BORED” illuminated on it, along with the words “AMUSED,” “ANGRY,” “SAD” and “EXCITED.”

But is Beast Mode a good guy or a villain? Does he have a speaking role (might he risk being fined if he doesn’t talk?) or is he a silent enforcer?

HBO execs obviously couldn’t reveal too much about Lynch’s role, lest the plot also be exposed, but a spokesperson for the network said Lynch is expected to have a “fun and pretty substantial role” as he veers from his football persona.

Still, the guy who said he wants to run through, ahem, an opponent’s face “over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over” again, like some, well, cyborg, should explode on the small screen.

Like he did this past season when he scored three touchdowns in two playoff games for Seattle after signing in Week 17. Before then, Lynch had last played in an NFL game for the Raiders in London on Oct. 14, 2018, when he suffered a season-ending groin injury. The Raiders did contemplate bringing Lynch back late last season with rookie Josh Jacobs banged up with a fractured shoulder, a source said, but ultimately decided to roll with fourth-year vets DeAndré Washington and Jalen Richard and the Raiders signed Rod Smith on Dec. 10.

Lynch’s participation in “Westworld” was reported last summer, and he was actually in a clip that ran in May.

The season premiere is on March 15.

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