With training camp on the horizon and September not far off in the distance, NewYorkJets.com is examining each of the Green & White's opponent matchups in 2020. Next in the series, we discuss with Mitch Holthus, the Voice of the Chiefs, the Jets' Week 8 challenge of traveling to Kansas City to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs.
It's not hard to come up with this Nov. 1 game's main theme: the Battle of the Young QBs. Patrick Mahomes, 24, is the new face of the NFL after throwing for 5,000 yards and 50 TDs in 2018 and leading the Chiefs to the Super Bowl LIV title in February. Sam Darnold, who just turned 23, is the still fresh-faced QB of the Jets and looking to make a Mahomes-ian leap in his third year at the Jets' helm.
"Mahomes, we know, is a phenomenal talent," Holthus told Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg on a NewYorkJets.com podcast. "What he can do is overcome every down and distance. ... I think it's a matter of him just continuing to work physically to be that uber NFL quarterback, because teams are coming after him now with all kinds of pressures and blitzes."
And the veteran KC broadcaster thinks the Jets are trying to follow in the successful footsteps of Mahomes, HC Andy Reid and the Chiefs organization.
"Of course, it depends on Sam and if he's going to become Mahomes," he said. "There was also what they're trying to do, with what Joe [Douglas] has done with Adam [Gase] and with the leadership and ownership of the team. I can see this year their division being like 2002, when the Jets won the division but they tied with two 9-7 teams and the fourth-place team was 8-8. That's almost in the realm of possibility in 2020 for that division."
The champs didn't gain or lose a lot in free agency. Among the departed were a 7-game starter in T Cameron Erving and 4-game starters in CB Kendall Fuller and DT Emmanuel Ogbah. The big FA news was the franchise-tagging of DT Chris Jones. The Chiefs did restock in the draft, led by No. 1 pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the 5'7", 210-pound dynamo RB from LSU, and No. 2, Willie Gay Jr., the Mississippi State LB.
"Edwards-Helaire adds a Darren Sproles element to this offense. Darren's body size and his skillset are what Clyde looks like he brings to the Chiefs," Holthus said of the potential change coming to KC's 23rd-ranked run game. As for Gay, he said, "Willie looks like a bit of a replica of Derrick Johnson, who was an awesome player here for over a decade."
Matchups to Watch
The Jets' reconstructed offensive line gets another test this year in the Chiefs' front line, led by Pro Bowlers Jones (team-leading 9.0 sacks) and DE Frank Clark (8.0 sacks). They and the LBs were susceptible to the run last year (26th in the NFL) but made hay vs. the pass (8th-ranked in yardage, 11th in sack rate). The Jets would like to find those creases to unleash Le'Veon Bell and Frank Gore, which will make it easier to protect Darnold when he drops back.
On the flip side is Kansas City's masterpiece of dangerous Mahomes receivers — TE Travis Kelce (team-leading 97 catches) and WRs Tyreek Hill, both Pro Bowlers, along with WRs Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson.
"I've seen teams every week throw everything at the Chiefs and still many times they'll overcome it because they do have all those weapons," Holthus said. "They attack you geometrically — they'll find weak spots in your algorithm and disprove it. The other thing they do is attack you vertically and horizontally effectively. People say it's the West Coast offense, and Reid comes from a little bit of that background, but he's really changed it and that's because of the 4x100-meter relay team that he sends out of the huddle."
Why It's Important
The game's importance for the Jets is in the stature they will gain if they can bump off the Chiefs on the road, just in time to return home for their first meeting with the Tom Brady-less Patriots Nov. 9 on MNF. But they've lost three in a row at Arrowhead since their last win, in the rain in OT in 1998, and as Holthus eloquently puts it, a Jets win won't come easy again.
"The Chiefs haven't lost all that much. They went through a downturn last year but they had 13 starters miss significant time due to injury. I guess that's how you do it if you're going to try to beat them," he said. "But it's going to take a lot to beat this team. This team is very good. I don't do this to be arrogant or a homer, but the Chiefs have a chance to be better in many ways in 2020. I think they'll be better defensively, and if they stay healthy, this is a strong group in every phase. There is no weakness on this team."