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Giants defense not overlooking Chiefs’ challenge

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Quick! Someone send Patrick Graham the film that shows quarterback Patrick Mahomes struggling!

For the sake of the Giants defensive coordinator’s well-being this week as he prepares for the Chiefs and to free up coach Joe Judge, the Giants need that tape.

“[It’s] not the tape I’m watching,” Graham quipped when asked if Mahomes is having a poor season. “I’m telling you, hair has been pulled out a little bit. [Judge] had to talk me off the bridge a little bit. He’s the best player in the league for a reason.”

The Giants are coming off their best defensive performance of the season in a win over the Panthers. The pass rush provided 18 pressures and six sacks. The run-stuffers allowed just 3.3 yards per carry. The secondary forced a turnover and allowed just 48.7 percent of passes to be completed, after previously allowing nearly 74 percent in six games. But Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce play for the Chiefs, not the Panthers.

“We got one game. That game is over,” Graham said. “We’ve got to string some stuff together, playing good defense, focusing on the fundamentals. I think that’s the thing that showed up last week. To say we turned the corner, I wouldn’t say anything like that right now.”

Smart thinking because the Chiefs can make even consistently good defenses look awful. Or at least that’s been the reputation for most of Mahomes’ three years starting under coach Andy Reid — all of which ended in the AFC Championship game or Super Bowl.

New York Giants cornerbacks Aaron Robinson #33, Darnay Holmes #30, and Adoree' Jackson #22, during practice
New York Giants cornerbacks Aaron Robinson, Darnay Holmes and Adoree’ Jackson will have their hands full with Chiefs’ receivers.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

But these Chiefs lead the NFL with 17 giveaways — five more than any other team — and Mahomes is tied with Jets rookie Zach Wilson for the lead with nine interceptions. The offense has been flagged for 26 penalties, many in crucial situations. Criticism of Mahomes is at a crescendo after Kansas City’s thee-point output in Sunday’s loss to the Titans.

“You still have to stop at red lights,” Reid said. “That’s part of the game. He’s got a great feel for that. He’s had a couple hiccups here, but he’s so willing to make things right and work hard. I’m not worried about him. It’ll work out fine for him.”

So, either the Giants defense is catching the Chiefs at just the right time. Or walking into a hornet’s nest after garnering full attention with last week’s performance, when Reid saw a secondary in “attack mode” willing to “rotate a lot of different coverages on you.”

“You’re trying to minimize the game wreckers,” Graham said. “That’s how I was raised.”

But Graham says his attention this week — as it always is — starts with stopping the run. It’s a curious statement given the Chiefs’ offense thrives on deep passes and is without top running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, out with a sprained MCL.

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs runs with the ball
Patrick Mahomes appears to be struggling this season, but the Giants aren’t taking him any less seriously.
Getty Images

“If they can run it, especially early in the game, we’re in trouble because now I’m playing catch-up the whole time,” Graham said. “Our first inclination when you think about the run game, get more people down there [in the box]. That’s a recipe for disaster with these guys. You start bringing more people down in the run game, now these [receivers] are running by.”

Sounds almost impossible to defend without self-defeating mistakes. The Chiefs’ No. 3-ranked total offense (419.3 yards per game) and No. 8-ranked scoring offense (26.9 points per game) is getting overshadowed by the turnovers and penalties.

The Chiefs face the lowest blitz rate (10.7 percent of Mahomes’ dropbacks), per NexGenStats, and the highest percentage of Cover 2 defense, which features two deep safeties to guard against big plays. Cover 2 is one of the most popular base defenses in the league and certainly isn’t new to Mahomes, who said Thursday that he has to battle “not getting bored” when teams take away the chunk yardage.

“They’re moving the ball and they can score at any moment,” said Graham, who blitzes on 26.1 percent of snaps. “You play Cover 2 because you’re trying to top their speed. They’ve got outside speed, they’ve got inside vertical speed, they’ve got backs that can run and take it off and then you’ve got the quarterback that might tie into some of the zone coverage to keep eyes on. It’s still as scary as it was at any other time.”

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