ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There aren't many players who compare to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who has a league MVP, Super Bowl MVP and Super Bowl title to his name through his first three seasons in the league.
"As far as Mahomes goes, the only modern quarterback — modern meaning the last 20-25 years — that I can really compare him to is [Packers QB] Aaron Rodgers," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. "I think John Elway was kind of Patrick Mahomes in the '80s and '90s, and since then I think it's Aaron Rodgers for sure. Those two guys have some very similar qualities."
Mahomes is on pace to challenge for another MVP award and potentially another Super Bowl title as he has tallied 30 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this year en route to a 10-1 start.
So, how do you stop a supremely talented player whose ability to ad-lib may exceed his knack for delivering strikes from the pocket?
There's not one singular path to accomplish that task, Fangio said.
"He likes everything on the smorgasbord," Fangio said. "He's got a lot of guys he can throw to. He's very good at throwing short, intermediate and deep. He's very good at throwing on the move. So, to say, 'If you take this one thing away from Mahomes, you're going to have a good day,' that's just not the case with him. He's too versatile in all aspects of playing his position. The challenge is to just mix it up and your guys are going to have to win some one-on-ones against some very tough receivers and tight ends and backs. We're going to have to have some good pass rush. When you play a team this talented, this versatile, and this spread out, there's not one absolute way to play it. You're just going to have to mix it up and there's going to be guys with hard downs at different times and we've got win those hard downs when the ball goes that way. If we don't, we'll struggle."
The Broncos have not defeated Mahomes in their six career meetings with him, dating back to the 2017 season finale. They did find some success in Week 7 this year, as they held Mahomes to just 200 yards and a touchdown. Mahomes attempted just 23 passes, though, as the Chiefs ran away with a 43-16 win.
Denver's pass rush did show up in that Week 7 meeting, as the team sacked Mahomes three times. One of those sacks ended a Kansas City drive, while one of the others forced Kansas City into a third-and-19 that the Chiefs did not convert.
The Broncos may need to do more than sack Mahomes, though. Forcing a turnover — and avoiding turnovers on offense — is likely critical to Denver's hopes of slowing the Chiefs.
"The No. 1 important thing is you have to have takeaways," safety Justin Simmons said. "They're a great offense, and they have a great offensive scheme. … You go back and look at the AFC semifinal game, they were down 24-0, and before halftime, they were tied, or they were up by a touchdown. They can score in an instant, so you have to have takeaways. In that game, the Texans had a special teams touchdown, they were doing a good job offensively moving the ball and they had a couple takeaways. Those are the things on the defensive side of the ball that we have to do to produce and to set our offense up on a short field. Take the ball away from them moving down the field.
"When they hit the red zone, sometimes the victory is just holding them to three. Giving up just three points, getting off the field and having your offense move the football again. The No. 1 thing is takeaways. That's going to be the biggest thing in this game. The defense has to find ways to generate takeaways for our offense."
The power of forcing the Chiefs into mistakes showed itself earlier this season, as the Broncos rebounded from two quick three-and-outs to cut the lead to 7-6 after the Chiefs fumbled the ball in their own territory. The Broncos, though, lost the turnover battle the rest of the way.
Simmons intercepted Mahomes last season in Kansas City, but the Broncos have not won the turnover battle against the Chiefs since Week 2 in 2015. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, that's the last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs.
Aided by turnovers, perhaps the Broncos can pull an upset over the heavily favored Chiefs on "Sunday Night Football."
TIME FOR THE PRO BOWL?
A season ago, Simmons earned second-team All-Pro honors but was not among ths safeties selected to the 2020 Pro Bowl.
A year later, with four interceptions through 11 games, Simmons appears to closing in on this elusive achievement. During the NFL's initial Pro Bowl vote update, Simmons led all free safeties in votes and had the most votes among AFC safeties. Minkah Fitzpatrick now leads AFC free safeties in votes.
"I don't think about it too much," Simmons said of not making the Pro Bowl last year. "Last year at the end of the season, it definitely stunk not making the Pro Bowl and not making it as an alternate. The pick me up on the back end of that was being named an All-Pro player. I think All-Pro is more prestigious anyway. At the end of the day, am I focused on it? No, not really. I'm focused on making as many plays as I can and trying to find ways to win on Sundays because that's the biggest thing — focusing on trying to win and making the plays that come to me when they come. That will take care of itself — the recognition and people seeing your play. There's nothing to harp on because it's out of my control in terms of how to get in there. I just have to be able to do it and make the plays that come to me and continue to make plays. Like I said, it'll take care of itself."
To vote for Simmons, you can click here or send a tweet that includes "#ProBowlVote + Justin Simmons" or "#ProBowlVote + @jsimms1119".
The Broncos claimed safety Will Parks off waivers on Wednesday, and Fangio said that Parks' versatility appealed to the team after Bryce Callahan suffered an injury that landed him on IR.
"Will's a guy that we liked," Fangio said. "He's versatile. We like him as a player. We like him as a person. I think he's excited to come back here and we'll see exactly how he fits in. Will played the nickel position for us last year, played the dime, he can play safety. One thing with losing Bryce, we've lost some versatility in our secondary because although Bryce had been playing corner the last few weeks exclusively, he can also play nickel, obviously.
"So, our nickel depth has gone down some, so we needed some versatility to bring back to replace Bryce. Coincidentally, Will got cut and he's a guy we like as a player and a person and like I said, I think he's excited to be back here."
Simmons, who was part of the Broncos' 2016 draft class alongside Parks, said he's glad to have his former locker mate back in Denver.
"This is a guy I came in with and spent a lot of time with," Simmons said. "[It's] unfortunate what happened in Philly, but selfishly, I'm really happy he's back here and having the opportunity to close out the season with us. He's a great player, and more importantly and selfishly for me, he's an even better friend. Having him around the past four years has been awesome. I'm excited for him to be back."