For first-season Broncos coach Vic Fangio, a defensive mind who's made an NFL career out of devising game plans to corral quarterbacks, he sees a skill set in Mahomes that compares to a pair of all-time greats. He also sees the most unique of attributes in that the Chiefs' man with the miracle for an arm has the confidence to do things that others simply cannot.
"I think he's like John Elway was in the '80s and '90s. He's that guy. Like Aaron Rodgers has been for the last 12, 14 years -- however many years he's been starting," Fangio said via team transcript. "He's kind of that guy. He's the great passer, the great improviser. He plays with a lot of athletic arrogance, which is a compliment. He's very confident in his ability."
While Fangio was quick to use his current general manager and boss as a complimentary measuring stick, Elway is a Hall of Famer and an all-time athlete and quarterback who possessed a cannon for an arm, mobility to spare and phenomenal moxie in the clutch. Though Rodgers is still playing, he's still considered one of the most talented playmakers to take a snap. It's the highest of praise.
As for the "athletic arrogance," it's as unique as it is spot on. Mahomes doesn't hesitate to make throws that would get other lesser QBs or game managers benched. He doesn't hesitate because he's made the mind-spinning somehow standard in 23 starts. By Fangio's account, it's an astounding combination of athleticism and intangibles.
"He's very poised, he doesn't get rattled and he's got an arm that is really, really good," Fangio said. "He can make all the throws they are asking him to make and some that they are not even asking him to make that just show up in his improvisations.
"The guy is really, really special."
Averaging ridiculous league-highs of 350.7 yards per game and 9.1 yards per attempt, Mahomes has 14 touchdowns and just one interception (one of two turnovers by him against the Texans in the Week 6 loss). The reigning NFL MVP continues to dazzle not just with gaudy stats, but how he's getting them, launching beautiful deep balls on the run, angling lasers across the field and pulling off throws that seem improbable, but have become commonplace.
Conventional wisdom lends itself to the Broncos playing Mahomes at the best time, however. He's troubled by an ankle injury, though a troubled Mahomes has still been stellar. The Chiefs have lost two in a row with a Week 5 setback to the Colts seeing Mahomes take a season-high four sacks and the Texans loss seeing him turn the ball over the aforementioned season-high two times.
Indeed with Mahomes, the defense must defend the play called and quite possibly the one Mahomes the maestro improvises.
"I think Mahomes last year and even this year, minus the two games they lost, he's proven that he can make all of the throws and that he has all of the athletic ability to make the throws out there on the field when you're thinking no way this is going to be completed," Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. "He's just a great talent. We have to do a great job of rushing and covering. We know he's going to extend some plays. We know he has the arm to make plays and the legs to keep extending them. We have to find ways to make him as uncomfortable as possible. We know that they've been struggling the past two games and just taking two losses, but they're going to come in energized and ready to go knowing that this one is a big one for them and a big one for us. It will be good."
Still an understudy to Alex Smith, Mahomes made his NFL debut against the Broncos in 2017 and provided a glimpse of what was to become with a 284-yard performance. In his three starts against the Broncos, Mahomes is 3-0 with a pair of 300-yard games last year, though none of them has been won by greater than seven points.
Now it's up to Fangio to figure out how to extend the Chiefs' losing streak and slow down the great Mahomes.
"With a guy like this," Fangio said, "you have to defend two plays: the one they've called and then the one he might create."