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Mahomes Report: Week 15 vs. Denver

Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown from Brendan Dzwierzynski of what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.

The long wait for a gaudy statistical performance from Patrick Mahomes is finally over. QB1 played some of his best football of the year on Sunday in a 23-3 win at home over the Denver Broncos. Not only did he throw ball excellently all day, he did it in the snow.

Despite all of his injuries, including his dinged-up hand that did seem to affect a throw or two on Sunday, Mahomes was efficient and confident throughout the game. Denver’s defense gave him several chances to throw deep, which he took advantage off, and he showed off the hand cannon with a variety of laser throws this week, too.

Even with a turnover, Sunday’s performance was an MVP effort from Mahomes.

Comp.% Yards TD INT Rate
79.4 340 2 1 115.7

Mahomes Good

The most incredible, peak Mahomes play of the day came on a third-quarter two-point conversion.

Put this play up their with his most memorable ones. Fourth down to Tyreek Hill versus Baltimore, scrambling wildly and throwing a touchdown versus San Francisco, etc. Plays like this happen when Mahomes is at his most confident. Even when he takes his eyes off the play and looks back to see where the defensive are behind him, he never loses track of the play. The elusiveness he shows off to dodge both Mike Purcell (98) and Von Miller (58) is as impressive as it gets. Then, after all the movement, he sees Sammy Watkins open and tosses a perfect pass to him. This was a simply wild play.

Mahomes threw a pair of touchdowns in the game as well, the first of which was a beautiful deep-ball dime to Hill.

Hill runs a sluggo route, a slant that he then bends back the toward the outside deep. His unparalleled speed renders the defense largely ineffectual when he’s running unimpeded, so the success of this play just comes down to Mahomes making the throw. He’s got plenty of time to set up thanks to his deep drop off play action and good protection from the offensive line. There haven’t been many deep shots in recent weeks, but Mahomes was confident in this one anyway and placed it perfectly. He knows the safety help over the top won’t reach Hill in time, so this turns into an extreme version of pitch and catch for the score.

His second touchdown pass was even more simple, using a simple rub route to free Hill up along the goal line for a score.

The play calls for Mahomes to shift the pocket left toward the play, and he has no pressure in his face thanks to the roll and Darwin Thompson’s cut block on the edge. Demarcus Robinson is the outside receiver who sets the pick for Hill at the goal line, opening up space when they mesh and the defensive back gets caught in traffic. Mahomes fired this one as hard as he could, but a lob would have worked just fine with how open Hill was at short range.

We’ve already seen one long ball, and we have plenty more to get to. After several weeks of limited opportunities to stretch the field, Mahomes was throwing downfield constantly against the Broncos and was able to get plenty of different guys involved in the air attack.

Denver struggled to cover Kansas City’s receivers all day, from Hill to Travis Kelce all the way down to Blake Bell. The latter is running a deep corner from the right end of the line. Mahomes takes a deep drop and has good help up front, so there’s plenty of time to go through his progression and find the open man. Just like on the long touchdown pass to Hill, he has plenty of time set up, plant and step into this throw. It’s a throw on a rope, too, right on target to the backup tight end.

Speaking of tight ends, Kelce had a monstrous day. With 11 grabs for 142 yards, he’s now led the Chiefs in receiving four weeks in a row. He was an option both underneath and down the field against the Broncos.

It’s one thing to know you have a big-bodied tight end who can fight for (and win) a jump ball. It’s another level to use that to your advantage and pick on defensive players with those jump balls. Mahomes and Kelce have mastered that technique and this is another example. Cornerback Isaac Yiadom (26) is matched up on Kelce, but his attempt to bump and run is effectively useless against a player who is as big, strong and fast as Kelce. Mahomes has to deal with pressure this time and needs to throw from an unorthodox position. But, like we saw last week, he’s comfortable and effective when fading away. Once again the throw is accurate, and by throwing high (but still under control) it allows the receiver to go up and make the grab without the safety help over the top contesting it.

That was more of a touch pass down the field to Kelce. He also took advantage of his rapport with Kelce and a flimsy Denver secondary with some lasers.

Don’t mistake this for a simple completion, because it’s anything but that. Kelce lines up isolated to the right, gets inside of Chris Harris’ (25) zone assignment and sits down behind the linebackers. Mahomes has time to go through his reads, but he still needs to shirt the pocket to the left when he feels the right side of the line start to cave. He throws back against the grain and fires a strike right at Kelce’s numbers. With snow, a cold ball and a sore hand, not to mention having to throw in a somewhat unnatural direction, it’s challenging to put this much velocity behind a throw that also happens to travel exactly where you need it to go.

To reiterate, Mahomes was able to get plenty of players involved in the game this weekend (although we have more from Kelce later). On this next play, Watkins makes an appearance running deep along the right hash.

Watkins may not be the fastest receiver on the roster (although he would be for plenty of teams), he faster than Broncos safety Will Parks (34). You can see the quick thinking by Mahomes on this pass. He checks his reads to the left first, then quickly fires deep to Watkins when he moves back to the right. The power behind this throw is generated entirely by Mahomes’ arm and upper body. There’s no push-off or step into this throw, instead he gets velocity behind just with his natural ability and the way his torso torques. Notice again, that despite throwing from yet another different platform and situation, he’s able to put the ball right where it needs to be with exceptional accuracy. Credit to Watkins as well for making a nice adjustment to go up and get it.

A lot of the throws we’ve seen so far have been Mahomes working the ball all over the field, but this next one is masterful sideline work.

We have a textbook example of the sail concept at play here. There’s a vertical route along the boundary, Hardman runs an out route from the slot and then Bell breaks off into the flat. The go route opens up space along the sideline, which Mahomes exploits here. It’s a tough pass that needs precise timing. If it’s thrown too late it becomes an interceptable pass. Mahomes and Hardman don’t have that problem here, though, with the quarterback dropping the throw right on the sideline beyond the sticks (note that it’s third down) where only the receiver can make a play on it. He delivers the pass while fading and trying to avoid the rush again but still delivers it accurately.

Back to Kelce’s big day, the Broncos committed at least one cardinal sin on this next play, which turned into an easy first-down pickup.

This defensive look is part Broncos coach Vic Fangio’s match-zone scheme, which you can read all about in this breakdown from Mile High Report. There are zone and man concepts being executed here, but Kelce is such a mismatch that neither is particularly effective on its own without additional help. Plus, the pass rush is getting bottled up on this play. If Mahomes has time, he’ll pick you apart. The zone execution underneath leaves no one between Mahomes and Kelce, then the latter’s ability to stop and come back at the top of his route created plenty of separation. He’s wide open and the pass is right there for him.

Play action was extremely effective in buying time for Mahomes in Week 15, and it gave him a chance to wind up and throws one of the hardest passes of the day to Kelce in this next clip.

The Chiefs’ offensive line has struggled lately (we’ll discuss one particular player later) but for the most past had a good game against the Broncos. Anthony Sherman deserves credit for his part in the pass protection here, too. With all this space and time, Mahomes is able to wait for Kelce to come open, step into the throw and fire it as hard as he can, accurately of course. He found plenty of ways to showcase his arm strength this weekend, and this was just pure, unadulterated firepower.

Individual throws and passing concepts are important, but situational passing was one of Mahomes’ biggest successes against the Broncos. We’ve seen several third-down conversions so far, and this next one came early on and was a part of an early scoring drive.

Mahomes reads his receivers to the left first, then comes back to Kelce running an over route. Once again, there’s no one positioned between quarterback and receiver so it’s a relatively easy completion. This time, though, instead of being vacated by design, the combination of routes the Chiefs are running spread the defense thin and opened the passing lane. Now things are getting too easy for Mahomes.

On this next throw the lane was open again, but the actual window for Kelce was far tighter. Mahomes still fit the ball in to him with a strike.

Kelce just runs a slant from the inside left slot, passing linebacker Todd Davis (51) while crossing in front of safety Justin Simmons (31). Mahomes takes a shorter dropback on this play and needs to get rid of the ball quickly before Simmons can react and contest Kelce. Quick release, on target, first down.

Hill also worked the middle of the field later in the game, picking up another first down thanks to a perfectly placed ball from Mahomes.

Denver brings a blitz with Parks this time and he’s unabated to Mahomes. He remains poised in spite of the unblocked pressure, though, and is able to time the throw well. You can see Hill make his inside break as he approaches the left edge of the frame. The coverage is decent on the route, but Mahomes is able to throw Hill open and makes it so only he can make a play on the ball. The low and away throw doesn’t allow for YAC but it’s the only way this pass can be completed.

Mahomes showed off his pocket mobility in this weekend’s game, too, and on this play he dodged defenders to find Bell for a good gain.

This display isn’t nearly as spectacular as the theatrics on the two-point conversion, but he’s still able to elude defensive linemen forward and to the right. He makes it look simple. He gets flushed out thanks to good pressure and decent coverage, but he keeps his eyes up field and never gives up on looking for a target. With several Broncos in the area there wasn’t much of a running threat here, but he’s still able to keep things alive with his legs. The throw is just a flick of the wrist that’s quick enough to get to Bell before linebacker Alexander Johnson (45) can bat it away.

There were also trick throws in Week 15, because of course there were.

What more could you possibly want out of Mahomes in this game? He torched the secondary deep, picked it apart underneath and then threw sidearm while looking off to the sideline for a gain of eight (granted, Robinson was left all alone). His body is turned completely parallel to the sideline and he completes a pass back over the middle. The dude can do it all.

Finally, for our last “good” play, we continue a topic from last week and examine another Andy Reid RPO.

You can usually tell if a play is an RPO or just play action based on the blocking. On this play, though, there’s a combination of a pass and run blocking. You can see the interior linemen block the run while Eric Fisher falls into pass pro. Mahomes reads Johnson in the middle of the field, and when he flows to the run action it leaves plenty of space for Watkins on the slant from the left slot. Reid has so many different kinds of RPOs in the playbook, and this is another effective one with an open receiver that takes a second and long and creates a third and manageable.

Mahomes Bad

With only seven incompletions there weren’t many opportunities for Mahomes to make a poor play on Sunday. His only stand-out bad play was his fourth interception of the year.

That’s now two games in a row and three of the last four games in which Mahomes has thrown an interception. This play was reminiscent of his ridiculous touchdown pass versus the 49ers last season that was mentioned above until the very end. He sees Hill along the side of the end zone but misses the coverage underneath. He tries to fit it into a small window but the Broncos do a great job of closing that window and Simmons comes away with a pick. Otherwise, it was a nearly flawless game from No. 15.

Non-Mahomes Good

Tyrann Mathieu played an incredible game against Denver. He didn’t come away with an interception, despite several chances, but he was all over the field making plays on Sunday. His best play of the day was a pass break-up in the end zone against one of the best up-and-coming receivers in the NFL.

Courtland Sutton has both the size and skill of a future elite wide receiver, and he’s already the Broncos’ No. 1. At 6-foot-4 it’s challenging to beat him for a 50/50 ball. Mathieu does it though, poking the ball out late as Sutton is going to the ground with it. He goes up without creating excess contact and never gives up on the ball, fighting all the way despite being boxed out.

That wasn’t all Mathieu did well against the Denver passing game.

Broncos rookie quarterback Drew Lock is targeting DaeSean Hamilton late in the game on this play, and while the result was already decided they still had a lot to play for in terms of momentum and important reps for Lock. He doesn’t see Mathieu patrolling center field, and the veteran safety is able to react quickly to the throw, reach up and bat it away.

He had one other chance at a takeaway in the third quarter, but after it was wiped off the board the Chiefs still came away with possession when Juan Thornhill got involved.

To recap: Mathieu intercepted a bad pass by Lock, but had it negated by a holding penalty. On the ensuing snap, Lock was picked off by Thornhill in the end zone on another bad pass. This safety tandem has become one of the league’s best and continues to make plays week after week. Thornhill has clearly picked up a lot from Mathieu and they do a consistently great job of playing off of each other.

Mathieu still has an edge in support in the box, and he was able to rack up his first sack of year against the Broncos.

The part of this play that stands out the most is his recovery speed. Lock pump fakes and gets Mathieu to jump. Usually, when a player goes airborne it takes them completely out of the play. Mathieu rebounds well though and pursues the scrambling quarterback, eventually tripping him up for the sack. Mathieu has played a major role in changing the complexion of Kansas City’s defense throughout the season, but he likely played his best game of them all on Sunday.

Alex Okafor was also heavily involved in the pass rush effort this week, picking up a sack for the second straight game.

Okafor had to leave the game with a pectoral injury, which for the sake of Steve Spagnuolo’s group is hopefully not serious because the group is already depleted due to injury. He’s performed well over the last two games and with this sack his edge speed was on full display. It helps that right tackle Elijah Wilkinson blew his assignment and allowed Okafor to run free without a hint of resistance.

The Chiefs’ defense has allowed single-digit point totals in two of the last three games and three times this season overall. At this point in the season they are undeniably one of the best defensive teams in the NFL. Another contest with two sacks and a takeaway helped solidify that.

Non-Mahomes Bad

As mentioned above, Kansas City’s offensive line had a good afternoon against Denver with some exceptions. Andrew Wylie’s effort on the following play was one of the exceptions.

Wylie has been arguably the weakest member of the Chiefs’ offensive line this year. Mahomes was able to avoid getting hit for most of the game but he had no chance on this snap. Shelby Harris (96) isn’t the most fearsome defensive tackle, and the Chiefs are going to need better protection against better front sevens.

We also need to have a discussion about the Chiefs’ special teams unit, which has been playing poorly for weeks now.

This is not the first time this season Kansas City has botched an extra point. Yes, the conditions were poor in Week 15, but this is a trend. It wasn’t just the failed extra point in the first quarter, either, because the return game was totally ineffective, with Hardman’s two punt returns netting negative yardage. It didn’t end up making a difference against Denver and hasn’t played a major role during the Chiefs’ four-game winning streak, but that doesn’t mean it won’t in the future. Think back to the loss to the Titans when special teams errors did play a role late. This group needs to figure things out post-haste.

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