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.
For the third time in his career, Patrick Mahomes is on a streak of three consecutive games with a passer rating under 100. First of all, that should terrify the Atlanta Falcons, who the Chiefs play next week.
But it also could indicate a few other things. Is Mahomes in a slump relative to his usual production? Have defenses figured out how to slow down the Kansas City air attack?
There’s an element of truth to the latter concept, but when you go back and look at some of the special plays Mahomes made against the Saints, it’s clear that his fastball hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s making big plays with his arm and his legs, and on a nearly weekly basis he’s still doing things you almost never see.
A slightly lower passer rating than normal may put a slight dent in Mahomes’s MVP candidacy, but when you actually watch him play and make things happen on the field, there’s no debating that he’s still playing some of his best football.
The best touchdown pass of Mahomes’s Sunday performance was the last one he threw, a perfect touch pas in the back corner of the end zone to Mecole Hardman.
Rollout plays near the goal line are always a challenge, because you’re cutting off half of the field when you already don’t have much room to stretch the defense. Mahomes’s ability to extend plays until the last possible second is on display here as he lingers near the boundary before throwing. With Cam Jordan (94) bearing down on him, Mahomes lofts this pass into a tight space where only Hardman could possibly catch it. This is an extremely difficult throw when you consider the window, the rollout and the pressure, yet Mahomes and Hardman are able to execute perfectly.
We’re moving in reverse chronological order with Week 15’s passing touchdowns, because next up is a throw that drew everyone’s best basketball analogy when it was run.
Tony Romo referenced Pete Maravich and social media exploded with jokes about the Dr. Pepper Tuition Challenge when Mahomes threw this chest pass. Even if the Saints knew what was coming (which they clearly didn’t) it wouldn’t have mattered because it’s run so fast. Easy stat padding for Mahomes and Kelce on this new screen variant from a yard out. This type of design is far more efficient than running quarterback motion and various other presnap shenanigans.
Tyreek Hill was the recipient of the other Mahomes touchdown pass.
The delivery here looks awkward and almost uncomfortable, but that plays right into Mahomes’s penchant for making obscure and seemingly improbable throws. He spies Hill crossing in his line of sight, then bends his body back to the left while rolling out to the right. You need both great accuracy and body control to make this work as a quarterback. And how about the route for Hill? A counter flat route, which creates a massive amount of separation for this part of the field. You can see a linebacker flow to the left as Hill starts in that direction, but he spins and comes back right, so by the time he crosses the line of scrimmage the aforementioned linebacker has abandoned that assignment and gone after the quarterback. Andy Reid killed it with these last two goal line plays.
Mahomes also delivered another touchdown on Sunday, and while it didn’t count for his stats he did a good job opening up the opportunity for Le’Veon Bell.
If you’ve ever played the NCAA Football video game series, odds are at some point you ran the option and operated like this. Take the quarterback well past the line of scrimmage, then when the defense finally crashes on you the running back gets a pitch to extend the gain. If you ever tried to win the Heisman with a running back in NCAA, it was a foolproof way to pad stats. That’s also exactly what the Chiefs do here, with Mahomes waiting a lifetime to pitch the ball to Bell. Because of that, blockers are set up downfield and defenders are pursuing Mahomes. Safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) is a perfect example of that, focusing on Mahomes and then getting eliminated by Kelce once he turns back to find Bell. Tremendous execution in the option game once again by Mahomes and the Chiefs.
Let’s fit one more goal line play in here, because the Chiefs went for two right after the Bell score.
Here’s your short-yardage windup shovel pass, we should have known it would pop up eventually. Credit to Kelce for using his strength to bully his way into the end zone for the points. With Mahomes running right and Clyde Edwards-Helaire also open in the flat on that side, that entire side of the defensive formation is put in conflict. Mahomes tosses it underneath and the conversion try is good. In fact, he probably passed to the more difficult option here.
They say third down is the “money down,” and Mahomes made the big bucks on Sunday. Let’s (chronologically) run through some of the big third-down conversions from the win over the Saints, starting with a wild scramble that turned into a huge gain.
Mahomes hates throwing the ball away (even though he did a couple times in Week 15), so it’s a good thing that he’s a scrambling master and is great at makking plays with his feet. He’s got all day to throw, but eventually pressure does reach him and he has to evade right, then backward as Jordan gets in his face. Mahomes shows off some of his basktetball skills, stopping on a dime and crossing Jordan over to buy more time and space. Finally, he finds Sammy Watkins working back to the right side of the field with room to run. Mahomes fires off a laser (cease and desist, Jim Nantz) and the drive stays alive.
It was more of the same later in the same drive.
Mahomes didn’t need to run around this time, instead quickly identifying Hill on an out-breaking route to the left. Mahomes makes an easy pass despite a hand grabbing him late, completing the throw for the first down.
In the third quarter, both Watkins and Hill caught key conversions again, and even in the same order again. First, Watkins:
This is a great job by Mahomes to not do anything more than needed with the throw. All it takes is a soft lob to spring Watkins for a big pickup on third and medium. Watkins gets a rub from Kelce on the right and crosses the field wide open, while Mahomes has to navigate around decent pass rush. He keeps his eyes up, steps through the defense and almost pushes the ball over the top of line.
As for the final play in this featured segment, it’s just a classic Mahomes throw to move the chains.
Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen brings four rushers here, but one is a linebacker who doesn’t get anywhere near Mahomes in a reasonable amount of time. That’s a curious decision, because you can’t beat Mahomes by effectively only bringing three. That gives Mahomes plenty of time to set up, so he steps into the throw and rifles it deep to Hill to pick up the first down on third and 10. A poor pass rush look made this way too easy for Mahomes.
To wrap up the positive plays from Week 15, a selection of other special/spectacular/impressive plays from No. 15. To start, some impressive arm strength on a throw fading away from the play.
Credit to Watkins here because he had to fight his way in front of Janoris Jenkins (20) to box him out and make the catch. Mahomes has to escape the pocket again here after pressure comes from the left. He runs backward, a cardinal sin for many quarterbacks, but because of his arm strength he can make up for losing forward momentum. He never loses sight of the rest of the play and puts this throw on the money on second and forever.
Mahomes got tricky with his arm slot several time in the Week 15 victory.
On this play, Mahomes comes to Kelce late after scanning the left side of the play. Kelce is running toward the right sideline and Mahomes steps up and off in that same direction. He drops his arm slot below a 3/4 release and slings it to Kelce, who’s in position to make the third-down catch.
Full disclosure, this play should have been featured earlier with the other third-down passes, but when you’re a stream-of-consciousness writer and didn’t index your videos well, mistakes get made.
Our next play features a few elements we’ve seen throughout this week’s report: A long-lasting play, Mahomes fading away from the line of scrimmage and a crafty throw to manipulate the defense and pickup quality yardage.
This was another well-designed play by Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy. Linebacker Kwon Alexander gets a free run through the line as Mahomes boots left, and more pressure is added once Marcus Davenport (92) is disengaged from Kelce. The last part is the most significant one, though, because now the tight end is all alone to receive the screen pass. All Mahomes had to do was buy time and slip the pass around Alexander, which he’s able to do.
Finally, one last laser for the road.
The Chiefs used a lot of bootleg action on Sunday to counter the Saints’ fearsome pass rush. With a roll right on this play, Mahomes targets Hill on an out route and throws from an elevated base. He jumps while running and still puts a ton of velocity on a precise throw. Mercy. What a catch by Hill, too, laying out and flashing the hands to complete the play. This is a tough throw and an even tougher catch.
Sunday’s win featured Mahomes’s fourth-worst completion percentage in a single game in his career, so the accuracy wasn’t fantastic based on that simple metric. Part of that has to do with more throwaways than normal, the pass rush pressure and quality coverage by a skilled group of defensive backs. But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s weird to see 55.3 and 92.0 next to Mahomes’s name as his completion percentage and passer rating, respectively.
And, while it was hardly all his fault, Mahomes did have another turnover on Sunday.
This fumble was the seventh turnover of the year for Mahomes and his second lost fumble. Again, it’s not all on him by any means, considering he got crushed in both directions by the Saints. Rules are rules, though, and turnovers all belong in this section of the Report.
This week, we’re featuring L’Jarius Sneed as the standout performer outside of Mahomes. He had a takeaway, a few tackles and a sack this week, and we’ll start with his first-quarter interception.
If you want to be cynical, you could say that this was more of a terrible play by Drew Brees than it was a great play by Sneed, or you could look at the other perspective and praise the rookie cornerback for being in position to make a play and taking advantage of a situation. He’s had a few “right place, right time” interceptions this year, but while those may not be sustainable it does indicate that he’s constantly in position to make things happen.
As for Sneed’s sack, it was more than just a regular corner blitz.
We’ve highlighted how far away from Brees Sneed gets on this play to illustrate how impressive his pass rush and recovery were. Alvin Kamara is a solid pass-protecting running back, but Sneed was able to drive him back with his speed and power, then shed the block and swung back inside to attack Brees. He looked like a defensive end with this pressure off the edge.
It’s truly unfortunate that Sneed missed a bunch of time due to a broken collarbone this year, because when you consider how good he’s been in somewhat limited action it leaves you wondering how far along he’d be if he hadn’t gotten hurt.
Le’Veon Bell needs to be mentioned here, too. In Week 15 he had his most productive game yet with the Chiefs, racking up 76 yards from scrimmage and a rushing touchdown (seen in the first section of the Report). With Clyde Edwards-Helaire out injured for at least a few weeks, Bell will get his opportunity to be a lead back once again. He doesn’t have to do a ton with CEH out, but after Sunday there’ good reason to believe he can be exactly what Kansas City needs as the playoffs approach.
Demarcus Robinson, what in the world are you doing?
With 13 seconds left, he probably should have just let the ball bounce and not fielded it at all anyway. But after scooping it up he runs backwards and across the field, precisely what he shouldn’t do given time and field position. He was asking for trouble and got it, fumbling back into the end zone and giving up two points on a safety. He and the Chiefs are lucky it was only a safety instead of a touchdown. The mental lapses have been a lingering concern with Robinson all year, with several examples of head-scratching decisions in recent weeks. You have to make a smarter play in this situation.
The Chiefs have won nine games in a row. That’s fantastic. The last six, however, have all been by six points or fewer, and several times the Chiefs have let their opponents hang around and keep the game close despite being in control for most of the contest. As long as you win very little else matters, but it’s also not outlandish to still be a little considered with Kansas City’s late game performance as of late. For now, it’s no big deal because the Chiefs keep winning. But before the postseason begins and every opponent is a good one, some proof that the Chiefs can slam the door on a team before the waning seconds would undoubtedly be comforting.