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 most important part of the Chiefs’ Week 17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers is that it (along with a Dolphins upset over the Patriots) clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs. Less significant in the grand scheme of things but extremely important for our purposes, Patrick Mahomes didn’t have a sterling outing on Sunday.
It’s a positive that the Chiefs don’t need Mahomes to be unstoppable to win games this season. And there’s no reason to feel any less confident about QB1 in the playoffs because of this weekend’s performance.
All that being said, there wasn’t a whole lot of substance to Mahomes’ effort in Week 17. Still, several plays stood out, including a few excellent deep balls.
Mahomes only threw one touchdown pass in the win over the Chargers, but it was an absolute beauty and it’s our Laser of the Week.
You can’t throw a better ball than this. Demarcus Robinson is running a deep post and the route splits the Chargers’ zone defense. Mahomes has a ton of time and doesn’t have to worry at all about the pass rush. He scans the entire field and goes through his reads before he identifies Robinson as his target. He sets up, steps in and you can see his weight transfer forward through the throw, getting all of his power behind this bullet of a pass. If you’re going to take a deep shot, execute it perfectly like Mahomes does here.
Earlier on the same drive Mahomes hit Mecole Hardman for a big gain on a deep ball.
CBS color commentator Rich Gannon broke down the scheme that got Hardman open against the zone deep well on the broadcast. Tyreek Hill runs a spot route from the near left slot, a route that starts as a slant before he turns back and sits down at the top. Hardman is running a deep over. With focus on Hill over the middle, Hardman is left with space deep. Mahomes sees all of this unfold, he’s got plenty of time to set up and he puts the throw on the money for a big gain. We’ll get to more on Hardman later.
There weren’t many huge plays through the air in this game, but there was one more late that helped seal the win.
If your defensive play ends up with a linebacker covering the fastest player in the NFL, you did something horribly wrong. As soon as Mahomes sees Hill matched up on rookie linebacker Drue Tranquill (49) he knows this is going to be a big play. Once again the protection is good and he has a ton of time. Mahomes doesn’t need to do much in the way of going through his progression because his No. 1 target is open. He steps into the throw and launches a rainbow that’s right there for Hill to haul in. This duo is not going to miss a chance like that.
Our remaining positive plays from Mahomes all involve him doing something while showing off his legs. On this next play he takes as much time as he possibly can before rifling a pass to Sammy Watkins.
There’s a designed rollout here, and if something had opened up deep like Mahomes wanted he would have taken the deep shot. Instead, he’s forced to assess all his other options, which included taking off and running for a couple of yards. He decides to pass, though, waiting until all reads are exhausted before hitting Watkins for a decent gain (eight yards) on first down. Nothing spectacular, just Mahomes keeping a play alive and picking up solid yardage despite not getting much of an opportunity.
He also made a pass on the run for an OK gain in the first half.
We’re essentially looking at a pop pass here. Unlike the usual Mahomes throw on the run, when he’ll fire a missile across his body while sprinting out, he’s trapping linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) on this play. Ingram is stuck choosing whether to defend Mahomes’ run option or sagging off and covering Damien Williams. It’s a no-win situation for the defender. Mahomes draws Ingram in and then tosses it Williams once the passing lane is completely unguarded. Williams was stood up by a nice tackle to stop the gain at six yards, but this is a heady play by Mahomes to gain at least a few.
Finally, Mahomes continues to show his willingness to carry the ball.
His scrambles are never because of panic. Some quarterbacks will bail early and run if their top option isn’t available, even to the point where some are told to scramble in an instant if needed. Mahomes never gives up on his passing options, though, and you can see him keeping his head up and watching to see if anything develops as the play drags on. It doesn’t, so he just keeps the ball and runs for a first down. You can’t spy him because you need as many guys in coverage as possible, but he’s been great at running with the ball in recent weeks.
Three of Mahomes’ five interceptions this season came in the last four weeks, including another one versus Los Angeles.
This looks like miscommunication between quarterback and receiver. Hill is positioned where Mahomes throws the ball, but he works back toward the middle before the ball is out. Mahomes is still throwing to that spot, though. With Hill vacating it becomes an easy interception for Michael Davis (43). It’s a tough, off-balance throw in the first place, but you don’t want to have miscommunication in that kind of traffic so deep in your own territory.
Mahomes was almost picked off earlier in the game, too.
Actually, Mahomes threw two other balls that were intercepted in the first half, although both were waved off because of offside penalties. It’s Davis in on this one as well, jumping in front of Travis Kelce to break up the pass. This is especially uncharacteristic of Mahomes. Most of the time when he’s intercepted or throws a contested pass it’s down the field trying to force the issue. On this particular throw it just looks like a lazy pass without seeing cornerback lurking over the middle.
Returning to the topic of miscommunication, this next play is more funny than anything.
The ball just hits Williams right in the butt. This is the classic Williams wheel route that the Chiefs have killed defenses with this year, although even if the running back had turned in time it wouldn’t have resulted in a big play with the linebacker in hot pursuit. Still, Mahomes hit his guy with dart on the butt.
Williams had a much better day than just getting hit with a pass in the backside.
He rushed for two touchdowns in Sunday’s win (and 124 yards on just 12 carries), and both of them featured him having to keep a play alive despite nearly being down. This was the more sensational of the two, going for 84 yards after spinning around and dodging defenders. Williams isn’t the best running back in the league by any means and he doesn’t have the pedigree of a LeSean McCoy, but Kansas City clearly has a better running game when he’s active. A lot of guys have needed to get healthy for this Chiefs group to thrive, and Williams is included in that group.
We said we’d mention him more earlier, so here you go: Get the ball to Mecole Hardman more.
Yes, he had the big reception as seen above. Yes, this play actually happened on special teams. But it’s increasingly obvious that Hardman is a lethal weapon, not quite the refined player that Hill is yet still undeniably dangerous. He had just three catches in the final five games of the season and merely 26 for the year overall despite averaging 20.7 yards per reception. In the playoffs, when every snap counts and explosive plays can play huge roles in deciding games, Hardman has earned the opportunity to be on the field more.
On to the defense. That group wasn’t as excellent as it had been in the last several weeks, but it still kept Los Angeles at bay and never really let the Chargers back into the game late. Naturally, when playing Philip Rivers, there were chances to intercept the veteran QB, and this week Tyrann Mathieu took advantage of that.
Mathieu has been one of the best players in the NFL this season and deserved getting one more pick after missing out on a couple in recent weeks (including on earlier in this game). He consistently does a phenomenal job of playing the ball while in coverage, with perfect examples of that coming here and against Denver when he made a signature play while guarding Courtland Sutton. We should note that Daniel Sorenson also had an interception on Sunday.
In just his second game as a Chief Terrell Suggs was able to record his first sack with the team, one of three in the second half for Kansas City.
Arizona really did both Suggs and the Chiefs a solid by waiving the former All-Pro a couple weeks back. He can clearly still compete at a high level and in crucial moments. Here, he has to fight off a chip from Hunter Henry (86) and left tackle Trey Pipkins (79). Henry doesn’t affect Suggs at all, and the edge rusher is far too quick for Pipkins, sprinting by him before the tackle can knock him off balance at all. It just takes on quick rip and Suggs has a bead on Rivers.
Frank Clark also recorded a sack this week.
Make that eight sacks this year for Clark, seven of which have come since the Thursday-night beatdown over the Broncos. Once again, speed is the overwhelming element of the pass rush for the Chargers’ offensive line. By the time right tackle Trent Scott (78) gets his hands up Clark is already even with him, meaning the Clark has already won the battle. From there it’s just a matter of wrapping up Rivers and dragging him down.
And let’s show some love to Chris Jones up the middle as well.
Jones finishes the year with nine sacks, seven of which have come just since Week 10. This defensive line has been stellar in the second half of the year. Los Angeles’ line offers up effectively no resistance here, which is particularly sad given Kansas City is only bringing a three-man rush. Jones pulls out the swim move on center Scott Quessenberry (61) who is rendered effectively useless on this snap. Rivers has no chance to escape. This was the last of 45 team sacks for the Chiefs this year.
As a team, the Chiefs earned a huge win in Week 17. The secondary, however, suffered a major loss. Rookie safety Juan Thornhill suffered a “significant” knee injury early in the game, which could keep him on the sidelines for a while. He’s put together one of the best seasons by a rookie defender this year, pairing up with Mathieu to create one of the NFL’s best safety tandems. His strong play has allowed Mathieu to do even more on the field and given Sorenson a chance to play more to his strengths, which don’t include coverage. Without Thornhill, though, Sorenson will be put in more situations like this:
That’s not favorable for the Chiefs. Hopefully, the injury isn’t too bad and Thornhill can potentially offer something down the line this postseason. If it’s a serious ailment, though, a secondary that has played as well as any in the league over the second half of the season is going to be tested in a whole new way going forward.