Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown from Brendan Dzwierzynski ol rig what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.
The biggest takeaway from Week 9 in the 2020 NFL season is that the MVP race is between two players right now: Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. In a week in which Tom Brady and Russell Wilson played poorly (relatively speaking, for the latter), Mahomes and Rodgers were stellar.
Mahomes’s excellent performance helped lead the Chiefs to an 8-1 record heading into their bye week.
He didn’t play a perfect game, though, and as a whole Kansas City was far from flawless in a two-point victory at home against a hungry team with nothing to lose. Even so, there were plenty of highlight plays and eye-popping stats from the win over the Carolina Panthers this Sunday.
And the Chiefs needed every last one of them.
Touchdown passes will lead off the positive plays this week, and the best of the bunch was on one of the best-designed plays we’ve seen from coach Andy Reid.
What? Whose brain possibly works in a way that would lead them to come up with this? Mahomes goes in motion before the snap, still takes it and then he goes to work with his natural talent. Because of the unique quarterback motion, the whole defense flows to the left side of the play. After the spin and the reverse to the right side of the field, Demarcus Robinson is left all alone in the back of the end zone on his crossing route. Mahomes’s throw is slick, released back across his body to the middle of the field while running right. This is a preposterous touchdown for the Chiefs.
His next touchdown pass came with far fewer bells and whistles.
Mahomes does a good job of selling the reverse run fake to Tyreek Hill by holding the ball out, keeping the defender committed to that part of the play just long enough to let Mahomes roll out right uninhibited. Clyde Edwards-Helaire receives the touchdown pass, and he’s open on the flat route because of two factors. One, he’s got a clean release because he’s running the route out of the backfield. Two, watch Robinson in the middle of the play. He sets a momentary screen on linebacker Tahir Whitehead (52), who’s also pursuing the action in the backfield. CEH is, thus, open on the right, Mahomes tosses it out to him and it’s an easy six points.
Hill ended up with a big game despite a slow start (more on that later), but he scored a pair of touchdowns, including this long ball from Mahomes.
Most defenses would probably prefer to cover Hill than to leave him wide open to sprint across the field. Luckily for the Chiefs, no one is near Hill on the deep over route, so he has an easy touchdown reception. Mahomes sees this right away and has plenty of time to set up the touchdown strike. Loads up, launches it and puts the throw on the money to extend the lead early in the fourth quarter.
Hill also caught Mahomes’s fourth and final touchdown pass of Week 9.
Generally speaking, even more than I hate using “I” in a piece, I hate goal line rollout pass plays. Why would you want to cut off half the field when you already have limited space to deal with? Apparently, when you’ve got Mahomes and Hill as your battery on the play it’s far more palatable. Hill runs a great comeback route on the sideline, shaking cornerback Donte Jackson to create separation. Mahomes then completes the play by firing a bullet to his target for the score. He has to bend the throw through a narrow lane with velocity to make this work, all while delivering it from a unique body position. Great stuff from QB1.
Hill had a massive fourth quarter, not just with the touchdown receptions but with the following deep bomb to set up the first of the two scores.
Once again, it’s Jackson getting toasted on the back end of the play. Mahomes has to make a laser out of this throw because Hill is so tight to the sideline because he ran a vertical route along the right boundary. Credit to undrafted free gent tackle Yasir Durant, who had to step in on the right side of the line when Mike Remmers got dinged up, because his protection is vital here. Brian Burns (53) is one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL, and he unleashes a nasty spin move to the inside on Durant here. But the former Missouri Tiger holds his own, doesn’t lose the block and it gives Mahomes the space to step into this throw so he can generate the necessary velocity to complete it. Excellent team effort here.
One of the most important revelations for the Chiefs in recent weeks has been Mecole Hardman’s ability to run a real route tree and be involved in the offense beyond just go routes and gadget plays. But he’s still a bona fide deep threat, exemplified by this next 32-yard pickup.
It’s stunning how often linebackers end up matched up with a Chiefs receiver deep down the field, and Mahomes exploits it every single time. Shaq Thompson (54) in the closest defender to Hardman, which means Hardman is open. Mahomes can’t throw a duck because there is safety help from Sam Franklin (42) over the top, but he’s got plenty of space to make the throw to the second-year receiver. Who knows what could have happened if Hardman was able to continue through the ball and run in stride, but it’s a big gain nonetheless for the blossoming receiver. And we say all of that, just glossing over the fact that Mahomes through a dart with great accuracy deep down the field like it was nothing.
How about one more laser before we get to the Travis Kelce portion of the program?
Mahomes was slingin’ it in Sunday’s win. Hill is simply running a dig from the outside slot on the right, beating Corn Elder (29) at the top of the route. The Panthers foolishly brought just three rushers on third and long, which helps gives Mahomes plenty of time to pick apart the coverage unit. He delivers the pass with something of a slide step for his footwork, dropping his arm angle slightly to throw it through the hole his offensive line opened up. Good find by Mahomes after scanning the left side of the field first, making sure all avenues are explored.
Now, on to the aforementioned Kelce section. Usually, a dedicated section to one receiver last for a maximum of about three plays in the Report, but Kelce had a monstrous game in the Chiefs’ Week 9 win, grabbing 10 balls for 159 yards. We’ll start with a 23-yard gain off play action in the second quarter.
Look how much time Mahomes has to set up and throw. When you give him a cushion like this there’s nothing he can’t do (apologies for the double negative). It’s not a perfect throw, slightly high and Kelce has to stop his stride to grab it, but you’ll always take a 23-yard pickup. Once again, the closest defender to a deadly Chiefs receiver is a linebacker. That’s too easy for No. 15.
In the fourth quarter, Kelce was the recipient of one of Mahomes’s most heady throws of the game.
Mahomes showcases excellent awareness here. He could run for the first down, either meeting harsh contact from a pair of Panthers or sliding right at the marker at best. Or, he can dump it off to his massive mismatch in the middle of the field for a decent gain to convert. Mahomes never stops looking and scanning, which allows him to find Kelce working back and sitting down back over the middle. And he makes the throw despite still taking a beating.
The following trio of plays all came from the third quarter, and each one features a different element of Mahomes’s arsenal that ended in a Kelce catch. First, a deep bomb for a big gain.
You just can’t match up with this guy. Mahomes has to deal with conflict in the backfield here, narrowly dodging Burns as he buys time and space to the right. But he doesn’t panic, weaving by the edge rusher without losing stride or diverting his eyes from the receivers. Thompson is spying Mahomes so there’s only so far he can go to manipulate the play, but he only needs a little room to fire the hand cannon. He throws a dime, it’s a big gain and the Chiefs are in business.
Let’s watch Mahomes get funky with his arm angle next.
It’s challenging to throw from a pocket that’s been caved in, especially when that process includes a defender landing in your lap before the pass. Mahomes has to drop his arm slot down to avoid getting the throw impacted more than necessary, so this throw is zipped from a quasi-sidearm angle. Despite all these factors at play, Mahomes throws a dot that Kelce can snag up and away from his body to convert for the first down out of the reach of Rasul Douglas (24).
Finally, some sexy RPO design.
The refs got a little loose with the downfield linemen on this play, but that’s fine, fewer penalty flags is a good thing. Once again, we get to see gorgeous design at work. You can tell it’s an RPO because of the run blocking from the offensive line (hence the downfield linemen). The run action is an inside handoff, while Kelce is running a tight end wheel off the left end of the line. But that’s not all, because Byron Pringle is involved in the action, too, going in jet motion from right to left. Between the run action, the jet motion and Mahomes sliding to the left, three critical defenders for Carolina are attacking the line of scrimmage and the quarterback. That leaves Kelce completely uncovered for a big gain. The Panthers don’t have a prayer here once Kelce is passed off to … no one. Easy pickings for Mahomes, who adds some sizzle by fading left and whipping the throw out sidearm.
For the first time in a few weeks, Mahomes had some moments that weren’t completely pristine. First and foremost, maybe the most glaring error of the game, is this near interception at the start of the fourth quarter.
Yes, there was pressure in Mahomes’s face and that clearly impacted the play. But under no circumstances should you attempt this throw. Even for Mahomes, there is no way this pass could end well. Throw it away, throw it at Kelce’s feet in the flat, whatever, just don’t throw blindly into a contested area back across your body.
As mentioned above, Hill and Mahomes got off to a weird to start in Sunday’s game. Hill ended up with huge stats, going for nine catches, 113 yards and two scores, but something about their connection just seemed off in the first half.
In the first quarter, Mahomes has a chance to get this one to Hill, but the timing is just slightly off and Hill can’t get more than one hand on it near the sideline.
Then, in the second quarter:
This time it’s an even deeper throw, but Hill has more space between him and the boundary and even more separation between him and the defensive back. And yet, the throw goes begging.
These two even failed to hookup on a classic Chiefs staple RPO concept.
Mahomes and Hill had what felt like an automatic connection the rest of the game after this particular miss, but you never see this. Ever. The only time these RPO passes fail for Kansas City is when a defensive back lucks into standing in the passing lane. But a miss and miscommunication? Never. They fixed it and it ended up not being an issue, but it’s a crucial element of the slow offensive production from early in the game for the Chiefs.
Additionally, and we’ll have more on the end of the two halves later, Mahomes made a mistake late in the first half. On a free play right before the halftime whistle, Mahomes threw short of the end zone. With the All-22 film we’ll have a better understanding, possibly, of why he threw the ball short of the goal line, but on a free play with no time left there is absolutely no reason to take the shot for six. Worst case scenario is you accept a penalty and any interception/deflection is nullified. Best-case scenario is a touchdown. Throw all the way next time.
Frankly, there weren’t a ton of standout plays to the naked eye from the non-passing game portion of this week’s Chiefs win. However, we won’t send you home empty handed. Here’s Rashad Fenton continuing to prove his value.
Fenton was all over the field on Sunday making plays, and this one was especially significant. Christian McCaffrey was fantastic in his return from injured reserve, but Fenton (and company) making this play had a major impact in the game. On the ensuing play, a fourth-down field goal attempt, Joey Slye missed the kick. When the final score is decided by two points and the losing team missed a field goal, everything that led up to the attempt instead of a touchdown means a lot.
As good as McCaffrey is, maybe you should still guard him so he can’t waltz into the end zone untouched.
You can see that Tyrann Mathieu is not pleased with the help, or lack thereof, he got on covering McCaffrey on this play. Credit to Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady for designing a good play for the best running back in the NFL, but you can’t make it this easy for him if you’re the Chiefs.
We also saw the rare disastrous screen by the Chiefs offense in Week 9.
This is a tremendous play by Sam Franklin to diagnose the screen, sprint past the blocker and make the tackle on Le’Veon Bell. Talk about a rarity, though. Kansas City’s screen game is the best in the NFL, something we feature right here in the Report almost weekly.
We also need to discuss the Chiefs’ end-of-half offense. For one, Andy Reid’s old demons reared their ugly head with some terrible clock management at the end of the first half. It’s not a major concern because those errors have become few and far between for Big Red, but you hate to see a good opportunity squandered. Not only that, but the final two plays of the half were poor. We’ve already touchdown on Mahomes throwing short of the end zone on a free play, but then the Chiefs tried a pitch play with an untimed down right after that. You have the ultimate weapon in Mahomes’s arm, so use it.
Finally, Harrison Butker is a problem right now. Six missed extra points nine games isn’t bad, it’s awful. Not only that, but he tacked on a missed field goal, too. He’s too good of a kicker to be struggling this much on what are supposed to be the gimme kicks.