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The Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes experience: Episode one

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It’s silly to take much out of a single preseason game. There, I said it.

Now, let’s get down to business. As promised, I’ve reviewed Patrick Mahomes against the 49ers. Since all-22 isn’t available during the preseason, I’ve decided to use the methodology I used to review college QB’s this offseason rather than the system I’ve developed with Alex Smith over the last few years (it’s impossible to determine “missed shots” without all-22, for example).

(Late note. I am finishing this at 1:56 a.m. while in the middle of a weeklong family camp. It’s important you know this before you judge any mistakes I make)

So we’ll be tracking accurate throws, inaccurate throws, multiple read snaps, bad decisions, and franchise QB throws/plays. After taking a look at the numbers, we’ll talk about what I saw from Mahomes’s film in his very first NFL(ish) game. For the sake of inclusiveness I’ve included plays called back by penalties (of which there were roughly eleventy million. Sheesh, refs, we get it, you’re trying to set a tone during the preseason. Enough already).

But before we start, can we agree that this was pretty fun to see before our hopes were snatched away from us?

Look, let’s not get carried away. I did not mark this down as a “franchise QB throw,” because it isn’t. It’s not a fantastic throw. The WR had to slow up (though not as much as I thought on first viewing) and turn, which is the difference between a big play and a touchdown in cases like this. I wouldn’t give Alex a “franchise QB” throw here, so I’m certainly not going to give Mahomes one.

That said, it’s still a good enough throw that I’m not going to mark it as inaccurate. The reality of the situation is that this is a pass that travels 40 yards in the air. Those passes are rarely stuck with pinpoint accuracy, even in the NFL. That’s just the truth. It was an OK throw that allowed the WR to keep moving and took advantage of a burned corner, nothing more or less.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look at some numbers.

Accurate Throws: 8

Inaccurate Throws: 2

Multiple Read Snaps: 5

Bad Decisions: 0

Franchise QB Throws/Plays: 1

Now, once again, I feel like it behooves me to clarify that one preseason game doth not make or break a quarterback. But it’s significantly more information than we had on Mahomes going in, so here are a few things I took from those numbers...

First, and perhaps most importantly given the criticisms I’ve seen of Mahomes as a college player, were the plays NOT made. The only play that was close to being marked as a bad decision was Mahomes throwing off his back foot falling away on third and 16. However, when I re-watched it was clear the target had no one remotely close enough to pick off the ball and that Mahomes didn’t have any problem powering the pass to him. With that in mind it’s tough to call that a legitimate bad decision, because there was virtually no risk.

What I DID see was Mahomes not pull the trigger on what could’ve been a very rookie play.

Here, Mahomes appears to be looking to go to his first read (a simple curl), which should be open if it’s a pure man coverage scheme given the off-man being shown by the corner. However, as the snap progresses it’s clearly not a pure man scheme, as No. 23 has dropped into a zone and is just HOPING Mahomes goes to that “open” curl route. They’re clearly trying to bait Mahomes into a mistake here.

However, Mahomes doesn’t bite. Instead, one of two things happens... either Mahomes sees the defender in zone and uses a pump fake to get him out of position before scrambling to find a receiver open in the vacated zone (who he misses with a poor throw on the move as he’s about to get hit), or he is legitimately about to throw to the curl route and recognizes No. 23 waiting for a rookie decision to provide him with a present.

Mahomes doesn’t do so, and he does make a nice play to escape pressure (again, ruined by an inaccurate throw). But this play, as well as the paucity of bad decisions overall, goes against the idea that Mahomes will be some kind of fanatical risk-taker who throws potential picks every drive. Again, it’s just one game, but non-decisions like this (the bad throw not made) are a big part of what I was looking for in his first start.

(On a side note, I’ve had a few people say to me that they think Mahomes was trying to lead his receiver up the field and the receiver stopped. That COULD be true, but even if Mahomes were attempting to lead the receiver or believed he was going to continue moving right, I think the pass was still off target. It just goes to show how we can all watch the same thing and come to differing conclusions!)

As far as the film goes, Mahomes really was about what I expected. While he was somewhat frenetic in the pocket, he also showed a natural ability to go where the pressure was not and to keep his eyes down the field while doing so. This obviously was most noticeable on his lone touchdown pass of the night.

This is a very tough play to make here, as the original play call just doesn’t leave anything open immediately. The running back does a good job slowing down the blitzer, who in turn does a good job regaining his feet and getting back in pursuit.

Mahomes stays calm, tries to direct traffic (or perhaps force the defense into coverage to let him run?) and sees a very narrow opening in the end zone. He doesn’t hesitate when the window opens and places the ball perfectly. If you watch this was a TOUGH throw to make, with a pair of defenders that needed to be avoided. An absolutely fantastic play, and a good example of what Mahomes brings to the table: the ability to create when Andy Reid’s play design doesn’t “win.” That’s a big, big deal.

Mahomes was generally accurate with zip on the easy quick throws Andy dialed up for him (I really like seeing zip on those quick WR screens, every nanosecond counts on those), went through his progressions decently (on limited snaps), and displayed (for the most part) the new and improved footwork he’s been nailing down in training camp and practice. It was good to see those lessons not completely fall apart under fire.

I also appreciated that Mahomes showed the ability to manipulate the defense with his eyes, something that any NFL quarterback must know how to do to be successful. During the first drive of the second half, Mahomes looked off Escobar in the middle of the field to draw zone defenders away from Jones, his ultimate target, then came back to Jones (with zip, of course) for a nine yard gain. That’s the type of simple pro play Mahomes needs to show the ability to handle, as he’s already shown the knack for creating where other QBs can’t. I’ve said it a bunch of times, but it’s worth repeating: we know Mahomes can do things other QBs can’t do, I want to see him do things other QBs CAN do. And he by and large did so against the 49ers.

And then, of course, there’s the arm.

As I said in the tweet, this was my favorite throw of the night. In large part because it’s not a throw every quarterback can make. Mahomes sees a narrow opening in the middle of the field and fires the pass to basically the one area it can go (given the linebacker underneath along with the man in coverage, I reallly wish we had all-22 of this throw though) in a situation where the coverage was actually pretty good.

This is one of those throws that I’ve seen Mahomes make at the college level where you don’t realize until after the play that the ball was 20-plus yards in the air because of how quickly it got from point A to point B. That ball got fired in there, and Mahomes maintained his accuracy while doing so. That’s fantastic to see.

On a couple of final notes, I did see Mahomes calling out protections and potential blitzes, which is nice to see (of course, he could well have gotten some wrong without us knowing). That, as with most of the game, was encouraging for how he’s developing mentally. He also looked a little faster than I expected him to at the pro level. He’s just a sneaky athlete apparently.

The bottom line is this: Mahomes didn’t come in and look like the greatest quarterback to ever live, but he absolutely didn’t look lost out there despite receiving pretty pitiful protection (guys, I’m more than a little worried about the OL depth, because it looked ROUGH out there once the first unit left the field). He had a couple of plays that some will point at as evidence that he’s not ready, but he also made a couple of plays (in limited opportunities) that others will point at as evidence that he’s ready to be a playmaker.

For now, I can breathe a little easier knowing that what Mahomes did in college does, indeed, seem to translate at the NFL level so far. But of course, this is just step one. There are a lot of tests left to go.