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Reviewing the Patrick Mahomes preseason checklist

We’re all in unfamiliar territory as Chiefs fans. It’s likely that if you’re under the age of 40, you didn’t remember the last time Kansas City had selected a quarterback in the first round. It’s a certainty this is the first one where the media surrounding him was anything significant, since the draft wasn’t as big of a spectacle last time.

We’re still trying to feel out how we should be handling all this. There’s equal parts excitement and worry that Patrick Mahomes will or will not become what Chiefs Kingdom hopes he is. We’re not used to our team giving up a lot of assets to aggressively pursue a signal caller. To add on to that, if all goes according to plan, Thursday against the Titans was the last time we’ll see Patrick Mahomes get significant snaps. We’ll likely be waiting until January to find out the next steps for the organization. Does Alex Smith stay or is Mahomes being handed the keys to the car?

This preseason checklist was written to give us some basic expectations for Mahomes growth and improvement. In some areas he was outstanding. In others you can see where he is still adjusting. Let’s review the things I wrote about at the beginning of the preseason.

The basics

The initial purpose of this was to hold Mahomes accountable to being perfect on things like turning the right way on a hand off, delivering screens, not fumbling snaps. Executing these simple things shows a level of confidence and understanding of the playbook. You’re not having to think about them. Beyond one fumbled shotgun snap, he knew where to be and what to do.

One thing I noticed though is that Mahomes gradually became better and more comfortable with hand off mechanics. Early on he looked uncomfortable, and by the Titans game displayed better, more convincing play execution. This set up play action better.

Managing the play clock

In keeping with starting simple, just getting everyone lined up and snapping the ball in time was another early part of the checklist. Mahomes aced it. He even made some minor corrections a few times in getting people lined up. It’s likely the play calls weren’t stumping him either. They lined up in plenty of time. These first two combined speaks to the work he’s done to get the verbiage and understanding of the verbiage down.

Play call trends

I wrote about what a Mahomes start might look like earlier this summer: Quick screens and safe play action shots.

I mentioned back then, but one of the most underrated things about Mahomes is the execution in the screen game. His athleticism, quick release and arm strength provide a little extra time for the receiver to process what’s in front of them.

The majority of the screens the Chiefs ran with Mahomes were out of bunch formations. These looks mesh perfectly with Mahomes ability to get the ball out quick. The two blockers in the bunch are able to handle the first threats, allowing the ball to get there and giving the receiver time a little extra time to process what’s in front of him. It was a smart decision by Reid to meld the screen design with the ability of his young quarterback.

Reid played off this tendency later in the preseason, changing the recipient of the screen in bunch on one play, and ran slant, bubble concepts off of the tendency. The Chiefs were very productive with all of them. One simple screen out of bunch led to several unique counters to it. A hint at the the things Reid can dial up of a strength of his quarterback.

The Chiefs also implemented several play action vertical shots. Mahomes arm talent make these a relatively safe way to attempt to gain chunk yardage. Mahomes came through to finish several of them.

Mahomes has still yet to take a traditional 3, 5 or 7 step drop from under center. We’ve only see him throw out of the shotgun, or off play action and boot action. Those are tendencies that would put additional pressure on Reid to figure out a game plan around Mahomes, as that could key defenses when he’s under center.

Ball placement

Overall, Mahomes ball placement was very good.

There were times when his ball placement were less than stellar. His inaccuracy is not as a result of a fatal mechanical flaw, but rather minor inconsistencies as a result of bad feet. This is a good thing. Sometimes he just rushes his feet.

Toeing the line

I mentioned in the checklist the fine line between madness and brilliance in the NFL. Knowing and when and where to take risks with the football. Specifically, when Mahomes uses his ability to throw back into the middle of the field.

Overall, he managed that skill set very well. He didn’t put the ball too much into harms way. One prime example of how fine the line is manifested itself was the touchdown throw off a boot action to Gavin Escobar. Mahomes came out of the boot with two tight ends running the back line. The corner chased Ross Travis to the corner, and Mahomes came off him to throw across his body to Escobar. The corner fell off and nearly broke up the pass.

The platform he throws from to throw across his body makes it difficult regardless of the arm talent you have. Your body alignment when throwing back into the field also telegraphs the direction you are delivering the ball, allowing for better closure from defenders. Mahomes will need to continue to navigate that line in the future as he faces better defensive talent.

Handling pressure

I stumbled upon the Floyd Mayweather v. Conor McGregor fight last weekend. Several times throughout the fight, the ref had to pull McGregor off of Mayweather because his instincts kicked in and he started using an illegal punch with the side of his hand.

I mentioned in the preseason checklist that Mahomes is still learning to work within the new pocket structure he’s playing in. The angles the rushers come from and the space he has to work in are different than what he’s had to work with. Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy mentioned that same thing last week.

Mahomes old instincts still kick in every now and then. At Texas Tech, he had wide splits and space to run into the pocket to escape pressure. He still does this every now and then, but you can see him fighting it. Like with McGregor, old habits die hard.

In his time at Texas Tech, Mahomes very well could have taken off into a sprint before making more subtle slides up like the gif above.

Over the course of the preseason, Mahomes movements became more and more subtle and efficient. He’s still a work in progress, and this is still his biggest area for growth. But you can see him slowly developing with his movements and understanding of the space he has to work with.

The arm

I begged Andy to let us see the cannon. I don’t think I need to tell you he did.

I’m actually going to take this time to show you the most put together I think I saw Mahomes be throughout the preseason. It was the play action post to Demarcus Robinson last week.

On this play, Mahomes sells a convincing play action fake. Earlier in the preseason, Mahomes’ eyes didn’t seem to be arriving where they need to be as quickly off of these actions. On this play he got them around and saw the coverage well. His feet were more efficient and quiet than they’ve been throughout the preseason, and he flashed the arm with great ball placement.

This play showed a lot of the things in the checklist at the same time. He made improvements week to week. Most importantly, all the things that excited us about him as a prospect still showed up on the field. It wasn’t always pretty, but Mahomes’ growth with the new system and play structure was apparent.

He’s still a work in progress, and there’s still growing pains he’ll experience, but we should all be excited about the developing ability Mahomes has to one day be the organizational leader.

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