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Patrick Mahomes all-22 vs the Broncos: Buckle up

Patrick Mahomes was close to exceptional on film against the Denver Broncos, even better than I thought on first viewing.

Alex Smith is a good quarterback and I hope he leads the team to a Super Bowl win.

Before we get started, I just want to inform you that both of those things, indeed, can be true. It is inevitable that comparisons are made from one quarterback to another in situations like this, and such things lead to polarization of opinions. It’s unfortunate, because it’s perfectly acceptable to like Alex Smith (which I do) and acknowledge that Mahomes was remarkable in his first NFL start (which he was).

If this is your first time reading one of my quarterback film reviews, I’d highly advise you to click here and read through the methodology and stats that I use/chart. To sum up, I watch every snap multiple times on all-22, charting various things in order to get an idea of how the quarterback played OUTSIDE OF the rest of the offense.

I’m not interested in yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, and other stats that are easily manipulated by other players in this breakdown. All I care about is how the QB, on his own, did on film.

As a result, my opinion of how a QB did is often quite different from what basic stats say. For example, I wrote extensively that Alex Smith played very well against the Broncos earlier this season, despite having a stat line (14/31, 202 yards, 1 TD) that was decidedly mediocre. He was betrayed that day by multiple drops and poor play by other players on offense, but did well regardless, raising his level of play to counter the poor play around him.

This Sunday’s game was similar in that respect, as Patrick Mahomes played very, very well under incredibly tough circumstances. To paraphrase a common expression, he kept making chicken salad out of chicken poop. For example...

Mahomes, time and again, was able to take bad situations and turn them into positive yardage. While there were a couple of plays he wasn’t able to salvage anything (immediate pressure for sacks), the vast majority of the time when Mahomes faced pressure he conjured up something good.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s look at the numbers, then (because we have to) compare them to Alex Smith’s average numbers from this season. After that, we’ll talk tape.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I think the best way to do it (though I hesitate because of what it’s going to do to the comment section) is to compare these numbers to the best information we have: the averages of the best year of Alex Smith’s career.

Keep in mind what the purpose here is and what it is not. It is NOT to say one of them is better than the other one (they are such different QBs comparison is tough). It is simply to give you a frame of reference to compare Mahomes to: a quarterback in the same system who has had a cumulatively good season (if anyone is debating that Alex has been overall good this year, I can’t help you. He has been, despite a rough stretch). Please note Alex’s stats do not include the Jets game (a good one for him) or the second Raiders game (a rough one for him) because I didn’t write an article for those games.

All right, let’s look at our frame of reference (Alex’s averages this season), then talk about Mahomes’ numbers.

Using Alex’s stats as what a good quarterback should do (even traditionally “bad Alex” stats like happy feet have been significantly improved this season), there are a few things to take away.

First, while Mahomes isn’t perfect in the happy feet department, he’s in the acceptable range. This is particularly true when you take into account how much pressure he was under (the 16 flushes I charted were easily the highest of the season). Generally speaking, the more pressure a QB is under all game, the more likely some happy feet snaps. Mahomes kept the number at a level I can live with, by and large handling phantom pressure quite well.

This is taking us away from the numbers and into the film, but that’s all right. I had some people tell me after the game they didn’t think Mahomes operated well within the pocket. I have to confess, I find that take completely baffling. By and large, Mahomes stayed in the pocket when a pocket existed (which was not terribly often) and kept his eyes down the field to go through reads. The idea that he struggled with happy feet, quite simply, isn’t true for the most part. I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment that two of the happy feet snaps were quite borderline, but I included them for the sake of being a harsh grader.

Another thing from the numbers we can note is that Mahomes, from my charting, didn’t miss a single open receiver in deep or intermediate routes. Honestly, I can’t say I can think of a genuine missed receiver on a shallow route, either. That’s quite impressive for a rookie making his first start.

You can examine the numbers for yourself, but there are just a few more things that I believe are the most important takeaways from them.

First, the number of plays made by Mahomes is very, very high. What that tells us when combined with the flushes stat is that Mahomes was under duress all day, but continued to manufacture offense from nowhere. Of course, anyone who watched the game isn’t surprised by that. However, it’s worth noting that not all those plays are splash plays for big yardage or first downs. In fact, on some of those plays Mahomes didn’t even get the satisfaction of yards gained, as he was let down on a few rough drops.

Plays like this (“plays made”) are where Mahomes distinguished himself on a day where his offense was generally overmatched by Denver’s mix of first and second team defenders. That’s a big, big deal and something we’ll return to later.

Another number that I really liked was how many times Mahomes went through multiple reads before throwing the ball. Rookies can often get hung up on their first reads and stay on them for too long. While there WERE snaps like that, Mahomes generally did a very good job going through his reads quickly and finding the open receiver. That’s a very, very encouraging thing for his long-term prospects.

Perhaps the most important stat I’d note is the accurate throws vs inaccurate throws. Another narrative I heard after the game from some (generally people who already had a certain opinion about Mahomes as a QB) was that Mahomes struggled with accuracy. The reality is that While Mahomes DID have some inaccurate throws, they weren’t at an alarming rate. Rather, his accurate to inaccurate ratio was actually slightly better than what Smith (known for his accuracy) has done on average.

Accuracy is the most important trait a quarterback can have, and it was one of the concerns (some) people had regarding Mahomes when he was drafted. However, in his first NFL start, Mahomes showed that not only can he throw the ball with accuracy on a level of consistency that rivals a good NFL quarterback, he can do so under wildly difficult circumstances (consistent pressure and a hodgepodge of 2nd string players around him). The next time someone tells you Mahomes’s accuracy scares them, feel free to point out that he was just as accurate as Alex has been in his very best season as a pro.

The only stat I’d like to see Mahomes improve is potential picks. Alex only had three games this season with two potential picks, so the fact that Mahomes matched that (in addition to throwing a pick as well) isn’t great (though one was a borderline play where the defender had to dive at a well-placed ball).

HOWEVER, it’s time to correct a false narrative about the interception and the potential pick to Demetrius Harris in the fourth quarter. The common narrative I’ve heard is that Mahomes “threw the ball into coverage” or “just tossed it up.” That’s not true on either play. Here they are, in order.

Take a look at the receivers Mahomes targeted on each of those routes. What do they have in common? They’re both open.

The reads Mahomes made on these plays were fine. In fact, his ability to see Harris coming free in the fourth quarter play despite pressure (I charted it as a happy feet snap, but there WAS pressure there. Just thought he moved too much initially) was actually quite impressive.

The problem on each play was the throw. On the first play, Mahomes just sailed it. Whether he was too fired up or whatever, he just tossed it too far. On the second throw, Mahomes fires the ball off balance rather than resetting in order to get more power behind the throw (unlike many other times he threw off balance Sunday, there WAS time here to reset).

While Mahomes’ arm is remarkable, he’s not able to throw it 55 yards in the air (what the throw really demanded) and it comes up short, allowing the defender to nearly make a play (and it would have been a miraculous play by the defender, because Mahomes almost got it there).

So no, Mahomes wasn’t missing defenders or making bad reads. He simply had a couple of inaccurate throws. The idea that he was struggling with decision making with regards to reads is ridiculous. He needs to trust his arm a bit less in 50 yard throw situations, but that’s about it. It’s an execution issue, not a mental issue. Much more easily fixed.

(There’s your second narrative to bust. You’re welcome)

Overall, the numbers Mahomes put up in my system were, without any exaggeration, very good. And not just “good for a rookie making his first start” good. The day Mahomes had in terms of happy feet, missed shots, accuracy, franchise throws, plays made, and multiple read throws all compare very favorably (in some cases far surpassing) what Alex has done in 2017. Looking back at all the breakdowns I did for Alex, I believe from a NUMERICAL standpoint, Mahomes surpassed all but perhaps 3-4 games Alex played this year in terms of the things I track. That’s wildly impressive, and not something I expected going into this review.

To segue from the numbers to the film, one interesting item was the number of throws made to the intermediate zone (11-19 yards past the line of scrimmage). With 11 throws to that zone, Mahomes more than doubled what we’ve seen from Alex on average this season. In fact, the closest Alex came in all 13 games I charted was eight, which only occurred once. Mahomes, at least on the surface, was attacking that level of the defense much more frequently. And a lot of those throws were fantastic.

Many people are expecting Mahomes to come in and start throwing twice as many bombs per game as Alex, but I don’t think that’s where we’ll see the biggest difference. I think it is in the intermediate zone that Mahomes will create the most change in the offense, as he appears much more comfortable working those zones in all sorts of situations, whether it’s instant pressure like the gif above, or off play action and requiring a little bit of movement in the pocket.

As I said earlier, Mahomes did a great job throughout the game navigating the pocket and any pressure that came his way. I believe that’s closely related to more shots to the intermediate zone. Mahomes displayed a knack for handling pressure but still looking to fire the ball down the field rather than accepting a checkdown.

While Mahomes’ propensity for the spectacular (like the play above) is what has everyone buzzing, it’s snap-by-snap consistency that matters in the NFL. And for one Sunday at least, Mahomes was quite consistent in his ability to keep his eyes down the field in the face of the rush and continue to look for receivers. That led to some of the absurd plays I’ve gif’d here, and multiple more to be perfectly honest (if I were to put every great Mahomes play in a gif here there would be at least a dozen, with no exaggeration whatsoever).

Speaking of consistency and other boring (but wildly important) quarterback traits, someone Mahomes showed throughout the game was that he was capable of making the correct presnap and postsnap reads to handle different looks the defense threw at him.

These are the types of plays I’m talking about: operating within the flow of the offense based on what the defense gives you.

In the first gif, Mahomes sees an easy completion against over matched zone coverage and doesn’t hesitate, firing the ball in there for a quick gain. When a quarterback goes to his first read like this, it’s a sign that they did a nice job anticipating what coverage they would be facing.

In the second gif, Mahomes sees the blitzer immediately and doesn’t panic. Instead, he calmly lofts the ball to Anthony Sherman, who is able to get within spitting distance of the first down marker (which led to the 4th down conversion). Again, this is a simple play, but it’s important to see Mahomes making the right decisions under live fire.

The solid decision making was a very underrated aspect of the day Mahomes had. I said earlier this season that we know Mahomes can make plays other quarterbacks can’t, now we need to see him make the players other quarterbacks DO make. That means correct presnap reads against zone, seeing the blitzer and getting it to the right spot to explpoit him, and not making boneheaded decisions.

We’ve already debunked the idea that Mahomes made a bad read on the INT and the potential pick to Harris in the fourth quarter, but for those of you who are still nervous, this gif (and what it represents) may help you out.

While it may sound strange, one of my favorite aspects to the game Sunday was that Mahomes DIDN’T make bad reads the vast majority of the game. Obviously, the play above isn’t special. It’s just a quarterback going through his reads, seeing them covered, then throwing the ball away as the pressure closes in. No wrongheaded attempted heroics, nothing crazy. While Mahomes IS a playmaker, he’s looking to take advantage of weak spots, rather than forcing the throw regardless. That’s great to see.

Another thing to note about Mahomes’ film that we all saw but needs to be referenced is the fact that plays are never dead with him. In addition to making solid decisions, throwing the ball accurately, and showing good pocket presence throughout the game, Mahomes has an extra gear that produces yards out of nowhere.

This wasn’t just true at the end of the game, either. Mahomes was creating yards the entire game, whether it was a ridiculous off-balance throw for 7 yards (which you have all seen a zillion times by now, so there’s no need to gif it here), or stringing a play along until the very end and then SOMEHOW getting the ball into your receiver’s hands (even if he drops it).

It may sound strange, but that was one of my favorite plays of the day, even if it didn’t result in yards or involve an absolutely incredible throw.

What I loved about that play was that it demonstrated that when Mahomes is on the field, a defense is never safe. Even as a play winds down and he’s on the sideline about to (apparently) throw it away, there’s always a chance he’ll set that cannon of an arm to “precision shot” and the ball will practically teleport into a receiver’s hands.

Chiefs receivers are going to have to learn that the play isn’t over until the whistle, and defenses are going to as well. Any extra stress on opposing defenses is a good thing, and Mahomes brings that longer than most other quarterbacks.

So how do I sum all this up in a paragraph? Well, with great difficulty. But I’ll give it a shot.

(Note: it’s more than one paragraph. I failed)

Overall, Mahomes was more impressive upon review than he was live, and I was quite impressed live. He threw the ball accurately, showed good pocket presence, did a nice job going through his reads post snap, and did a lot of the little things you need to see from a quarterback well. He also made a number of plays while the offense around him wasn’t succeeding.

It’s that last point that many people are (rightfully) stuck on. Most quarterbacks are highly dependent on the players and coaches surrounding them. They need the offensive line to block decently, the receivers to get separation, and the coaches to draw up plays that “win.” There are just not that many quarterbacks who can thrive when those things aren’t happening. If Sunday’s game is any indication, Patrick Mahomes is absolutely one of them. Just as importantly, Mahomes showed that when the offense IS winning and merely needs a “manager,” he can do that too.

The areas I want to see improvement from Mahomes the next time we see him are very workable issues: I want to see more from him presnap, as some of the pressure he faced could well have been him failing to see a blitz coming that Alex would have recognized and accounted for. I also want to see him trust his arm slightly less on downfield shots (like the Harris one) when he’s off platform. Those are the only things that really concerned me with his game. Everything else was solid-to-great.

People will point to his TD/INT stats (his completion percentage and YPA were pretty solid) and use that to claim he didn’t play well. So why didn’t the TD/INT stats match what I saw on film? Well, for starters, those are incredibly limited ways to gauge a quarterback’s play in an individual game. It just doesn’t give enough information, and is affected by drops (Robinson dropped a TD) and play calls (Reid had Anthony Sherman run it in from the one, which was incredible but removed a chance for an easy score).

Much like Alex’s game against Denver, the stats simply don’t do the film justice. As always, I trust the film every time. And the film said that Mahomes was very, very, very good.

One game is a wildly small sample size, and in the grand scheme of things could mean very little. All you can take from a single game is a list of traits and HOPE that a player will demonstrate the good ones often and the bad ones not-so-often. That’s an important warning, because we can’t just take this game and say with any kind of certainty what the future holds for Mahomes. Keep that in mind as you read my last paragraph...

After watching the film and charting the things that I do, I sincerely believe that very few quarterbacks could have played as well as Mahomes did on Sunday. The circumstances he was thrown into (a group of mostly backups with no chemistry, a wildly aggressive defense that had considerably more starters playing, on the road, etc) were quite difficult, yet he played very well. Not “for a rookie,” not “for his first start.” I mean he played legitimately, genuinely well in a way that compares favorably to a good starting veteran quarterback. I’m having to restrain myself from being utterly ecstatic after watching the film, because guys... this kid can PLAY.