“He had complete command out there.” - Andy Reid after Sunday’s win against the Broncos
I started this week’s 45 seconds with Reid’s joke about rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes ruining a few good play calls. It’s fitting I’m able to start this article with my favorite quote from Reid this week.
He used the command word and went as far as to say complete command. That’s high praise. It’s what I was looking for before the game, it’s what I saw when I put the tape on. That’s a big compliment coming from Reid. His offense is notoriously complex, requiring immense amounts of preparation and diligence to learn and succeed in it. For Reid to say that about Mahomes was significant.
His mental acuity flashed as much as his physical traits. He was obviously prepared. There were certainly some lapses, but overall he was able to provide hope for his future. He’s growing up before our eyes. He’s improved significantly since August. Let’s look at a few plays that stood out to me.
Denver is sugaring the A gaps showing pressure. Mahomes is alert to nickel blitz as well, slides the protection. He's responsible for the left edge defender now if he comes. Edge comes, Denver out leveraged. Sherman gets 7.99 yards on 3rd and 8. pic.twitter.com/I0eKmp5XvR— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
It’s 3rd and 8 and the Broncos are sugaring both A gaps with linebackers. They dialed up several pressures throughout the day to try to confuse and rattle the young signal caller. They have six players at the line of scrimmage showing a six man pressure, leaving five defenders for five potential receivers. The Chiefs have Jehu Chesson and Demetrius Harris lined up to the left in the boundary. Harris short motions in from outside Chesson. Anthony Sherman is to the left of Mahomes.
Based on alignment, that edge rusher on the left has to peel with Sherman if he leaves the backfield. Either that or one of the A gap linebackers will have to chase Sherman. If not, the Chiefs have three pass catchers for two defenders. Sherman will either remove one rusher from the play or he’ll out leverage any defender.
The Chiefs have five blockers for six defenders. Mahomes knows this, but also knows that he has three receivers for two defenders if all six come. A five man protection like this will typically account for the two defensive lineman, both edge rushers and one linebacker. Mahomes is alert to a potential blitz from the nickel, and slides the protection one man over, leaving the edge rusher on the left free. Mahomes is responsible for that man now, what he does will determine where he goes with the football.
If the unblocked edge peels with Sherman like they had earlier, he's protected. If he comes, easy throw. Invites pressure, make easy completion. pic.twitter.com/YblZvHIWaZ— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
Chesson runs a post and Harris runs through his defender, likely running some kind of out breaking route. Sherman leaks to the flat. The rusher doesn’t peel off with Sherman, leaving him wide open in space. Mahomes invites the pressure, then dumps the pass off to Sherman. It sure looked like he got first down yardage to me, but I digress. Regardless, it was the right call in the right situation. Mahomes’ preparation paid off here. He was ready and knew where to go with the football. That got me excited.
Working in structure
I wrote about this for this week’s 45 seconds (two bumps in one article, wow I’m shameless), but there’s more examples of Mahomes working within structure in the face of pressure:
Basic sticks play, but Mahomes worked within structure in the face of pressure. Saw where blitz was coming from, knew underneath defenders weren't there, got the throw off. Gave the design a chance. pic.twitter.com/MDrtJngrGF— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
This is a very simple sticks play on 3rd and 14. Receivers run past the line to gain a few yards and sit. It effectively turns into curl routes past the line. Denver brings heat on a late revealing, well designed pressure and gets a free rushing defender in Mahomes’ face. He saw the blitz, knows it’s man coverage and that there’s no underneath defenders to worry about. Mahomes keeps the play alive long enough to get the ball to Wilson with a defender hanging on him.
He knew the design and the coverage he was getting allowed him to get the throw off. It was a beautiful throw. He wasn’t open when he threw it. It showed trust, an understanding of coverage and an understanding of the structure he was working within.
Mahomes’ mental make up and play style match perfectly with his arm talent. He is a rare player who is able to give plays a chance within structure longer than most can. His unique arm talent allows him to hang onto the play design longer. He doesn’t need everything to be perfect below the waste when he unleashes a football 25 yards downfield. He doesn’t need the pocket to be perfect to throw within the design of the play. His rare abilities also allow for very simply concepts like this to work
If he continues to push towards working within structure, he will be one of the best quarterbacks in the league someday. The desire and makeup to it is there. It just needs to continue to develop.
He’s not perfect. He’s not consistent in utilizing his unique traits. He needs to be more selective about when he uses some of his off platform throwing. He needs to continue to work at developing his base to be more consistent and negotiating the pocket. There were still noticeable inconsistencies. Refining that area of his game will benefit him long term. But he is on the right track. As he gets more consistent with everything, he’ll reach or come close to that high ceiling.
I wondered if run-pass options would be part of the plan with Mahomes. They were, and they fit his skill set perfectly. I chart every play of the offense and I have them as running 23 RPOs on Sunday. The offensive staff entrusted him to make the right decisions within the confines of the design. There were a few rough spots here and there, but they were successful.
Mahomes average 8.2 YPA on bubble routes. That’s crazy. How? Well...
Mahomes getting the ball out so quick is worth an extra blocker on the edge. Denver shows pressure, ball is on Wilson quick enough to give him an extra step or two. RPOs are going to be a problem. pic.twitter.com/6BC9HepB6i— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
Mahomes’ release, arm strength and ability to throw from different platforms is on full display even on little throws like this play. Denver is showing some pressure and loading up the boxes. Denver is playing the bunch set with a point man and two off defenders. Chesson and Demarcus Robinson are able to work to the point man and outside defender, leaving the safety to make up significant ground before getting to Wilson. The speed at which the ball gets to Wilson gives him an extra step or two in space, which is critical.
Look at all the grass there is to work with:
Teams will have to adjust how they play the bunch RPOs. Denver tried a few other concepts, including two men at the line of scrimmage vs the bunch. That’s where the plays downfield off of this will come in. They have to keep gap integrity in the box for the run and try to handle space outside. Throw in that Travis Kelce will be likely opposite the bunch a single receiver on the other side of the field and you’ve got big problems on simple plays.
There’s so much to figure out, but his talent can allow for easy plays like this to have success while he’s on his learning curve.
He’s just getting started
All those clips I posted have a common theme. Any guesses?— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) January 3, 2018
Some good guesses, @barleyhop on Twitter got it right. All those positive plays I posted are under pressure. He responded well to the test.
From here on out, it’s not always going to be pretty, it’s not always going to be good. He’s going to make plenty of mistakes. He made plenty this week. Even that amazing throw off his back foot to Demarcus Robinson on a scramble probably shouldn’t have happened because he had options before he bailed. (It was still really, really cool though)
Teams will adjust and Mahomes will have to respond. But you can see the problems he creates already and the potential he has. He’ll need to continue to push to better, and everything we’ve seen from his says he will.
The tape shows obvious growth since we saw him only asked to identify the mike linebacker in the preseason. He was able to work within structure while flashing his promise.
The little things showed someone who has obviously worked hard to be where he’s at at this point. Both physically and mentally. He solved a lot of problems on the field. Not always, but plenty enough to show he’s put the time.
That might be the most encouraging thing of all. His work ethic matches the raw ability he possesses. He was more prepared than I expected. Denver tried to test him and he responded better than I anticipated.
Mahomes sent a simple message on Sunday: I’m talented, I’m smart, I’m not scared and I’m here to work.
If he keeps that drive, the sky is the limit for this franchise. I’m not betting against him.