This is part three of a three-part weekly film analysis on the performance of Patrick Mahomes.
Feel for the pocket is an excellent trait for a quarterback. Feel for the readership is a good trait for a writer.
Usually, part three is about improvement and what needs improvement.
But this week, I have absolutely no desire to write about areas of improvement for Patrick Mahomes, and I don’t think you have any desire to read it. There are a few, but the list keeps getting smaller and smaller and smaller. This week, it feels a little too picky. The performance on Monday Night Football was of the rarest kind. You don’t see many quarterbacks capable of what he did and you certainly don’t frequently see it done at 23 years old.
What was so exceptional about the performance for me was clear, obvious growth in areas we’ve talked about in this article already in the past. There have been inconsistencies in how Mahomes manages the pocket.
From last week:
#NeedsImprovement When Mahomes is throwing in rhythm, he's been excellent. When unexpected variables are added (read isn't open, doesn't see a defender, has to step up) and he needs to stay in the pocket, inconsistencies appear. pic.twitter.com/HbqKrLHs7R— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 27, 2018
He has had to work through understanding the use of space in the pocket, knowing when to step up, knowing the timing for bailing out of it and how he will ultimately escape. It’s been up and done. His instincts are to run for depth to create, and he did it too frequently at the wrong times when there were easier options.
Denver figured it out. If you read the quote from Von Miller in Pete’s excellent weekly article “The Re-Up,” the Broncos picked up on Mahomes’ instinctual desire to escape with depth out the back of the pocket.
If you noticed that some of the pressures the Broncos dialed up against Mahomes right and deeper, it was to eliminate scrambling to his right and to try and catch him trying to get depth.
How did Mahomes respond? He made drastic improvements from the pocket. And it’s the reason I’ve given up trying to be level-headed about the kid’s future.
The timing of when he works out of structure is rapidly improving.
#SomethingSpecial Act Two: A few plays after going Palko and multiple offensive penalties the Chiefs are facing a 2nd and 30. Front side pressure and Mahomes executes a well timed step up, escaping free to his right. The arm talent to deliver this ball is rare. pic.twitter.com/gI7VFqFvld— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 3, 2018
We elaborated on this play and more yesterday. In the moments his team needed him the most, Mahomes showed grown-up poise and timing from the pocket for a perfectly executed escape. He wasn’t early to try to race to the edge with Miller closing; he calmly stepped up and then executed the scramble. The feel for timing is developing.
We talked about this play on Tuesday (somehow not the most ridiculous throw of the day), but the calmness to work through his progression in chaos, slide up and then escape and create is a sign of tremendous growth. It's all starting to come together for him in there. pic.twitter.com/YsQ95Yr1hR— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 4, 2018
There’s just a clear growing understanding of space. The leap this week was tremendous. He needed it the most this week, and he rose to the occasion. His eyes stay up through the chaos, he steps up to evade pressure and then exits at the right time to find Travis Kelce working to him on the scramble.
All these plays keep happening in important moments.
Mahomes has been a tad early to exit the pocket, most often out the back door and deep. Not as much this week. He steps up first, then scrambles, and is rewarded with a first down completion in the red zone. pic.twitter.com/VDA9zcS7YJ— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 4, 2018
You’ve heard me say quarterbacks make their money on third down and in the red zone. Here’s another sign of well-executed escape—another step up into the work outside. He does a great job of maintaining the structure and then escaping with receivers working to him in the more congested red area. Also, a great throw on the run with little margin for error.
It’s not just timing scrambles, it’s growth in when he should be working from the pocket.
Mahomes does a great job of staying in the pocket, working through the Yankee (post, deep over) concept down to the running back late. He didn't force creating, he gave structure every chance. Hunt drops it. pic.twitter.com/NiUqEw4EeC— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 4, 2018
Kareem Hunt drops this, but the process to get it to Hunt is significant. The Chiefs are running a Yankee concept (post and a deep crosser working underneath it). No one is open. It could be very easy for Mahomes to want to create at this point, but he doesn’t. He steps into the pocket and delivers the ball in the face of pressure to a very open Hunt. I would’ve liked to see how many yards Hunt could have went for.
There's clearly more developing comfort in the pocket. Mahomes has to hold a tad longer than he wanted, but calmly hangs and delivers a strike to Kelce. Poise from the pocket when out of rhythm is getting better. pic.twitter.com/ybaCQgXw5r— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 4, 2018
We’ve talked about how great Mahomes has been in rhythm from the pocket, but when variables get added the results being not as stellar. Here, Mahomes wants to throw earlier, but he holds and hangs for an extra beat. There was no panic. He didn’t try to go back to the crutch of running around to create. He stayed and delivered a great ball to Kelce.
Denver was challenging him with deep, front-side pressure. They wanted him to lean on old habits. He had the mental toughness to work through it where they didn’t want him to.
Denver wanted to catch Mahomes bouncing out of the pocket with deeper rushes. They picked up on the tendency. The kid responded in a big way all game. Here he moved away from front side pressure, and used the stupid arm talent to pick up the first down. pic.twitter.com/oyrVZZOVzp— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) October 4, 2018
Mahomes was challenged to grow by the opponent last week. They thought they could affect him and the offense with pressures like this. How did he respond? He just got better. Third down-and-6, and Denver is showing edge pressure from both sides, trying to make the kid process pre-snap. They bail out of backside pressure but bring three off the edge to the front side. Mahomes feels it, but instead of trying to outrun it, he slides away from the rush into space and delivers an excellent ball to Demetrius Harris for a first down that gets called back on a penalty.
By the way, those last two plays were in the fourth quarter.
When a quarterback scrambles, it initiates it not just for the offense but the defense as well. When you give the structure of the play every chance, it forces the defense to maintain their coverage integrity as well. The longer you wait, the better.
Mahomes innately wants to create. He has the ability to do it and his old habits are akin to that urge. He looks anxious to it at times. He has displayed the rare ability, but if he can be more opportunistic with it, the game becomes that much more difficult for defenses.
Mahomes was not as quick to create this week. He let it happen organically. He was near flawless in how much time he gave play structure a chance and was rewarded with unmatched production out of the pocket for his correct usage of that element of his game.
We’re starting to see the maturity and experience slowly immerse itself into the game-day experience watching the kid. He’s learning, he’s responding to what he’s seen and he’s doing it calmly. He’s slowly turning into a cold-blooded killer. He may already be there.
I’ve spent a lot of time the last two years analyzing Kansas City’s young quarterback. I’ve worked hard to pay attention the small details of his game. I try to have honest conversations every week about what I’m seeing.
The acceleration of the improvements week to week, even on bigger stages is making it hard for me to contain my belief. I can’t see him failing. It won’t always be pretty, there are still rough waters ahead, but how quickly he learns, responds and translates it is unconscionable. Mistakes gets fixed, comfort is increasing, and nothing scares him.
He just has “it.”