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Building the offense for Patrick Mahomes: screen passes

Two more plays are added to the playbook using screen passes

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

This is part eight in our Building the Offense for Patrick Mahomes series. Here is where you can find part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six and part seven.


Whether your quarterback is 22 or 42 years old, finding ways to get easy completions is beneficial to your offense. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in this series finding ways to get young Patrick Mahomes those easy completions. I have the full expectation that the Kansas City Chiefs will prioritize that.

The talk about Andy Reid’s ability to get the most out of his quarterbacks starts with easy completions. Reid has the pulse of players’ abilities better than any coach in football. He is remarkable at truly understanding what a player is and how to best utilize him. You’ll hear him mentioning his desire to have players put their personality into the offense. That’s part of it. The other part of it is his experimentation in OTAs and minicamps to figure out what his players can and can’t get away with.

The concept of easy completions comes with somewhat of a stigma that these plays can’t be lucrative. In some cases, that’s true. Not with Reid. The most enjoyable moments offensively of the Reid era in Kansas City have been when they are dictating the action. The fear the Chiefs forced up on defenses with their explosive plays from their personnel allowed Reid to dial up unique concepts and window dressing. Reid is great at seeing the big picture. He can find ways to utilize two or three players’ reputations and abilities to his team’s advantage. Reid utilizes his players to support the quarterback, which is why players like Kevin Kolb can have success with him and significantly less elsewhere.

A piece I wrote in January profiling Mahomes’ ability to get rid of the ball quickly (among other things from his Week 17 performance) provides some context for what his release can provide an offense.

Extra space is created for Wilson because the ball is accurate and on him quickly. In that piece, there’s a screenshot of how much time it created. It’s a special talent that can make the short game more effective. The Chiefs averaged nearly 8.2 yards per attempt on bubble screens in that game. That’s significant. It was on display at Texas Tech as well.

This was a run-pass option (RPO), but the point remains. Mahomes doesn’t need a perfect base to deliver quick throws like this. Reid needs to be finding ways to use that ability. Mahomes shows comfort, control and consistency in the short passing game. They feel like layups when he is delivering the throw.

Whether the run play is live or not, I love the idea of swing screens out two-running back sets. The Chiefs have used some looks with running backs leaving early and running a swing screen to him, especially in short-yardage situations. Mahomes doesn’t need to set his feet well for these; he can just flip the ball out. If the run is live, this can just be an addition to the RPO looks the Chiefs should continue to roll out.

We have the context to what Mahomes’ release can provide. He can throw from less than stable platforms with consistency. Now tie them to some of the things Reid does with play designs and they could be something special.

Timing is everything on screen plays. Whether you need to time up the release of offensive lineman into space, influence defenders into the backfield or get the ball out to receivers in a timely manner all the elements have to work together. Reid dialed up a well-timed screen into the boundary against the Los Angeles Chargers in week three. Hill motions across the field and Alex Smith throws the ball as soon as he is in position. Any communication made by the defense has to be in on time or else there’s confusion or breakdowns. At the snap, you can see the Chargers defense still communicating.

Rarely does a screen like this into the boundary work. Hill quickly sets up to catch the pass, and Smith delivers the throw off of a one-step delivery (really more of a hop). The formation has Anthony Sherman one yard off the ball and Travis Kelce lined up on the line of scrimmage one yard off the tackle to the play side. Kelce, the widest blocker in the formation, identifies the cornerback as the first threat to Hill and blocks him. Those two and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz are athletic enough to get into space quickly enough to block for Hill. Sherman finds work with EDGE Melvin Ingram. Schwartz actually gets pushed down/tripped by Hill, who pushes through him to the sidelines and runs out of space but not before a nice gain.

While this play was to the short side of the field, I think the Chiefs can dial up similar concepts to the wide side. Mahomes arm strength and quick release should allow receivers to the field more time to process the blocking in front of them. The above play utilized the athleticism of the blockers, the quickness of Hill and Smith’s timing to create an easy completion. It was well designed.

We probably haven’t seen all the screen concepts that the Chiefs are going to be able to get away with due to Mahomes’ abilities. I believe that Reid will ask for a few things that Mahomes can deliver that others can’t in the screen game. Not that there haven’t been others that can do similar things (Aaron Rodgers can pull off anything he wants), but that no one who can do what Mahomes can has ever been paired with the creativity Reid possesses. We have seen Reid’s ability to brilliantly utilize the elements he has at his disposal.

I wrote about this play in my weekly in-season article that breaks down one play a week. It’s one of my favorite play calls of the season. Reid is able to get one of the best tight ends in football wide open, with blockers, in the red zone, in the middle of the field for an easy completion. Hill runs an orbit motion (circle the quarterback and back out to the side you came from) from the slot and into a swing. Last season, teams were rotating safeties when Hill would cross the formation in order to get better angles/leverage in pursuit on jet sweeps to him. The action moved the Oakland Raiders safeties, but not before Hill whipped back out the other side. Smith pump fakes to Hill on the swing screen.

Running back Charcandrick West free releases on a swing to the boundary. Smith gives a subtle nod and eyes on West as if he’s going to throw it out to him. This looks like a common design, a pump to one side to throw a swing to the opposite. You can see the corner and linebacker NaVorro Bowman widen in pursuit of West, thinking that’s where the ball is heading after the pump to Hill. Center Zach Fulton, Schwartz and Kelce show pass protection for a count on all three down defensive lineman. After Fulton and Schwartz give a punch to the two interior linemen, they release to lead the way for the Y-Middle screen. Kelce is almost late to release from the edge defender but gets free in time to catch the ball with blockers in front of him for a near touchdown.

Screen plays like this one are best when Reid has the ability to use his unique skill players to create levels of surprise or an inability for the defense to recover. The mad scientist should be able to come up with ways to pair Mahomes’ arm talent with the weapons he has, and the threats they create at all depths of the field. I would call two designed screens a game given a neutral game script.

Breakdown

  • 33/65 plays - RPOs (23) and called run plays (10)
  • 6/65 plays - tendency breakers out of the 3x1 looks the Chiefs run RPOs
  • 6/65 plays - empty formation, five-man protection passes
  • 5/65 plays - two running back pass concepts (also 5/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)
  • 3/65 plays - under center, play action passes (also 5/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)
  • 2/65 plays - condensed formation pass plays (also 2/10 discretionary run plays mentioned in part one)
  • 2/65 plays - sprint out pass concepts
  • 2/65 plays - designed screen passes

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