Patrick Mahomes: six touchdowns, five incompletions.
While writing the recap of Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, I saw a couple of folks on Twitter noting that Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes had thrown more touchdown passes than incompletions in the victory.
I immediately wondered how often something like that had happened before. But I had a recap and another article to write — and on Monday morning, I had to report to the Clay County Courthouse for jury duty.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I wasn’t chosen to decide the only case on this week’s docket, and by Monday night — free of my civic obligation — I was able to investigate further.
Going back to 1940, there have only been nine games in which an NFL quarterback has thrown at least five touchdown passes, and fewer incompletions than touchdown passes. There have been about as many more in which a quarterback passed for five or more touchdowns and the same number of incompletions (Alex Smith had one of those in 2013, and Ben Roethlisberger had one against the Chiefs in 2016) but I decided to include only those where the quarterback had — like Mahomes on Sunday — at least six touchdown throws.
Here they are:
That’s quite an interesting list, wouldn’t you say? A collection of the most effective quarterbacks to ever play the game — and a couple you might not remember.
Former Kansas State quarterback Lynn Dickey — who accomplished the feat twice for the Green Bay Packers — was a local hero who didn’t do much in his first four seasons with the Houston Oilers, but at age 34, he threw for 4,458 yards to lead the NFL in passing yards in 1983.
Frank Ryan might be a completely unfamiliar name to you. Like Dickey, he didn’t make much of an impact for the Los Angeles Rams during his first years in the NFL, but as the Cleveland Browns starter from 1963 to 1967, he made the Pro Bowl three times and led the league in touchdown percentage during three different seasons. In 1963, it was an incredible 9.8 percent.
But to me, the most interesting thing about this list is that two of these 10 quarterbacks owe their development to Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.
It clearly illustrates the most unexpected thing about Patrick Mahomes’ performances in the first two weeks of this season: he’s acquired all of Alex Smith’s best qualities while retaining all of his own.
It was entirely reasonable to expect that Mahomes would experience some growing pains in his first season as an NFL starter — but so far he hasn’t had any. That’s not to say he couldn’t still have some of those before the season is over, but even those who were convinced that Mahomes would be the NFL MVP in 2018 probably didn’t think he’d throw 10 touchdown passes in his first two games without throwing a single interception.
For that, we’re going to have to credit not only Mahomes, but also Reid.
And Alex Smith.
The Chiefs defense: 442 passing yards given up
There’s no way around it: this is a bad number. And against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 1, the defense gave up 418 passing yards.
But perhaps we should look at these numbers in the proper context.
In both games — thanks to Patrick Mahomes and his receivers — the Chiefs had a commanding lead before half of the first quarter had ticked away. Essentially, the Chiefs forced both the Chargers and the Steelers into playing catch-up before they could even catch their breath.
That meant they had to pass — a lot.
And since the Chiefs offense was scoring so quickly, both teams ran many more plays — and held the ball for much longer — than the Chiefs did. Against quarterbacks like Philip Rivers and Roethlisberger, this can easily be a recipe for disaster.
The Chargers ran 19 more plays than the Chiefs, holding the ball nine minutes longer. The Steelers ran 20 more, and held the ball four and a half minutes longer.
In 2017, the Chargers averaged 7.6 net yards per passing attempt. Rivers attempted 51 passes in Week 1, so against an average defense, we could have expected him to throw for 387 yards. Rivers beat that by 31 yards.
Last season, the Steelers averaged 7.4 net yards per attempt. So in a whopping 60 attempts on Week 2, we could have expected Roethlisberger to pass for 444 yards — almost exactly what he did gain against the Chiefs.
So the Chiefs defense — playing without Eric Berry, and with many new faces — held both Rivers and Roethlisberger pretty close to their 2017 season averages.
Is that good? No, it’s not. It’s not what we’re going to need to see from the Chiefs pass defense in order to contend for a championship.
But it’s just wrong to say that the Chiefs pass defense is simply awful. Against two of the best quarterbacks in the league — both of whom were pulling out all the stops — the pass defense held its own.
In his Re-Up column on Monday, our own Pete Sweeney argued that in past seasons under Andy Reid, it was common for us to evaluate the Chiefs offensive strategy — especially after a loss — in terms of how often the Chiefs ran the ball. He also pointed out — entirely correctly — that even with the explosive passing attack now in Reid’s hands, it would be irresponsible for the Chiefs to de-emphasize the running game.
It would have been pretty easy to read Pete’s take — or, for that matter, to simply watch the first two games of the season — and conclude that the Chiefs have dialed back the running game.
But they haven’t.
Against the Chargers, the Chiefs ran exactly the same number of rushing plays as passing plays. Against the Steelers, they ran only three more passing plays than rushing plays. That is entirely consistent with the pass/run ratios we have seen in Chiefs victories under Reid.
I would argue that even with all the explosive weapons available in the passing game, it might make sense for Reid to actually increase the number of rushing plays, or perhaps try to keep Mahomes from swinging for the fence quite so often.
It’s perfectly fine to make a quick statement on the opening offensive drive to get the upper hand in a game — nobody is going to argue against that — but until the defense can become more effective, it could be counterproductive to force opposing teams into desperation mode so early in the game that the defense becomes exhausted.
But as long as the wins keep coming, it’s unlikely Reid will change a single thing.