With all the injuries he’s suffered, it’s been a less-than-ideal season for Patrick Mahomes. So naturally it took less-than-ideal weather conditions for him to show the sparks we’re used to seeing with the Kansas City Chiefs offense.
Between a Sunday morning report that Mahomes was dealing with a sprained hand and a forecast of heavy snow, there was plenty of cause for concern about the quarterback’s ability to hold up in a tough situation; the back half of the game against the New England Patriots game had been spent protecting the quarterback — essentially limping to the finish line.
So this game might need to follow the same script, right?
Part of Mahomes’ mystique is how he continues to surprise us. When things are going well, he exceeds expectations. At times this season, the obstacles he’s faced have been too much for the him to shine as brightly as he did last season — but his performance in Sunday’s 23-3 victory over the Denver Broncos is a sign that he’s getting back into the swing of things.
If this game was a sign of things to come, Mahomes is about to remind the world who he is with a legendary playoff run.
The Chiefs have been trying to hit similar concepts the last few weeks and finally get a TD. Looks like deep crossers out of PA with Hill and Watkins working up the hashes. Hill gets vertical and then speed cuts to the pylon. Great eye manipulation from Mahomes leads to six. pic.twitter.com/onsO15O3gt— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 17, 2019
On this play — a first down in Broncos territory — the Chiefs have 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) lined up in a tight bunch formation. They call a shot play with 7-man protection. Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins are the only two receivers on the field. They go out on vertical routes while LeSean McCoy shows play action out of the backfield.
The patterns give a look of a deep cross; both receivers are running up their respective hashes and pushing depth. But instead of crossing the field, after attacking the safety with a few vertical steps, Hill uses a speed cut to break back outside the numbers for the pylon.
The Chiefs have recently utilizing similar looks — getting Hill up the hash — but breaking to the same side he started on.
Mahomes is great with his eyes, which are late to Hill — he’s only looking to see where he’s throwing — which keeps the middle field safety from driving on the play to the pylon; Mahomes is selling a throw to the field. This kind of eye work is the ultimate sign of confidence in a given play; at the top of his drop, Mahomes has already done the work to process through the play. His preparation allows him to see this play clearly — and affords him the time to sell the play with his body language.
Mahomes places the ball perfectly. Hill catches it in stride for the touchdown.
Recently, these clean, explosive plays with rhythm haven’t been as common, so seeing a score like this — especially in these conditions — was a welcome sight. The Chiefs were finally able to hit on a concept they’ve been utilizing, but with which they have struggled to find success.
Some missed opportunities in New England were righted against the Broncos.
There were a few plays you would've preferred seeing Mahomes give Kelce a chance on against the Patriots, but that wasn't a problem this week. Beautiful ball off the back foot on a fade to the tight end. Well placed and good finish by Kelce. pic.twitter.com/3tFJcb4e9Y— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 17, 2019
Against the Patriots, Mahomes had a chance to ice the game by hitting Kelce on a double move while the tight end was in a juicy matchup — but elected to throw it short. On Sunday, he had several opportunities with one of the biggest mismatches in football — like this fade route.
After Darwin Thompson’s motion out of the backfield, the safety’s late rotation creates a chance for an up-and-down ball to Kelce before the middle field safety can close. Again, Mahomes does a good job with his eyes, getting to his target with a well-placed throw off his back foot for a big gain.
The result was bad, but I don't hate the decision or placement of this football from Mahomes. Justin Simmons makes a phenomenal play on the football, and he's the only one that's going to intercept it. This isn't a play I'd be trying to coach out of Mahomes. pic.twitter.com/N2nRZN10Kk— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 17, 2019
Be honest. When Mahomes broke out the pocket to his left and then spun out to his right, you were thinking about the touchdown throw against San Francisco last season. If you weren’t, you’re lying. It was even in the same end zone!
Here, the result was bad — but the process wasn’t.
At worst, Mahomes might be a little greedy, trying to fit a throw to Hill — low on the front line of the end zone — for another touchdown. But I’m not at all upset with his decision or placement.
Instead, we just need to appreciate the play Justin Simmons made. Based on the route distribution — and the direction Mahomes is running — he knows Hill is likely going to work back to his quarterback; that’s what you should expect when a play breaks down and players revert to scramble rules. Simmons closes from the near hash to make the interception.
I certainly wouldn’t want to coach this out of Mahomes. When they work, these are the kind of plays that make him special — and they work way more often than they don’t. Amid chaos, Mahomes is still a sound decision-maker. While this play had a bad result, I am confident defending the process that led to it.