You might be surprised to learn that the Chiefs’ offensive juggernaut has been prone to some slow starts. In fact, the Chiefs haven’t scored in the first quarter in two straight games.
Some of this can be attributed to injuries sustained over the last few weeks. Tyreek Hill has been out for most of the season. The Chiefs lost starting left tackle Eric Fisher early last week — and are likely not to have him for a while. Patrick Mahomes was hobbled in Oakland after injuring his ankle in Jacksonville — but at least now he’s getting close to 100%.
On Sunday, a Hill-less, Fisher-less Chiefs team (with a still-injured-but-improving Mahomes) opened their home schedule against a tough, historically excellent Ravens defense. Like every team to this point, the Ravens challenged the Chiefs and their skill players. Like every team to this point, the Chiefs overwhelmed them.
Teams busting their coverage on the Chiefs vertical passing game is becoming a weekly occurrence. At least in part, should we be chalking this up to great play design and the team’s receiving threats?
#SomethingGood Andy Reid said they got the look they wanted on this play. #26 (Canady) was probably supposed to carry w/Hardman, but even then it's a great call/execution. Is it a coincidence that teams are 3/3 busting on verticals? Also, Mecole is being used extremely well. pic.twitter.com/258gJzGraa— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 24, 2019
In this play, the Chiefs short-motion Sammy Watkins from outside in and snap the ball as he’s coming to his spot. Initially this looks like the Chiefs standard 3x1 four verticals concept.
We think it is supposed to be Cover 3 match coverage by the Ravens. Earl Thomas — stopper of all big plays — sits on Watkins, who curls up. Tony Jefferson (23) is the safety on the boundary hash. He is getting depth — but staying more with Travis Kelce and Watkins. Maurice Canady (26) is likely supposed to carry Mecole Hardman on the vertical, but instead sinks underneath Demarcus Robinson. Hardman gets another free release — which continues to prove to be a mistake.
Mahomes delivers and absolute strike on this throw — one that be replicated by only a few NFL players. Thanks to the velocity he puts on the ball, even if Jefferson isn’t on that hash, this throw can’t easily be contested.
The Chiefs continue to threaten teams vertically with a variety of weapons capable of generating explosive plays. Mecole Hardman continues to find success in the vertical passing game.
It just seems too coincidental that the Chiefs find big plays downfield on vertical concepts on which defensive coverage has busted. The Chiefs are stressing teams vertically, anticipating coverage and finding guys streaking down the field. With so many good receivers to track, it’s getting harder for defenses to pick their poison.
Mahomes really hasn’t put very many balls at risk so far — but he put one at risk on Sunday. It should have ended with his first interception of the season.
#SomethingBad Mahomes has put very few balls at risk to this point this season but got bailed out here. The Ravens sent 6 against a five man protection and Mahomes had to bail out. He threw an interception that would have taken away a chance at six points if not for penalty. pic.twitter.com/wg0rNDZOMZ— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 24, 2019
While down 10 points in the third quarter, here the Ravens dial up a six-man pressure on third-and-6. The Chiefs have a five-man protection, so Baltimore is plus one. Mahomes is forced to exit the pocket. With no rusher outside of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Mahomes rolls to the boundary on his right.
Mahomes tries to find Hardman on the deep over, getting rid of the ball as he moves away from pressure. The ball is intercepted. Luckily, defensive pass interference is called and the Chiefs eventually score a touchdown on the drive.
If not for the PI flag, the turnover could have cost the Chiefs dearly in what wound up being a close game.
The positive on this play, however, is that Mahomes’ movement is much improved from last week. You’re starting to see him get back to creating out-of-structure plays with less strain.
What’s amazing is that despite the aggressive plays down the field, Mahomes hasn’t put too many balls at risk — as we would usually expect to see. He’s been decisive, confident and opportunistic — but not reckless. It really puts into perspective how good his season has been — and how the process is driving the results.
Nothing about what this kid is doing is fluky.