During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 33-27 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes made some uncharacteristically bad plays — but in between those plays was a solid performance.
Or was it the other way around?
In any case, there were more errors than we’re accustomed to seeing from a player who went into the game with only two interceptions — that is, before CBS play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz jinxed him.
Mahomes ended up throwing three interceptions against the Dolphins — and took some questionable sacks, too. It was a weird game, where some plays in which Mahomes usually finds success just didn’t work. Essentially, we saw some of the rare negative byproducts of his normal process.
Let’s look at some of the ups and downs of Mahomes’ uncharacteristic — but ultimately productive — performance against Miami.
You live with these plays
Mahomes knows few boundaries — but he found a couple of them on Sunday.
The very, very infrequent downside of the way Mahomes tries extends plays. You just live with the few times a year this happens.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
Play 1: Thought he could get to edge and didn't.
Play 2: Tried to find something back into the field and ran out of time. Normal QBs just throw away. pic.twitter.com/04WbKB2n5d
Usually, we see Mahomes create opportunities from plays like these two. But against Miami, both resulted in sacks.
You just have live with these plays.
Mahomes knows better than anyone what he can (and cannot) pull off. Usually, he makes fantastic decisions in this kind of chaos; his process has a remarkable success rate. But in these two plays, the process failed.
In the first snap, Mahomes simply thinks he can get outside of the pass rusher and create something from the situation. We’ve seen this same path in the pocket many times — starting in one direction, then rolling out the opposite way. (Think about the game against the San Francisco 49ers during his first season as a starter). Here, he just overestimates his ability to get to the edge.
In the second play, Mahomes is holding on to the ball a little too long so that he can throw it back into the middle of the field. Again, you have to live with this play — because Mahomes has broken the norms of what you should (and shouldn’t) do in this situation. A conventional quarterback would simply throw the ball out of bounds and live to play another day. (I even said so during the broadcast).
While that’s probably what Mahomes should have done here, the fact that he didn’t is part of what makes him so special. In situations like this, he’s usually able to hold on, giving plays additional chances to succeed in creative ways. He does this better than anyone who has ever played the game.
The Chiefs shouldn’t be trying to coach these kinds of decisions out of Mahomes. Instead, they should slightly re-calibrate what he should (and shouldn’t do) in these situations.
Here’s an example of why you don’t want to take away any of Mahomes’ creativity — or his willingness to make a play: he’s almost always going to reward you with exceptional plays.
Phenomenal throw by Mahomes. Makes it look easy.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
What I love about this play though is the eyes out of the play action. He's ready to roll because he gets his eyes on the front side end early. He had a plan to escape, and it was getting out early. Rolled to Kelce. Great play. pic.twitter.com/YUEtkqlPAL
Here — out of the play action — he does great work by keeping his eyes out on the edge early in the play; he’s immediately ready to go off-script because he is looking out to the edge. He’s prepared to bounce out of the pocket — and equally as prepared to throw the ball to tight end Travis Kelce. He rolls with the flow of the play — quickly finding the tight end working across the field — and making a difficult throw look easy. He isn’t thinking. Instead, he is playing.
INSANE.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
Dolphins try to get Mahomes with sim pressure, dropping two (one being big Christian Wilkins) to take away anything short in the middle of the field.
Doesn't matter. Mahomes lofts the ball up and over the dropping defenders to Hill.
Poise. Touch. Excellent. pic.twitter.com/mwLjTM0OTL
On this play — a big third-and-8 in the second half — Mahomes is bold and confident. The Dolphins try to get him with sim pressure, bringing four rushers and a green dog — a safety who will peel off with the running back if the back doesn’t stay in to pass-protect — and dropping defensive lineman Christian Wilkins and linebacker Kamau Grugier-Hill into shallow zones to read the quarterback’s eyes and create traffic to prevent easy completions in the middle of the field. Mahomes is unfazed by this great defensive look, calmly lobbing a ball with perfect touch over the dropping defenders to Tyreek Hill — and gaining 13 yards to extend the drive. Fantastic play.
Let’s get this out of the way, shall we?
The Mahomes interception montage is as a rare sighting but here we go.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
1st: Botched Y-Middle screen (run it a few too many times maybe?), Van Ginkel falls, gets up, tips ball
2nd: Sailed it over CEH
3rd: Probably slight underthrow but wow, Xavien Howard pic.twitter.com/cf7ZkX4pnb
It’s very uncommon to see a three-interception performance from Mahomes.
On the first pick, the Chiefs try one of the staples of Andy Reid’s offense: a Y-Middle screen. The Dolphins do a great job holding things up in the middle of the field. Linebacker Andrew Van Ginkle falls, but gets back up — and into the passing lane — just enough to tip the pass up in the air. Mahomes is either trying to beat Van Ginkle before he pops up — or doesn’t think he will. Either way, it’s a turnover.
On the second, it’s once again something you live with. Mahomes’ feet aren’t well-positioned, so he sails a ball over Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s head. We know Mahomes can throw and complete passes from a variety of platforms and arm angles — including this one. Normally, it works. This time, it doesn’t.
On the third interception, Mahomes is simply trying to give one of the NFL’s best receivers a chance to make a play with a fade against one the league’s better cornerbacks. A slight underthrow gives Xavien Howard a chance to make a play — and he makes a remarkable one. Maybe Mahomes could make a better throw to avoid the pick — but it’s not an egregious miss. Credit has to be given to Howard for his fantastic play.
At least the Chiefs were able to bring their red zones woes to a halt on Sunday.
A red zone touchdown!— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
Andy Reid has no issues cutting the field in half with Mahomes in the red zone on sprint outs. He trusts that he'll find something in congested areas - and he does.
Running out of real estate, finds Kelce working to space. He doesn't need much to create. pic.twitter.com/IootHc5qko
As we see here, Reid has has no qualms with sprinting his quarterback out of the pocket in the red zone, getting Mahomes into the boundary with Hill and Kelce. Nothing opens up immediately, but Reid is trusting that his quarterback can find a solution in a very tight area — just as he did in last year’s playoff game against Houston. Running out of room on the sideline, Mahomes fires a ball to Kelce as he is working to space. Six points.
Great play design, execution.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 15, 2020
Half field read with the sprint out off of the PA. Safety was not ready for Tyreek Hill's speed on the post - Mahomes lofts a perfect ball over the top for an explosive TD. pic.twitter.com/FbuY7GKTOQ
Plenty of things weren’t clean during Sunday’s game — but this play certainly is. Its design and execution are outstanding.
The Chiefs once again get Mahomes out of the pocket from play action — running the line and back all the way away from the quarterback. Kelce stays in to block. Mahomes has a half-field read after he sprints out of the action. The safety is too flat-footed, failing to account for Hill’s speed over the top. Mahomes lofts a ball perfectly over the top into Hill’s hands for an easy touchdown. Across the board, it’s a sound play for the Chiefs.
I did a video breakdown on a staple rub concept that Reid and company run. You can watch it here:
The Chiefs brought out one of their staple rub concepts against the Dolphins.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) December 14, 2020
They got their man coverage ID without having to motion, and CEH got out of the backfield quick to beat the Dolphins sorting through the rub.
Great call, great execution.
Sound On pic.twitter.com/qsbkPxLObt