The Kansas City Chiefs won Super Bowl LIV over a week ago. Even now, it still hasn’t fully settled in.
I was in Miami for the game. While I was unable to be in the stadium, I was able to watch it with hundreds of other Chiefs fans. It was a bit of a new sensation for me. Usually, I have control of how close I am to the television and how often I can replay something. I also have the freedom to talk in my own head about what I’m seeing. In Miami, however, it was entirely different. So I did my best to remove my analytical hat and simply enjoy the ups and downs of the game as a fan.
Now that I’m back home, I’ve been able to put my hat back on, go through the game a few times and break down everything that happened. Let’s focus on some of offensive film nuggets that caught my eye.
MVP from the start
No slight is intended towards Damien Williams or any other player. But after watching the game film, there is zero doubt about the identity of most valuable player for either team: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. From the opening series, it was clear that the Chiefs were going win (or lose) the game because of Mahomes — and no one else.
For the "Pat Mahomes was awful through 3Qs" crowd:— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
- Sprint out, manipulate hook/flat defender with eyes and pump. Quick re-gather and release for an accurate throw
- RPO - LB plays well w/ flat foot read just doesn't widen. No other QB gets that pass out that quick + velocity pic.twitter.com/wvy1tinEby
Judging Mahomes’ performance in any game — but especially this one — is often just about how often something amazing happens.
At first glance, these two throws from the second drive of the game look like modest gains; there’s not a lot to write home about. One is a rollout thrown to a hitch route. The other is a run-pass option (RPO) to a vague spacing route.
But just watch how Mahomes controls the defense, the platform from where he throws the ball and where he places it.
On the play-action sprint-out, the San Francisco 49ers defend the play well with a poach coverage, rolling their underneath coverage to the same side. But it doesn’t matter. As Mahomes rolls out, he attacks the line of scrimmage at a consistent speed — and while on the move, re-cocks to throw three different times.
He first starts his throwing motion — and brings it down — to force defenders to choose defending the run or the pass. Then — while still pressing forward — he pump-fakes towards Sammy Watkins on the outside. After moving the curl/flat defender with that move, he looks all the way inside — getting the closing hook defender to drift underneath the crossing route — before he throws the hitch to Tyreek Hill.
Not once during this rollout and throwing motion reset-athon — including the actual throw — does Mahomes tip the play by slowing down or turning his shoulders.
On the RPO, Fred Warner does a good job reading the play by faking a run fit — but stays flat-footed so he can hop back outside if Mahomes pulls the ball. That’s exactly what happens, but Mahomes just whistles the ball right over Warner’s outstretched hand.
Not only is the velocity (and location) of the pass impressive, but Mahomes’ release speed is second to none. On an RPO, no other NFL quarterback can get the ball out of their hands as quickly and accurately — or with as much velocity — as Mahomes. This 8-yard gain is modest, but Mahomes makes it happen.
Mahomes even came out in the 3rd Q balling.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 5, 2020
Can critique the flat being open quickly but that's Mahomes style. Escapes the pocket on bad rush lane control by SF then it's just magic.
Good route adjustment by Sammy but Mahomes eyes staying downfield, body control, & arm angle pic.twitter.com/4TgL77U076
Mahomes’ arm talent has numbed the league to plays that used to be considered Top-10 material.
On this play — after escaping a collapsing pocket — Mahomes is on the move with a closing defender chasing him. But it doesn’t matter. He keeps his eyes downfield and stays in full control of the field.
Without slowing down (or turning his shoulders until the last second), he’s able to pull up and hop away from the defender, delivering a strike to Watkins as he works back to the ball. The play is very nearly straight out of a baseball game — one that likely went overlooked by many because it is so routine for Mahomes — but make no mistake: it is a special play.
The option game
During the years Alex Smith was the team’s quarterback, Chiefs fans became accustomed to the option game — some of the fun wrinkles Andy Reid incorporated into his playbook. When Mahomes became the starter, a lot of those plays went into a folder in the back of a filing cabinet.
But as NFL defenses have played the Chiefs more and more passively, quarterback runs have opened up. Furthermore, in the Super Bowl, the 49ers newly-adopted wide-9 defensive alignment often left open running lanes — that is, when the Chiefs were able to handle the force player, who in this scenario is the defensive end.
Speed Option— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
Good design w/ RB away/to the str. Widens the SDE in pursuit and draws the WDE in tighter on his first step.
Pitching the ball accurately then letting the RB win a race is "easy". Waiting until the last second and forcing the DE to commit to you isn't. pic.twitter.com/Ag0lQjIbx2
Here we see a good old-fashioned speed option. But with the running back offset away from the play side, it helps widen out the back-side edge defender.
As Kwon Alexander comes with the rush, he has to stay wider than the running back — rather than attacking the quarterback’s midline. This gives the play time to develop. On the play side, the Chiefs could have Mitchell Schwartz try to reach-block Nick Bosa — but given Bosa’s wider alignment and emphasis on getting upfield, the Chiefs use this against him, instead having Schwartz climb immediately. That does leave Bosa unblocked, so Mahomes has to handle it. But he does so perfectly, forcing Bosa to commit. Then for Damien Williams, it just becomes a race to the sideline.
Counter Option to cap off a scoring drive that MAYBE ONE other QB in the NFL would have.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
Only a 1 yard run but the counter sell, then ball fake, then hesi just to be sure. pic.twitter.com/PLqUsYoNMT
Earlier in the game, the Chiefs scored on this counter option from the 1-yard line.
The back side of the offensive line looks like they are kicking out. That — combined with Williams’ first step to the left and Mahomes initially opening up to the left — gets the 49ers’ second level flowing the wrong way. As the play side of the offensive line blocks down, it leaves a single player to account for both the quarterback and running back. Mahomes does the rest.
There were other well-designed plays besides 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp. It’s just that some of them were inches away from being completed.
How unlucky but this is why KC WANTED to see man2man. Sherman and Kwon torched on their press, unlucky for KC that Kelce slips & forces Hill to re-direct.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
Good job by Mahomes to roll right so both throws are available and then to tuck it once Kelce is down. pic.twitter.com/QDczk0DYOX
Against the 49ers’ quarters coverage from their 3x1 looks, the Chiefs had struggled. But on this play in the red zone, they got man coverage.
Both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce have one-on-one matchups — and are working to attack the same deep zone defender. As both players beat their initial defender, Kelce breaks inside across the face of the deep defender while Hill cuts underneath him towards the pylon — probably to set up a downfield pick. But unfortunately, Kelce slips, forcing Hill to adjust his route and allowing the defense to cover the receivers.
RB Wheel— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
Get the RB matched up vs a flat defender and press vertical. Great throw from Mahomes but Dame just simply doesn't pick it up - looks like he looked back for the ball and Mahomes had already released it.
He finds the ball, that's an easy 6 because the throw was pic.twitter.com/z0lFB7xXJ8
Getting Williams matched up with Kwon Alexander — who has to defend the flat into the vertical — was another great piece of work.
Watkins creates traffic for Alexander but is working vertically to occupy the safety. Williams stutters and then continues on his wheel route — winning rather easily — and the ball is delivered perfectly.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the ball is thrown before Williams expects it; he never sees it and therefore can’t run underneath it.
PA Leak— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) February 4, 2020
Sammy fakes the down block and squirts out the other side, presses up the seam w/ defenders already taking on other assignments. SF plays it relatively well but Pat stands in, takes a shot, and drops a deep throw.
Between 3 defenders. pic.twitter.com/nwoS5QZdla
How about a play that worked? This season, both the Chiefs and 49ers had found success with play-action leak plays. So the Super Bowl sort of became a battle of such plays.
Unsurprisingly, the 49ers aren’t fooled on this play. They’re in a relatively good position to handle Sammy Watkins leaking vertically after he crosses the trenches. Using Williams in the flat forces both the cornerback and linebacker to hesitate, allowing Watkins to get behind them.
Still, not many quarterbacks would have the ability (or desire) to drop this ball into such a tight downfield window.
The bottom line
After hearing, watching and reading so many Super Bowl LIV recaps before being able to carefully re-watch the game, I fully expected to see more offensive struggles from the Chiefs. Instead, what I saw was the NFL’s top defense playing at a high level — and a quarterback playing at an even higher level, finding plenty of success moving the ball down the field. Even when they weren’t hitting, Mahomes had help with some nice play designs. His mobility also played a major role on scrambles and designed runs.
The Chiefs offense played at a high level throughout the game. Outside of the first drive, nearly every possession took the Chiefs into 49ers territory. Even at halftime, the Chiefs were a just few inches away from having the lead.
Check out this Twitter thread detailing more Super Bowl plays. Throughout the game — not just in the final quarter — Mahomes kept the Chiefs in the game, moving the ball nearly at will.