A team has yet to slow down a Patrick Mahomes offense for four quarters — but a couple have come close.
In Feburary, the San Francisco 49ers slowed him down for a little over three quarters of the Super Bowl. On Sunday, another team with similar strengths and scheme came along. The Los Angeles Chargers almost achieved game-long success — that is, until the best player in the world started doing some of the things we’ve all become accustomed to seeing over the first two years of his reign over the National Football League.
Make no mistake about it: Mahomes did not play well for a large portion of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 2 overtime victory in the new SoFi Stadium. In the first three quarters of the game, I charted nine off-target throws from Mahomes. Some of these were a response to the Chargers’ consistent pressure — but not all of them.
The pressure was bad — but it wasn’t entirely the fault of the offensive line, either. Give due credit to a very good Chargers defensive line. In addition, Mahomes was not always hitting the landmarks of the protection structure; sometimes he was gaining depth when he shouldn’t have been. It led to unnecessary hits and broken plays.
But remember: no one has been able to keep Mahomes down for four quarters. That didn’t change on Sunday. The fourth quarter and overtime belonged to the Super Bowl MVP — and ultimately, his late heroics were the difference between a win and a loss.
3rd and 20 with the Chiefs at minimum hoping to get into field goal range.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 22, 2020
Route distribution is deep or outside the numbers, leaving space for Mahomes to tuck and run if he can get out of the pocket.
Getting the first down was gravy, but this put them in FG range. pic.twitter.com/a9vjk0Byy2
Whether or not Mahomes was able to get a first down on this play, it was a smart decision to run — especially knowing the capabilities of Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker.
The way the routes are distributed on this play — both deep and outside the numbers — creates a gap in the middle of the field, leaving no one to account for the quarterback. The Chargers send five rushers, bringing cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on the front side. Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray is carrying Tyreek Hill vertically and has his back turned to the quarterback.
With the defense gaining depth (or outside the numbers), Mahomes elects to step up, tuck and run. He’s not met with much resistance until close to the line of gain, converting a first down to give the Chiefs a chance to score a touchdown in regulation.
Ultimately, the Chiefs would have to kick the field goal. But the smartest thing about this play is that Mahomes was able to get the Chiefs into manageable field goal range. Had he been stopped five yards earlier, it was still enough to put the Chiefs well inside Butker’s range.
This concept might look familiar to Chiefs fans who have watched Super Bowl highlights ad nauseam over a long offseason.
If this concept looks familiar, it's because it looks a lot like the play that bugged the Niners in the Super Bowl.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 22, 2020
Tyreek Hill threatens the MOF safety to turn his hips before flipping back to the corner.
Crazy anticipation, accuracy and arm talent from Patrick Lavon Mahomes. pic.twitter.com/CE6JF31UsF
This concept has shades of 2-3 Jet Chip Wasp — and while it has some tweaks, it plays out like the big play that sparked a World Championship.
The Chargers are playing Cover 1, dropping safety Desmond King underneath to take away the deep over that the Chiefs love to run with Hill. Structurally. it’s similar to the Cover 3 look the 49ers ran in the Super Bowl — just with players attached across the board.
White (#44) goes out with running back Darwin Thompson off the action. Perryman rushes Mahomes while tight end Nick Keizer stays in to block. Mahomes sprints out of the play action to force a throw. Essentially, the Chiefs don’t have time to run Wasp from the pocket — so they move the pocket.
Harris Jr. is playing outside leverage, knowing that his help on Hill is with King and middle- field safety Nasir Adderly over the top. Hill threatens Adderly enough in the middle of the field to get him to turn his hips and force a longer angle to the corner — effectively taking him out of the play. Harris Jr. plays the route extremely well.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, a perfect throw beats perfect coverage. Mahomes — on the run — delivers a laser to hit Hill away from the defenders, giving him enough space to roll into the end zone.
There was nothing Los Angeles could have done about it. One team had the best player in the world. The other... didn’t.
Following the touchdown pass, Mahomes found a way to fit a ball into a crowd around Mecole Hardman to get the critically-needed two-point conversion.
The 2 point conversion is better in slow motion.— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 22, 2020
The pump fake before the throw is crucial in slowing down the free rusher. Vision to see it and the athleticism to contort his body and throw back into the middle of the field is unreal. There is one guy that can make this play. pic.twitter.com/UH4VLCbZ6j
Even for Mahomes. this is an unbelievably creative play. There are five defenders surrounding Hardman — and the process to get the ball there is special.
In slow motion, you can appreciate it more. It starts with a pump fake that is effective enough to slow down the free rusher — Adderly — giving Mahomes time to throw the ball. The fake also makes King and White widen a step, giving Hardman a little more space. In the same motion, Mahomes is able to contort his body to throw back into the middle of the field between four defenders — and around Adderly. Credit to Hardman for being able to locate the ball; it’s far from easy in the congestion of the coverage.
Having the presence of mind to understand the landmarks of your receivers — and to manipulate defenders enough to create a window that really doesn’t exist for 31 other starting quarterbacks — is unreal. And considering this is a follow-up to a special throw for a touchdown, it might be the best two-play sequence of Mahomes’ young career.
Something you might have missed
This play won’t get the headlines or attention others will, but this a great throw from Mahomes to Hardman.
This is such an athletic throw from Mahomes. Unsteady base after the step up in traffic and he not only gets the ball out quickly but with great velocity. Special talent. pic.twitter.com/aqnvZMhhJ9— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 22, 2020
Mahomes doesn’t have much space here — or even time to reset his feet — but the work he does to throw from a variety of platforms affords him enough of both to get this ball to Hardman on a step-up — even with Melvin Ingram and Eric Fisher in his lap.
The step-up hadn’t been happening for the entire game — but in this instance, Mahomes pulls it off. While it’s not the prettiest play, Mahomes’ ability to get even get this off is impressive; it looks like Mahomes slightly shortened the release to facilitate getting the ball out on time. But even without a clean base from which to throw, the ball explodes off his hand.