Dispelling Narratives About Patrick Mahomes

One of the biggest frustrations fans have faced lately is the recent decline in Patrick Mahomes' play...over the last 5 or so games, we've witnessed levels of mortality from the seemingly-immortal QB that have a lot of us feeling some mixture of frustrated, concerned, and helplessness. How did such an amazing talent suddenly become so ordinary?

The narratives are starting to flow fast and furious...made worse by the soundbites contributed by TV broadcasters who're forced to say something about what we're seeing, but still fit those descriptions in between the on-field action....this leads to very broad generalizations that fans hear and internalize.

Between our own frustrations and the unhelpful additions of broadcasters, some of the more outrageous narratives that have started to creep up around Mahomes are:

  • "2 deep shells" are some kind of kryptonite that Mahomes simply doesn't know how to deal with....he doesn't understand what he's seeing.
  • Mahomes processes defenses too slowly to react when his first deep read isn't available.
  • Mahomes has mechanical flaws that prevent him from making the reads and throws he needs.
  • His success has been a function of Reid's and Eric Bieniemy's scheme. That scheme has declined, leaving Mahomes helpless unless he's playing backyard football.
Unfortunately, none of these narratives are true...and there's evidence to prove it.

First, let's talk about what we mean by "2 deep shells". We're talking about a range of defensive coverages that all feature 2 deep defenders (usually safeties) on either side of the hashes. A better way to refer to those coverages is by using the term a lot of teams use...MOFO (Middle Of the Field Open) coverages, which refers to the fact that the two deep defenders leave the middle and seams roughly open in their base form.

This isn't a single's a family of coverages that includes:

  • Cover 2 (including Tampa 2) - a zone coverage with 2 deep defenders and 5-6 defenders flooding underneath zones
  • Cover 2 Man/Man Under - 2 deep defenders, with everyone else in man coverage
  • Cover 4 - a zone coverage where 2 additional defenders (usually the corners) carry their receivers into a deep zone on vertical routes, resulting in 4 total deep zone defenders
In the modern game, all of those coverages usually feature some measure of man-matching, man locks (where one defender will man up a specific receiver rather than play their zone), and coverage checks.

What's important about that piece of Football 101 is that none of those coverages are new...either within the league, or new to Mahomes and the Chiefs. All of those coverages have existed for decades, and both the staff and Mahomes have not only seen them before, they've correctly read and reacted to them before. They didn't just pop into existence this year specifically to deal with the Chiefs offense.

(Note...all screengrabs, labeling, and linked videos below are the work of the incomparable Brett Kollmann; he had already done this work, and he's much smarter with film than I'll ever be.)

Here's an example of Mahomes correctly reading and reacting to a late-developing, well-disguised MOFO look in his 3rd career start....against Pittsburgh in Week 2 of 2018. I strongly recommend watching the video (starting at 2:00) if you can...again, Brett's explanation of what's happening is amazing.

This is from a 1st-quarter red zone play in that Week 2 2018 game. The Steelers come out in a Cover 1 look. Cover 1 is a MOFC (Middle Of the Field Closed) or "single high" defense that features 1 deep defender in the middle of the field, man coverage across the board, and 1 "extra" defender that can either blitz or drop into a middle zone.

Mahomes reads Cover 1 because he sees the MOFC look from the safety...this means the coverage is most likely either Cover 1 or Cover 3. He also sees 3 corners on one side of the field lined up over the 3 WR, with the SS lined up on Kelce....a strong tell for man coverage (and thus Cover 1):

Steelers Pre Snap

Steelers Pre Snap

Mahomes reacts to this look by changing the protection and moving Kareem Hunt to the other side of the formation to give himself answers for either of the "extra" defenders that could be blitzing. He also motions Hill across the formation as a final check...a corner follows Hill's motion, confirming the man coverage:

Steelers Last Pre Snap Look

Steelers Last Pre Snap Look

Except it's not man coverage at all...after the snap, the Steelers roll to a MOFO Tampa 2 zone coverage, with the extra wrinkle of inverting the normal coverages assignments on one side and having the safety play the flat and the corner drop into the deep half zone:

Steelers Post Snap Roll

Steelers Post Snap Roll

All of the pre-snap assumptions, changes, and checks Mahomes made are now invalid, and he must read and react to the new look on the fly.

Based on the route concepts called for the play, Mahomes immediately realizes that he only has one viable route left...a seam to Kelce...and that he must adjust his throw from the high, back of the endzone throw he would have made against the original man look to a lower bullet pass in front of the goal line to avoid the converging defenders:

Steelers Throw

Steelers Throw

Touchdown Chiefs.

Remember, this example is from Mahomes 3rd career start. In the example, he correctly read, diagnosed, and made changes to a pre-snap look. He reacted in real time to a roll to the dreaded MOFO coverage, and not only chose the correct route but chose and executed the exact right kind of throw for Kelce to score.

  • Mahomes isn't confused by MOFO or "2 deep" coverages.
  • He's clearly capable of reading and processing defenses quickly.
  • He's clearly capable of making the correct throw for those coverages.
  • He's clearly not dependent on Reid's or Bieniemy's scheme...he had to make this adjustment on his own, independent on scheme.
  • And he also clearly doesn't have to roll out or play backyard football to make it all work...he did all of this from within the pocket.

We don't really have a solid handle yet on what exactly is going on with Mahomes or the offense. It's not clear what's changed from then to now to make our current offensive performance such a grind. But those easy narratives aren't the answer.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.