It was great to get a legitimate look at the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-team offense in the preseason Week 2 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes took snaps from behind the starting offensive line for the team’s first three possessions. The first was a 15-play drive that ended in a field goal. A three-and-out followed, and then Mahomes’ night finished on another 15-play drive that bled into the second quarter.
He finished with 10 completions on 18 attempts, totaling 73 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 43.3. For the most part, he executed quick passes — especially in short-yardage conversion scenarios. The drop-back passes targeting intermediate and deep routes failed to have consistent pocket presence and accuracy.
As the offensive line’s performance dwindled last season due to talent and injury, so did Mahomes’ confidence in the pocket. One bad tendency he began to show was drifting too far back on his pass-drop — and then trying to escape to the outside rather than stepping up into the pocket.
Mahomes showed pocket presence tendencies on Friday we saw in 2020 -- when he didn't trust the IOL to create a wall for him to step up behind— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 23, 2021
Drifts too far backwards after 3-step drop, attempts escape outside of Niang's deep pass set rather than stepping up into pocket #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/iSXius9pqf
Unfortunately, that tendency appeared in Friday night’s preseason game. On the last snap of the night for Mahomes, he took a three-step drop — but rather than staying at the depth of his initial drop, he drifted backward another few yards. This allows the defensive ends to get a better angle on their edge rush and forces Mahomes to scramble around outside.
If he shortened the drop-back to the depth it should be, the offensive tackle had good leverage in their pass sets to keep the ends outside of the pocket. The interior didn’t have a perfect wall built, but there was room to step up to the right.
Last season, he may not have believed in the interior offensive line’s ability to keep the front of the pocket clean — but there should be more confidence in this year’s group to get that done.
3rd&2, Pat immediately ID's open patch of grass and runs for 1st. Smart, safe play in reg szn— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 24, 2021
For preszn: 1. Stay in pocket, go through progression & 2. Not take a hit . You see Mecole pop wide open on the slant.
No penetration from pass-rush #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/kQhHosLXo9
On this third-and-short from the third possession, the play-call was a quick pass where Mahomes should take a quick drop and throw. However, Mahomes recognized a lane for him to run for the first down, so he ignores the route and scrambles for the conversion.
First of all, this kind of play in a meaningful game is smart; instead of risking a bad ball or a dropped pass, Mahomes easily moves the chains, and the drive continues. In a preseason game, I’d like to see Mahomes stay in his drop and attempt the pass if it’s there. Wide receiver Mecole Hardman was open on a slant from the slot, and the ball should’ve been on him.
Plus, Mahomes takes a very unnecessary hit on the scramble. I believe this play also speaks to the lack of comfort or feel Mahomes had in the pocket on Friday night. No reason to put himself in harm's way — especially when the called play was open and would’ve been a first down and more.
On passes attempted 10 or more air yards downfield, Mahomes had no completions on five attempts. While some incompletions could be interpreted as a miscommunication between the quarterback and his receiver, there were routine passes that Mahomes made look more difficult.
Mecole said after the game that he could've caught this, but his QB could've helped him— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 24, 2021
The ball should be low on Mecole's body. The DB has a better chance of jarring ball loose if it's up high rather than low where Mecole can bring it into his body and go to the ground w/ it pic.twitter.com/KGpKGMw62F
Hardman runs a great route on a goal-to-go play, beating a defensive back on an out-breaking route. He’s open, but Mahomes is late to throw — and he makes the attempted catch way more difficult than it needs to be. The placement of his throw was high enough to where Hardman had to outstretch to get his hands on it.
This pass needs to be lower, so Hardman can more easily bring the ball into his body — preventing the defender from having a way to jar it loose — and go to the ground. He’s in the end zone; he doesn’t need to catch it on the run.
Just another example of Mahomes looking off. A routine out-route, Mahomes has the arm strength to put this on a rope and give Pringle a chance to get up the sideline— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 24, 2021
Instead, his ball comes out with touch on it - and it takes a great, reaching grab by Pringle to complete #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/NJVB1NOWIB
He really tried to rifle in the throw to Hardman in the end zone rather than taking a little off to make it a more accurate pass. On the third possession, Mahomes did the opposite: on an out route to wide receiver Byron Pringle, Mahomes appears to put some touch on the ball, and it nearly goes over Pringle’s head. It took an incredible, reaching grab by him to complete the pass.
Mahomes’ absolutely has the arm strength to complete this pass how it should be: a bullet that hits the receiver in stride, so he has a chance to turn up the sideline. The only time he should put this kind of touch on an out route is if he’s trying to complete it over a trailing defender — which, if that’s the case, probably shouldn’t be thrown in the first place.
These are plays that the quarterback should easily make. Instead, he made the job of the targeted receiver much harder than it could have been.
The bottom line
Outside of the red zone, Mahomes executed the offense. He had multiple short-yardage conversions on third and fourth downs, he put the ball where it needed to be on screens and shorter passes, but it felt obvious that he was not playing as comfortably as he usually does.
It’s the preseason, so this experience can only help him be ready for Week 1. It’s smart not to take too much away from his performance — but it’s okay to acknowledge that he had an off night.