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Film review: Patrick Mahomes begins the season with an MVP-level performance

On Sunday, Kansas City’s superstar quarterback once again showed the world why he is the NFL’s best player.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Right when you thought that maybe Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes couldn’t get any better... maybe he just did.

In reviewing his film from this past Sunday’s season opener against the Cleveland Browns, there were some encouraging signs of improvement. Months from now — when we’re talking about who should be 2021’s NFL MVP — this game should be part of the conversation. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why.

Patience against deep zone coverage

Coming off last season’s losses in Super Bowl LV — and to the Las Vegas Raiders during the regular season — Mahomes suggested that he was sometimes too aggressive in trying to force plays down the field. Rather than take the quick, short gains that those defenses left for the taking by playing conservative zone coverages, he often tried to extend plays to create explosive completions 20 or more yards downfield — with little success.

During the summer, this was one particular area in which Mahomes said he intended to improve — and so far, the returns have been good.

These efficient, intelligent decisions are important because they keep an offense ahead of schedule. When Mahomes does what he can to ensure the team is in third-and-short situations, he enables head coach Andy Reid (and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy) to keep the playbook wide open. It also prevents opposing defenses from simply teeing off on Mahomes — as they could in third-and-long scenarios where passing plays are essentially guaranteed.

Trust in the interior offensive line

This season, we can already see the commitment Mahomes is making to stepping up in the pocket more frequently, rather than drifting backward from the line of scrimmage.

Against Cleveland, superb performances in pass protection by offensive linemen Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith made Mahomes’ transition to this new style of play even more seamless.

Frequently escaping through the B gap (between an offensive tackle and guard) enables Mahomes to stress defenses more than he could in any other way. It’s something that Aaron Rodgers has done at an elite level for years — and Mahomes continues to take it to another level.

Chemistry with Hill and Kelce

Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce are already likely to go down in history as one of the game’s greatest trios of offensive playmakers. But if Sunday’s game was a sign of things to come, their best may yet lie ahead.

In terms of their approach to covering them, Cleveland didn’t treat Kelce or Hill like the special talents they are — and they paid for that mistake. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see which tight ends or wide receivers will step up when defenses commit greater resources toward limiting these two dynamic players.

Vintage Mahomes

In the just-for-your-viewing pleasure category, we have several plays from Sunday where Mahomes exhibits some of the unique playmaking capabilities that set him apart from so many other quarterbacks.

There are small aspects to Mahomes’ game that are often overshadowed — but they all add up to making him who he is. His subtle ability to almost always throw the football to a receiver where it creates the greatest potential for yards after the catch is yet another way he helps keep the offense ahead of the sticks.

Lastly, there’s no one better at keeping their eyes up amidst chaos around them. It is one of the traits that made Mahomes such an alluring prospect coming out of Texas Tech in 2017.

Areas for improvement

While talking to the Kansas City media on Wednesday, Mahomes suggested that he is still working to reduce the depth of his dropbacks. This key play toward the end of the Cleveland game provides a good example.

Since Mahomes is surrounded by an entirely new set of starting offensive linemen, this sort of thing is bound to happen. But it should only get better with time and repetition.

The bottom line

Kansas City’s offensive players and coaching staff deserve plenty of credit for how they performed against the Browns, scoring on six of their nine offensive drives. But no one played at a higher level than their quarterback.

Now we’re on to the next game against the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. Every single time No. 15 takes the field, remember to appreciate what you are witnessing.