The performance of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense this preseason can be explained as simply as this: Three drives, three touchdowns — all coming by way of a pass by quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
For a little more detail: the three possessions took 35 snaps in total; 18 of those were plays that either moved the chains for a first down or scored a touchdown. They were successful on all seven third-down conversion attempts — and even though he was hit a few times in Week 1, Mahomes was never taken down for a sack.
No matter how you look at it, Mahomes and the offense appear to be clicking as well as you can ask for at this point of the 2022 campaign. Saturday was a more extended look than the previous game, but the highlight of the day still came from the same player: wide receiver Justin Watson.
Justin Watson was go-to route to beat the blitz on 3rd&10— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) August 21, 2022
Kelce chips, leaving him to just be the checkdown. 1-high S anticipates a quick throw at sticks to MVS based on situation, leaving Watson w/ plenty of room over top
Gets to open space fast knowing throw will be quick pic.twitter.com/9SIyBUr9Qa
After a scoring grab last week, Watson hauled in a Mahomes pass to gain 39 yards and convert a third-and-10 in this game’s opening possession. The pass play beat a blitz that knocked Mahomes down after he threw, but it was a big play to set up the first touchdown.
When talking to reporters after Saturday’s game, Mahomes credited Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo for helping him be ready for an unexpected blitz.
“Luckily enough for us, Spags has a lot of different blitzes,” Mahomes acknowledged. “Sometimes there are guys open and I have to trust them to be in their spots quicker than normal. So we’ve done that over training camp. They gave me the old fire-zone blitz where they drop the big guys and bring the little guys, which you don’t see a lot in the preseason so it got me. I was able to throw it to a spot, and Watson did a great job of getting to that spot on time and making a big-time catch.”
Watson was fast to the spot of the catch, realizing he was the primary target once the blitz was on. He got there quickly because he was confident in where he was supposed to be — because of the chemistry that he and Mahomes have built this offseason.
“He has the option to kind of run a basic two and in, cut it across the middle or take the middle,” Mahomes explained. “During training camp, he ran that in cut, and I threw it to that spot, and he learned from it. So in the game now, he’s there. When those guys are learning on the fly like that and not making the same mistakes, I can trust those guys to be in the right spots and make the plays happen.”
There’s no doubt that Watson has earned the trust of Mahomes. You can tell by how tall he stood in the pocket as he delivered the pass, knowing an untouched blitzer was full steam ahead towards him.
It’s not only on designed plays that Mahomes shows trust in Watson; on a second-possession scramble, Mahomes found Watson over the middle for a third-down conversion. As lucky as it can look at times, that was built on the practice field this summer.
“It was funny we work scramble drills and stuff like that,” Mahomes began. “We talk about it and we go through the mechanics of it and you have to get to certain spots and I think (Justin) Watson, he said ‘usually when you scramble you’re supposed to go with the quarterback and I’m realizing with you sometimes you’re supposed to go away from it’. He’s kind of learned me a little bit in that sense and we’ve worked those drills for those moments.”
Watson was one of eight receivers that Mahomes targeted on Saturday, another impressive display of diversity in the group after connecting with six different pass catchers in Week 1.
Watson wasn’t the only player to earn the praises of Mahomes from their Saturday performance. After a shaky Week 1, the offensive line was exceptional at protecting Mahomes as he threw. There were no sacks or quarterback hits, and there really wasn’t any pressure either.
“The offensive line played tremendous today,” Mahomes emphasized. “That’s a really good defensive line, and they blocked — gave me a ton of time. There were times where I scrambled only because there wasn’t anything open down the field. The pockets were amazing, I was patting it two or three times. If they block like that, we’re going to be a hard offense to stop. When you have that much time in the pocket, good things usually happen.”
The lone holding call on the starting unit was credited to right tackle Andrew Wylie, but it’s fair to spread some blame to Mahomes. He escaped a clean pocket to the right, and Wylie’s defender suddenly disengaged in reaction to it, which made Wylie’s grasp inside turn into a grab of the jersey as he tugged away.
So it was a clean day for the group, although the run game wasn’t very effective. It’s hard to say if the line or the backs deserve more blame for that, but head coach Andy Reid gave them at least a slice of the fault.
“That’s a talented defensive front,” Coach Reid told reporters in his post-game press conference. “I thought it’d be a good measuring stick for us at this time of the year, and I think they handled themselves well. We could do better in the run-game part of it, but the pass game was pretty efficient.”
There’s no doubt the run game has some kinks to buff out — but it’s hard to feel any pessimism about the passing attack. All of this success, and two exciting pieces of the offense like Juju Smith-Schuster and Skyy Moore haven’t even caught a Mahomes pass in live action.
We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg for Kansas City’s aerial attack this year.