As the Kansas City Chiefs handled the Arizona Cardinals in their 44-21 victory during Week 1, quarterback Patrick Mahomes was noticeably locked in.
His production bore that out. He racked up a league-leading 364 yards and five touchdowns — but you could also see it as he marched the offense up and down the field during any of the team’s seven scoring drives.
He had help from clean pass protection, plus good performances from pass-catchers — but there was a look in Mahomes’ eye. After he casually tossed his fourth touchdown of the afternoon, he wanted the Cardinals’ defense to know his updated stat line.
The Chiefs’ quarterback was feeling himself to open the season. Let’s take a closer look at what went into his confident performance:
Most NFL defenses know the rule: don’t blitz Mahomes. Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph doesn’t live under a rock — but on Sunday, he called his defense as if he does. In fairness, we should remind ourselves that he was shorthanded on his defensive front, forcing him to find other ways to create pressure.
The Cardinals blitzed on 24 of Mahomes’ 41 dropbacks in the game. The Kansas City quarterback countered with 16 completions on 23 attempts on those snaps, throwing all five touchdowns while also moving the chains eight other times. He was not sacked once.
Even though Arizona made things simpler with a heavy dose of blitzing, the ease with which Mahomes beat it during the opening week of a season — while dealing with multiple new faces in his receiving corps — was incredible.
But first... he relied upon a familiar face.
AZ blitzed a lot. Back to back fire zones on the opening drive. The first looked like a TD to Mecole, but this one was as simple as finding 87— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
Routes are open to right, but doesn't want to throw into free blitzer. Knows he'll have Kelce waiting in space backside pic.twitter.com/fLwVEWFwuN
Here, Arizona brings pressure from the right edge, where Mahomes initially wants to throw. The routes are open behind the blitz, which could tempt Mahomes to try lobbing it over — but instead, he quickly pivots back to where he knows tight end Travis Kelce is operating. Once Kelce clears coverage, the ball is out before the rush can get home.
A little example of Mahomes feeling himself— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
This play action will end in a quick dump off to the receiver coming across the LOS most of the time, it's Mecole here
Pat will could've taken the safer option on 2nd&goal, but went for the kill shot. Perfect placement pic.twitter.com/czOzwdKZKF
Later in the same drive, Mahomes goes to Kelce again — even though the routine execution for this play-action scheme is to target the receiver coming across into the flat. The extra rusher gets on Mahomes quickly, but it’s too late; the gunslinger has already confirmed the leverage Kelce has on his defender and is already lobbing it up to the spot where only Kelce can come down with it.
The highlight of this play is the lack of attention Mahomes gives to 260-pound defensive end Markus Golden — who coming right at his face; he flicks the touch pass like there’s no one in his vicinity.
Mahomes' calmness -- both in the pocket and in his delivery -- against the blitz yesterday was evident.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
No panic or rush waiting for Kelce to find the window as the blitzers closed in pic.twitter.com/60KGHqKWlv
As the Chiefs drove for a field goal before halftime, Mahomes once again made the blitz look like it wasn’t there.
This time, he manipulates the blitz off the left edge by dropping to a deeper depth, then timing a subtle step up to perfectly negate that rushing angle. The open space in the front of the pocket gives him the platform for a flick-of-the-wrist pass to Kelce as he breaks open into a throwing window.
As he avoids the pressure, Mahomes never takes his eyes away from what’s happening downfield.
Even when the target isn’t as clear to Mahomes as they were in those plays, he was still able to fit the ball into the places where he wanted it to go.
AZ tries a zone blitz that drops Golden into a short zone. The pass concept targets that area of the coverage. The short crosser grabs Golden's attention, while Mahomes fires it right past him on the deeper crossing pattern #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/Ug3xkGuFQN— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
On this second-and-long play, Arizona drops Golden into a short zone — right where two high and low crossing routes are developing in Kansas City’s pass concept. Being in position to defend the higher route — and come up on the lower one — Golden is occupying the space pretty well. But Mahomes doesn’t care. He whizzes it by Golden’s ear to wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who is running right behind the defensive end.
Everything working in concert on this 35-yard gain by Kelce— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
13-personnel run action holds the playside LB enough for Kelce to get over the top on Y-Cross. A well-managed pocket allows timing and throw to be perfect pic.twitter.com/cB2edviQXj
On this big first-down play to open the second half, the Chiefs want the Cardinals to think run — so they line up with three tight ends and show play action. The run fake holds the linebackers enough for Kelce to get behind them on a deep crossing pattern. There isn’t much room to fit the ball into Kelce’s hands — trailing in coverage, the linebacker makes up a lot of ground — but Mahomes’ throw looks like it’s executed on air.
On the opening drive, we saw our first connection between Mahomes and Juju Smith-Schuster.
One of the unfair qualities Mahomes has at QB is how quickly he can read, reset and trigger after turning his back to the defense pic.twitter.com/MnXliSRtfV— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
You’ll see plenty of quarterbacks execute the spin out of an edge pressure like this. But ask yourself this: how many of them are resetting as quickly — and throwing as powerfully as Mahomes does — just a split-second after having their backs to the defense?
It speaks to how unbelievably fast Mahomes processes a defense, how well he knows the routes (and where everyone is supposed to be) at a given point in the play.
When I come out of this game thinking Mahomes is incredibly confident, it's because of a play like this— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) September 12, 2022
No sweat as the rush bears down. He's just waiting for the perfect time to flick the ball to a place only Fortson can (and will) get it
Then he lets em know about it pic.twitter.com/ykapKX4Mtg
The fourth touchdown of the day might have been the most confident throw of them all.
This play is set up for Mahomes to fake a quick look right, then come back to one of the crossing patterns executed by tight ends Jody Fortson and Travis Kelce. He executes the fake, sees rushers beelining for him — and then, off his back foot as he’s sandwiched between two rushers — he casually flips it out in front of Fortson. The ball goes to where only Fortson can catch it. Touchdown.
Don’t mistake this casual-looking throw for poor mechanics. This is an uber-confident Mahomes reminding the world that he can make it look easy. Go off, King!
The bottom line
With his Week 1 performance, Patrick Mahomes wanted to make a statement. And he did. But most NFL teams aren’t going to blitz him on nearly 60% of his dropbacks for a game. In fact, some teams won’t blitz him at all.
It will be important to see him manufacture these highlight-reel plays against a conservative defense that tests his patience more — like most of the AFC’s defenses have learned to do.
Either way, Week 1 did nothing but raise Mahomes’ confidence as he and his teammates head into the home opener: Thursday Night Football against the Los Angeles Chargers.