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Film review: How Patrick Mahomes dealt with high pressure rate from Chargers defense

In a trickledown effect Chiefs fans do not want to see, offensive line struggles led to overall inefficiency Thursday night.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

If one simply viewed Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ stat line from his Week 2 heavyweight matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, he or she might think ho-hum, business as usual. After all, Mahomes did complete 68.5% of his throws for 235 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and a 106.2 passer rating.

What could be wrong?

Those that watched the game know it was much, much more challenging than that. In this film review, we will examine how Mahomes executed while detailing the other factors that led to some of his great plays as well as some decisions he likely wants back.

Instant pressure makes a mortal of any QB

Through two games of the season, the Chiefs have been blitzed at an alarmingly high rate. According to NFL’s Next Gen stats, they have faced a blitz on 45.3% of dropbacks so far this year. Mahomes saw blitzes on just 12% of his pass plays in 2021.

It seems to be working in terms of how it is impacting the offensive line. For whatever reason(s), they have looked caught off guard, perhaps unprepared for some of the exotic pressures thrown at them by the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.

The big takeaway we can lay out from the start is Mahomes was hit early and often by Chargers defenders — this led Mahomes to not trust the blockers in front of him long enough for offensive play concepts to develop. Rather than risk taking a sack or trying to extend the play in other ways, more than a few times, he put the football at great risk to avoid more hits.

Moving forward, the offensive line will have to adapt and be much better than they were. Even when they are struggling, you don’t want to see the decision-making of the quarterback fall off to this degree. On a positive note, there are answers available to better combat the things Kansas City struggled with in this game: they have the coaches and players to make it happen — but more on that later.

Execution and decision-making issues are magnified against a divisional opponent like the Chargers too, as they are so familiar with some of Kansas City’s go-to plays in various spots of the field.

Some of the plays below are ones the Chiefs often run to a tremendous degree of success, but Los Angeles had them pegged down both in terms of physical presence and mental processing of what the Chiefs were trying to do in real time.

After watching this game live, the biggest theme coming from a lot of the fan base and football analysts seemed to be Kansas City possibly having issues at wide receiver. That may turn out to be true; time will tell.

There’s no denying the Chargers' talent level in their defensive secondary is right on par or above what the Chiefs are presenting with their pass catchers. However, the ability of these receivers to get open and establish viable target options for Mahomes was very far down the list of issues that caused No. 15 and the offense to look so out of rhythm throughout the game.

It started with a lack of a great plan for Los Angeles’ blitz-heavy approach on a short week of preparation, leading to poor overall offensive line execution, followed by Mahomes not feeling comfortable enough to confidently go through his reads. What he will most need to correct is not forcing questionable throws that can potentially lead to costly turnovers. The receivers and any qualms regarding their performance should come after all those formerly discussed problems.

How they can improve

During the live contest, head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy elected to often leave in sixth or seventh blockers to try slowing down the pass rush of the Chargers. One problem with the approach is if you have to leave in extra blockers and Kelce is going to command the level of attention for key downs (as seen in the next clip), someone has to win their one-on-one matchup outside.

Credit to wide receiver Justin Watson, who took advantage of cornerback J.C. Jackson’s technical approach on the play.

Even on a tough day by Mahomes’ standards, he can flip the script with a game-breaking play at any time. When the offense is completely out of sync and it doesn’t appear they will find it during a game, he can still make a couple of plays that are enough to position the team for a victory.

We see in the next clip that the previous pressures and hits were in fact making Mahomes impatient and less trusting to spend a little extra time trying to manipulate defenders with his eyes. He still finds a way to make magic happen.

Quick-hitting plays could’ve been utilized a lot more often, and perhaps had they been able to hit on a few easy throws early, the offensive efficiency could’ve been far different in a good way.

When the offense desperately sought rhythm, it was conversions like Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s catch and run that were critical. This is a passing concept they may be able to lean on more and continue to build off of when they need answers against top-notch defenses.

It’s one more way to let Mahomes execute a simple, easy throw to a player running maybe their best possible route in Edwards-Helaire.

The greatest path for improvement to surface is obviously going to be better execution up front by the offensive linemen. Even in a game in which Mahomes’ discomfort was so visible, he was still able to hit on some really smooth throws when working within decent pockets.

It doesn’t have to be perfect — it just can’t be the automatic instant pressure it far too often was on Thursday night. Provide serviceable blocking against stout defensive fronts, and we will see that Mahomes can do enough with the weapons at his disposal.

Reid and Mahomes can perhaps help the cause more by being more intentional about running the football. Even if it results in middling production, the game plan and overall execution Thursday put Mahomes at far too great of risk given the number of times he was hit. That offensive line needed opportunities to lean on the opponent in front of them.

When all else fails, it’s never a bad idea to do things that instantly place Mahomes back into natural comfort zones — things like calling plays that include moving pockets lead to cheap, easy yards that slow pass rushers down just a smidge.

Going with an empty backfield also puts Mahomes back in a very comfortable position of spreading the field out and seeing concepts play out he has been excelling with dating back to high school and college. If using extra blockers isn’t going to help much, they may as well give Mahomes more passing targets to work with down to down.

The bottom line

Overall, it felt like the Chiefs spent a little too much time trying to force longer developing concepts instead of implementing plays that would make the Chargers’ defense slow down and think more. The next time these two teams match up, doing whatever it takes to instantly put Mahomes in a more rhythmic state of performance should come first and foremost.

Credit goes to Los Angeles, which is supremely talented on defense, and its coaching staff really came into this game with a great plan of attack. Still, yet, it wasn’t enough to win against Kansas City on a night in which their offensive execution was about as bad as it was going to get.

Mahomes and the Chiefs move forward atop the AFC West standings, 2-0, ready to take on the winless Indianapolis Colts. The scary thing for the league? There’s plenty of room for them to get better as the players and coaches continue adapting to a new offensive era.

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