On a second-quarter play during the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes dodged and weaved through the pass rush, scrambling to eventually find tight end Travis Kelce with a quick shovel pass. Mahomes’ 12th completion in 13 attempts to start the game set the offense up at the Broncos’ 10-yard line.
Following this highlight-reel play, the home crowd at Arrowhead Stadium began chanting, “MVP! MVP!” But after that toss to Kelce, Mahomes threw three straight incompletions — including an end-zone pick by Denver safety Justin Simmons.
Following the pass to Kelce, Mahomes completed only 17 of his 29 pass attempts — a completion rate of just 58%. For reference, Mahomes has had only had two games in his career with a lower completion rate. Over his career, he’s completed 66.3% of his passes.
After the game, Mahomes acknowledged the problem.
“I lost my mechanics in that second half,” he told reporters. “I was trying to find a way to get back into them. I think you saw even in some of the completions – at least I felt like my feet weren’t in the right spot. I was kind of throwing off my back foot, and I think that whenever I get in that mode is whenever I can struggle, so I have to be better at kind of correcting that stuff in game.”
Let’s take a look at what happened.
Throwing behind receivers
In his post-game press conference, Mahomes admitted that his “feet got bad there in the second half.” It was noticeable on a few passes — and it led to potential completions being thrown behind the intended receiver.
Mahomes started the Denver game 12/13, the last completion leading to "MVP" chants— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 4, 2023
Immediately after, he threw 3 straight incompletions -- including the INT. 17/29 passing for the rest of the game
He was uncharacteristically behind on these 2 throws he can make in his sleep pic.twitter.com/XxqHUEdB0w
On the interception, we see Mahomes escape the pocket and make the throw running to his left. It’s a difficult pass, but one that Mahomes usually makes look easy. The throw, however, ends up way behind wide receiver Justin Watson, who is sprinting to the sideline.
When throwing on the run, a quarterback’s follow-through should leave him facing toward the ball’s destination. Here, Mahomes ends up facing straight ahead — if not angling back inside — instead of toward the sideline.
On the second play of this clip, we see a staple route for tight end Travis Kelce: an intermediate crosser that Mahomes has hit in stride hundreds of times. This time, the ball is behind — and is batted away.
Notice that the quarterback’s plant foot is facing back toward the middle of the field — instead of toward the area in front of Kelce. That dictates where the pass will go — and that’s where it ends up.
This miss was especially frustrating. #Chiefs catch DEN in 1-high, giving Skyy tons of room up the seam. Big play if he catches it on the run— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 4, 2023
Instead, the throw is behind Moore -- almost like he anticipates him sitting. 15's lead foot is pointing towards the back shoulder pic.twitter.com/zYZt21ebxO
Of the thrown-behind passes, this one was likely the most frustrating for Mahomes in the film room. Against only one high safety, wide receiver Skyy Moore has space up the seam to run vertically for a big play. Mahomes recognizes that — but his pass forces Moore to stop in his tracks and pivot back; it ultimately falls incomplete.
Once again, you’ll notice Mahomes’ plant foot: his lead shoe is pointed like he’s throwing to the sideline more than up the seam; that’s why the pass is behind the receiver. A back-shoulder pass attempt isn’t the wrong idea against certain coverages — but on this play, Mahomes knows he should be leading Moore. If he does, it’s likely to be a 73-yard touchdown.
Missing open deep routes
Mahomes acknowledged missing a few passes down the field that could have been huge plays. Both happened to be to the same wide receiver: Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
#Chiefs dialed up two shot plays for MVS, getting him loose against man coverage with double moves on two occasions in the 2nd half— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 4, 2023
On the 1st, Mahomes short arms it -- and on the 2nd, the pass is just too far pic.twitter.com/uYsPPUBVXr
Kansas City takes advantage of an aggressive Denver defense on these second-half plays. Each time, the Chiefs send Valdes-Scantling on a double-move route to break free against man coverage. Each time, the receiver creates separation, but the pass attempt fails to reach him.
On the first, Mahomes has a space in the pocket to load up and step into his throw. But at the last moment, he appears to want more touch on it — more air on it — resulting in a short throw that the defenders knock away.
Unfortunately, this has been a theme that Mahomes has admitted: he will sometimes try too hard to complete a deep target to Valdes-Scantling, rather than just letting it rip and allowing the wideout to run under it. By this point of the season, that chemistry should already be worked out.
Back shoulder fades
Prior to this season, the back-shoulder, sideline pass has been nonexistent in Kansas City’s offense. For a stretch of this season, Mahomes used it successfully with wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster — but it hasn’t been as effective with other receivers.
We saw a back-shoulder fade miss against Denver, which has unfortunately become a theme of late.— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) January 4, 2023
He's leaving them too inside & low for the most part. A receiver can help by fighting back through the coverage, something Juju was good at earlier in the year on these throws pic.twitter.com/icmnkq9rKJ
In the last few weeks, Mahomes’ back-shoulder attempts have not been completed. There’s been a bit of a common theme: the passes have been too far too inside and too low, which doesn’t allow the receiver the chance to go up and win over the defender.
With similarly-placed balls earlier this year, Smith-Schuster’s play strength actually allowed him to come back inside and catch the passes — but in two tries over the last two weeks, Valdes-Scantling hasn’t been able to do it. After the play was over in Denver, you could see him motioning to Mahomes for a higher pass.
The bottom line
On Sunday, Mahomes threw behind his receivers on some plays — but it doesn’t seem like something to worry about. That footwork can be cleaned up with better snap-to-snap discipline; the quarterback said as much after the game.
But when targeting Valdes-Scantling downfield, Mahomes has also been having some uncomfortable reps. It’s almost like he thinks more about it if it’s Valdes-Scantling than he does with other receivers. Along with the back-shoulder misses, I think those two specific aspects of the passing game have issues that could come up during big spots in the postseason.