The game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 ended with two consecutive incompletions thrown by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Both flew through the air more than 20 yards downfield, hitting the intended receiver in the hands before falling to the ground.
The misses by Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson, one much harder than the other, were the evening's fourth and fifth deep incompletion. It was a constant theme in the second half — when the Eagles stepped up to slow down the Chiefs' rushing attack that led them to a 17-7 halftime lead.
Everyone will remember the drops, but the lack of execution was more concerning than just that. I looked at the other reasons to be concerned about the state of the Chiefs' downfield passing attack:
Failure in scheme
The Chiefs' offense only surrendered one sack on Monday evening, although Mahomes was under pressure on 44% of his dropbacks, according to PFF. The coaching staff knew they needed a focused game plan when dropping back to give Mahomes enough time to throw.
#Chiefs deep- pass game just could not execute v. Philly, one way or another— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 22, 2023
The only sack of the game was a very crucial one. Even w/ Gray aligned to help Taylor, Reddick gets through quickly for a sack
It prevented Mahomes from getting to a wide-open MVS on the post pic.twitter.com/GQtdr5tp1B
On the game's second play, that plan hurt the protection. The Chiefs use two tight ends to the outside of right tackle Jawaan Taylor: Travis Kelce, furthest outside, and Noah Gray, close to Taylor. This widens Eagles' pass rusher Haason Reddick.
At the snap, Kelce releases into the route, leaving Gray to chip — but Reddick is too wide to reach. This gives Reddick an easier angle to the back of the pocket and a sack. The furthest-outside tight end should be helping to chip, not Gray. This failure in the scheme prevents Mahomes from getting to Valdes-Scantling, streaking wide open on a post route.
Mahomes' accuracy to the short and intermediate throws has been exceptional for a few seasons now, staying impressively consistent for how undisciplined he can be with his footwork. Deeper down the field, Mahomes' passes can be a little less pinpoint throw to throw.
Mahomes' INT v. Philly came on a great play design— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 22, 2023
Justin Watson initially shows shallow cross, which brings that LB down & relaxes the single-high safety
Watson breaks it off with great timing, but the pass fades too far upfield. Needs to flatten out pic.twitter.com/NDwfDrguS4
On the play where he threw an interception against Philadelphia, the Chiefs schemed open wide receiver Justin Watson for a touchdown. Initially, Watson releases into his route like it is a shallow crosser, catching the linebacker's attention and making him take a natural step up; that also relaxes the single-high safety, who feels like he doesn't need to hustle over to the opposite side.
A few steps into that crosser, Watson changes his route path to run over the top of the linebacker. With the routes to that side taking defenders towards the sideline, this pass should be completed on the run along the goal line. Instead, Mahomes leaves the ball behind and up, like he's fading it to the back of the end zone. It allows Eagles' safety Kevin Byard to catch up and pick it off.
Kelce didn't have the greatest game, but he nearly created a big play here— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 22, 2023
Breaks off Byard at the line, creates separation, pass is a little inside -- but Byard clearly hooks Kelce's left arm and prevents him from going up & getting it
No flag, but nice to see from 87 #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/7Vy01OLeki
Later in the first half, the Chiefs put tight end Travis Kelce in position to make a big catch down the field. Flexed out, Byard is manned up tight on Kelce, but the All-Pro tight end creates separation with a nice move at the line of scrimmage.
With a step or two on his defender, Mahomes could have thrown this further up the field and outside. Instead, the inside throw forces Kelce to slow down and jump through contact for the completion. The pass still may have been completed if not for Byard hooking Kelce's left arm, but a better throw would have steered him clear of contact.
When you see a quarterback wind up for a deep pass then watch it fall to the turf away from the receiver, it's hard to know who was at fault sometimes. With the Chiefs, that happened a couple times Monday night, and Mahomes wasn't to blame for either one.
This really should be a layup big gain for the #Chiefs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 22, 2023
Philly gives away Cover 1 pre-snap, Mahomes knows he has a shot play
Ball is thrown to Watson's outside shoulder on a textbook quick Go, but Watson doesn't fade out for reasons unknown. pic.twitter.com/2Z8SC4y7SB
On this third down, Mahomes recognizes that the Eagles are rotating their safeties into a Cover 1 look; it's a shorter conversion attempt, so one safety is creeping down to take on Kelce. That allows him to hit a vertical shot down the right sideline.
After the snap, the quarterback confidently steps into the go route, but Justin Watson can't catch up. It's because Watson did not adjust his route according to the safety rotation. If the Eagles stayed with two high, he would take his vertical pattern inside between the safeties — but against a single safety, he should be getting vertical and looking for a pass to his outside shoulder.
The misread led to a missed opportunity, but it wasn't the last one.
The #Chiefs are simply not making teams pay for playing with little/no safety help. Philly played into that in the 2nd half— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) November 22, 2023
This Cover 0 look gives MVS room to work deep on the Corner. Mahomes lets it fly, knowing there's no one over the top -- but MVS flattens to the sideline pic.twitter.com/bC6aDbXxoO
Later in the game, as the Eagles continued crowding the line of scrimmage, the Chiefs got another shot for a big play down the field. A blitz leaves Philadelphia without any safety help, just man-to-man coverage across the board. That allows Valdes-Scantling to find space on a corner route.
As he breaks toward the sideline, he sees the throw sail in a direction toward the end zone — where it should be going. Without anybody over the top, Valdes-Scantling should be angling for the pylon, not the sideline, especially when the trailing defender is not a cornerback but rather a safety.
The bottom line
The Eagles made a point to slow down the Chiefs' rushing attack in the second half. In doing so, the unit risked having little to no safety help on pass plays at times, and Kansas City simply wasn't able to take advantage of it.
That goes beyond the catchable passes being dropped. The scheme needs tightening up, the throws need to be more consistent, and the awareness of the receivers needs to improve just as much as the hands.