The frustration of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was out in the open this weekend — during the aftermath of a discouraging 20-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He expressed annoyance with the officiating, but this loss that dropped the Chiefs to 8-5 featured some of the same issues that have plagued the unit in multiple games.
Kansas City's offense had an underlying efficiency when it used the run game, then quick passes off of them. However, the straight drop-back passing game was ineffective: Mahomes averaged 5.4 yards per pass attempt on non-play-action plays against Buffalo, completing only one of the five times he threw 20 or more yards in the air downfield.
Whether it was timing or route-running discipline, Mahomes had too many potential completions fall to the ground. I looked at the most impactful examples from the loss to Buffalo:
Timing being a tick off
In the second quarter, the Chiefs crossed into Bills' territory looking to score for the first time in the game. On second-and-12, wide receiver Kadarius Toney dropped a pass that would have made it a more manageable third down.
3rd & 12 incompletion:#Chiefs face man coverage w/ 2 safeties over top. MVS wins on out at the sticks due to defender's inside leverage— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 12, 2023
15 throws like he expects a sit out of the break -- but vs. Man, you may want to keep running from defender
Overall lack of chemistry pic.twitter.com/FoFOW0qIka
To convert third-and-12, Mahomes dropped back and looked for wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling on an out route past the sticks. As Valdes-Scantling comes out of his break, Mahomes' pass lands behind him and is incomplete, leading to a punt.
The Bills' defense played man coverage with two safeties over the top. Valdes-Scantling is covered by a defender with inside leverage, so when he breaks out, he needs to run away from the defender. At the same time, the safety on that side can anticipate this route given the situation and come up to take away a first-down completion.
If he keeps running he runs into safety. If Patrick throws there, it’s an int.— Bobby Stroupe (@bobbystroupe) December 12, 2023
Athletic trainer Bobby Stroupe believes that's why Mahomes attempts to throw this like he anticipates Valdes-Scantling to sit out of his break, protecting him from the safety. The broadcast cameras caught the quarterback showing frustration after this play.
The crazy part is, their both kind of right on this one. MVS reading Man coverage and beats his man and should run out, but Pat sees the Safety and throws the ball to hold him up. Unfortunate. The remedy.. Pat throws the ball right on him before MVS gets out of break.— Jason “The” Dunn (@JasusTD89) December 12, 2023
However, former Chiefs' tight end Jason Dunn makes the point that Mahomes could have put the ball on Valdes-Scantling faster. Mahomes is releasing the pass after he sees Valdes-Scantling turn out of his break rather than anticipating the cut.
If the same pass is thrown quicker, it's more accurate to him, and it still gives him room away from the safety and his defender. It's a play that Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce would make in their sleep, but it's not as natural for the veteran receiver in his second year with the Chiefs.
Before the team's first touchdown, rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice had a chance to catch a score that would have preceded the one he had later.
#Chiefs scored on this drive, but Rice could've scored 2x Sunday— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 12, 2023
KC pumps quick screen, trying to open M.O.F. for Rice on the Post in the EZ. 43 doesn't overcommit, and pushes Rice too far upfield in his route
15 expects him to flatten out & work away from 21 once he's past 43 pic.twitter.com/DQLB0jdYFM
The Chiefs fake a quick screen to the outside, trying to pry open the middle of the field for Rice to work into on the post route. After Mahomes comes up from his fake, Rice clears the linebacker vertically but doesn't angle in enough to catch the pass Mahomes throws.
The reason Mahomes throws this toward the middle is to take the receiver away from the safety to that side. There's a more likely chance the safety can make a play on the ball if Mahomes throws it where Rice is headed; with the backside safety occupied by a route, Rice had ample room to work across and away from defenders to his side.
Skyy's only target Sunday was incomplete, due to another example of 15 and the WRs not being on the same page— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 12, 2023
Simple concept forces LB to choose btwn Kelce & Skyy over the middle
15 goes to Skyy when 43 commits to Kelce, but Skyy drifts too far across the field pic.twitter.com/eoE8WjVRSM
On second-year wideout Skyy Moore's only target of the game, he and Kelce are used in a high-low pattern. Once the linebacker commits to Kelce underneath, Moore becomes the target.
Similar to the incompletion to Valdes-Scantling, Mahomes is late to throw to Moore. Because of that, Moore's timing is off, and he drifts too far across and up the field. It's why the pass comes low and behind Moore; he should make a tight turn back towards Mahomes out of his break.
The bottom line
It's very minor details that are affecting the Chiefs' pass offense. It's why you heard head coach Andy Reid emphasize how close the offense is with some of the execution things during his post-game remarks.
Looks like there was a chance for Kelce to keep the game alive on 4th & 15— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 12, 2023
Bills put a lot of attention on Justin Watson downfield, Kelce is intentionally slow to let a window develop past the sticks
15 has to anticipate, ball's on Kelce a little too quick to time his jump pic.twitter.com/0s13pK0lLI
That was true of the fourth-and-15 play, the third snap after the offsides penalty called on Toney. The Chiefs seemingly designed wide receiver Justin Watson to run vertically and clear out space just past the marker, allowing tight end Travis Kelce to come underneath it. Buffalo overloads attention on Watson, and a window opens up for Kelce.
However, Mahomes' throw is either rushed or affected by pressure from the right edge. It didn't give Kelce enough time to turn, locate the ball and time his jump — even though it does appear the pass was in Kelce's catch radius.
Mahomes could have given himself a cleaner throw by maneuvering the pocket more effectively. It's fair to speculate if his frustration with the officiating, on top of all the other incompletions and miscues that were piling up before that, could have impacted his execution here.
The negative plays have built up over the season, and it's no coincidence that frustration boiled over for one reason or another in the team's fourth loss in six games. It all stems from Mahomes and his wide receivers' lack of connection on downfield throws.