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Chiefs’ lack of detail infected Patrick Mahomes in loss to Raiders

The little things added up to an embarrassing performance on Christmas Day.

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NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

If you came away from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 20-14 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders thinking it was a historically ugly effort by the Chiefs’ offense and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, you were onto something.

The Ringer’s Sheil Kapadia puts the unit’s efficiency into context, comparing it to the rest of the Mahomes era. It was the latest and possibly most discouraging effort from the offense yet, but specifically the passing attack: Patrick Mahomes finished with an average of 5.3 yards gained over 44 pass attempts, the fourth-worst rate of his entire career.

The worst average Mahomes had ever had happened about a month ago when he produced 4.1 yards per attempt in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Chiefs’ offense was supported by 168 team rushing yards in that game; that was far from the case against the Raiders. All the onus was put on the pass game to move the ball.

Two back-breaking turnovers turning into touchdowns was just one part of the unit’s failures against Las Vegas. I looked at the Chiefs’ lack of detail in the passing game and how it contributed to the loss against the Raiders:

Missed throws

If you remove the passes by Mahomes caught behind the line of scrimmage, the quarterback completed only 56% of his passes against the Raiders. The gunslinger seemed to be off on multiple throws.

On this third down, tight end Travis Kelce runs a deep crossing pattern against man coverage — gaining separation at the sticks as the ball is thrown. However, the pass sails behind him and is uncatchable.

While Kelce can freelance his routes, there would be no reason Mahomes would anticipate Kelce to stop running away from the defender locked into man coverage with him. This ball should be put out in front of him.

Wide receiver Justin Watson’s route appears to clog up a similar area, but that’s simply because his deeper post route was disrupted by defensive holding. The ensuing flag bailed Mahomes out.

On this second-down pass, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling shakes the cornerback and has space on the out pattern at the sticks. The pass comes in too far behind to catch.

Undisciplined timing

Some inaccurate passes were more the result of undisciplined timing on Mahomes’ part.

On this downfield pass attempt looking to convert third down, Justin Watson runs a deep in-breaking route. The way Mahomes passes it, it looks like he expects Watson to make a hard cut back to the ball to corral the low pass away from the cornerback.

However, quarterback trainer Quincy Avery pointed out that the called route is a Dig, and that Mahomes is simply not throwing it correctly. Instead of trying to hit Watson right out of his break, Mahomes needs to wait until Watson runs across and is on the other side of the hook-zone linebacker underneath Watson. That’s where the window would be for this play.

Mahomes is looking for a post pattern down the middle on this third-down pass. When the safeties latch on and take it away, the quarterback should pivot to the comeback route wide receiver Rashee Rice is running on the sideline.

He does, but a beat or two late. If Mahomes’ timing were more disciplined going through his reads, this pass would be on Rice quicker, and it would have possibly earned a first down.

Shaky routes

Like all season, there were examples of ugly routes against the Raiders — but one in particular allowed a monumentally bad play to happen.

On the designed rollout, Mahomes is reading the cornerback to see whether he gives ground at the snap or plays it tight to the line. Raiders’ cornerback Jack Jones shows that he is bailing, which triggers Mahomes to throw the short route to Watson.

Jones anticipates the throw and jumps it, intercepting the pass that was too inside and didn’t have as much velocity as it needed to.

However, Mahomes’ imperfect pass may not have resulted in a pick-six if Watson runs a stronger route. The lazy, long break at the top of the route makes him late to turn for the ball, which prevents him from attacking the ball in the air. Instead, he’s fading back at the catch point.

On another attempt to convert third down, Mahomes tries to quickly attack a soft spot in the Raiders’ zone coverage. He throws to Rice, who is not sitting in the spot and expecting the pass, leading to an incompletion.

After the play, the two communicated strongly with gestures, including Mahomes motioning for Rice to get his hands up in catching position.

Inability to get through entire progression

The Raiders were constantly pressuring Mahomes, registering pressure on 46% of his dropbacks (excluding screen passes). The unit got to the Chiefs’ quarterback early and often, impacting Mahomes’ comfort level hanging in the pocket.

It’s a big reason why the Chiefs were not attacking down the field, even though the Raiders’ back end left the vertical plane vulnerable. When the opportunity did present itself, the Chiefs needed to make Las Vegas pay for that.

Mahomes uses play action from under center to work a downfield passing pattern on this second-down play. As the routes form, the near-side safety comes up to take away Kelce — allowing wide receiver Justin Watson to be behind him with a step on the cornerback.

At the top of his drop, Mahomes immediately loses his footwork in the pocket, moves forward, and eventually scrambles for a first down. It was a positive play but also discouraging: the Chiefs clearly dialed up a shot play and got the clean pocket necessary, but the quarterback was unwilling to take the shot.

Even if not complete, the attempt may help by forcing the Raiders’ safeties to play less aggressively on future plays.

These are the details lacking from the Chiefs’ pass game currently.

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