By: David Kang
[Caveats: I wrote most of this in August and adjusted it to match current circumstances. I also only watched Mahomes first three games. Sorry for no inline videos. There’s no coaches film for pre-season]
From the day that training camp started for the Kansas City Chiefs, hype was slowly building on Patrick Mahomes. With reports of his arm garnering oohs and aahs from the crowd to Mike Vick admitting his jealousy of Mahomes’ arm talent on top of good preseason numbers, there was tremendous pressure on Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs to start the young Patrick Mahomes over the tepid Alex Smith. However Andy Reid did not cave to the pressure from the fans and media and rolled with continuity that is Alex Smith, and at the onset, it looked to have been a brilliant move. The Chiefs started out a league best 5-0, beating heavy weights like the Patriots and the Eagles, and Alex Smith showed a newfound aggressiveness that has not been found throughout his career.
But a disappointing 10 game stretch followed this hot streak littered with poor performance from the offense, and the chatter and pressure slowly started to build in favor of starting Mahomes over Alex Smith. Still, the steady Andy Reid never wavered in support of his starter Alex Smith. With the #4 seed locked up and faced with an essentially meaningless Week 17 game vs the Broncos, Andy Reid announced his decision to start Mahomes, who is without question, the future of the Chiefs franchise.
What can we expect from the young QB? Coming out of Texas Tech, Mahomes was lauded for his incredible arm talent combined with good athleticism and gun-slinger mentality reminiscent of Favre, all of which was evident in the preseason. In his very first play in the NFL, Mahomes showed absolutely no signs of fear or hesitation and threw a perfect deep pass on a deep route down the sideline. Not only did he show the arm talent and accuracy, but Mahomes also displayed some savvy before the snap. Seeing only one high safety with tight coverage on the outside, Mahomes knew that the only way he could complete the pass was if he manipulated the safety and hold him in the middle of the field, so that he would not be able to reach the sideline and break up the pass. When he took the snap, he dropped back staring directly at the free safety to hold him in the middle of the field. This gave him more than enough space to complete the pass to the receiver.
With all the talk of arm talent, athleticism, and accuracy coming out, Mahomes was still universally regarded as a project when he was drafted in the 1st round. Issues such as footwork, coming from an extreme spread offense, and adjusting to a pro-style offense were all cited as to why he is not ready, and at this point in the preseason, some of these reasons have proven to be legitimate concerns.
His numbers in the preseason look fantastic (63% COMP, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 7.2 Y/A in 54 throws), but Andy Reid made sure to set up Mahomes with plenty of easy throws to help out the young QB, not dissimilar to what he has done in Alex Smith. To protect his young QB, Andy Reid has implemented plenty of bootleg play action passes, where the QB rolls to one side of the field and, in effect, condense the field into half and make it easier on the QB to make his reads. He executed them well and flashed his athleticism, escaping from unblocked defensive ends (as well as stiff arming them) and throwing dimes into tight windows. Another staple of the Andy Reid Chiefs’ offense are screens. In Mahomes’ first three games of the preseason (I couldn’t chart the fourth game as of the time of writing the article in August), 6 of Mahomes’ 38 pass attempts were easy screen throws designed to keep it simple for the QB and keep the offense on schedule.
Although we saw glimpses of Mahomes’ physical brilliance, he did not show the ability to make high level NFL throws consistently. Despite the label of being a gun-singer, Mahomes was largely gun-shy playing within structure. If the window is small and he needs to throw with anticipation, Mahomes hesitates and moves onto his next read, leaving big chunk plays unexploited on the field.
[Q3: 14:07 vs CIN in Preseason Wk 3. No coaches film available]
In this play, Mahomes’ first read is the WR running an intermediate dig (or in) route with a CB showing outside leverage, or positioning himself slightly outside the WR to force him inside. This means that the WR, De’Anthony Thomas, will be open when he breaks outside because the CB gave him that cushion. The only problem for Mahomes is the LB standing in the middle of the field, which make him hesitate for a quick second on a throw that requires anticipation. Compounding that with a tiny bit of
pressure, Mahomes decides to reset in the pocket to his left and move onto the next read.
A very similar play happens a couple plays later in the same exact route. De’Anthony Thomas again has inside leverage against the CB with a LB sitting in the intermediate with the window being a little bit tighter in this play. Mahomes looks Thomas’ way as his first read and again hesitates before
moving onto his next read.
Another big knock on Mahomes coming out was his footwork. His gun-slinger mentality often lends him to getting lazy with mechanics, which makes him a lot less accurate when he should. Below you can see Mahomes having and extremely wide base and opening up too wide with his lead leg. This makes the throw all arm, and the ball sailed on him a little bit into a covered receiver.
A reoccurring issue with Mahomes is that he straightens out his plant/lead leg too often, which causes his arm angle to rise and sail balls over his targets.
In a simple screen pass below, Mahomes was lazy bringing around his feet, and both of his feet pointed towards the target with his shoulders being parallel instead of perpendicular with the receiver. This resulted in an errant pass that was completed for positive, but on average, it would result in the
receiver being tackled for a loss.
For the most part, what we saw during the preseason only confirmed our initial thoughts on Mahomes from Texas Tech, that he was mostly a work in process. His arm talent is phenomenal, and his accuracy has been good enough for the most part for him to be a good starter in the league. Combined with his above average athleticism and aggressive mentality, he could prove to be a consistent big time playmaker at QB. His flaws of footwork, anticipation, and bursts of questionable decision making were all still present in the preseason. It is unlikely that he has undoubtedly fixed all of these issues over the course of only 4-5 months, but I suspect at least some improvements will be evident. Andy Reid will likely try his best to protect his young QB, so I anticipate the game will be filled with bootlegs, screen passes, and easy first read passing plays. Due to his character at QB, I would not be surprised to see more than a couple deep shots and maybe a couple of boneheaded plays.
This still remains a very interesting move by Andy Reid. By starting Mahomes, he is able to benefit by sitting his starting quarterback whilst also getting invaluable reps for a developing QB. However, if Mahomes excels in his first start, then it’ll more than likely spark debate and angst in Kansas City over who the starter should be for the playoffs, creating unnecessary distractions for the team. Nonetheless, it is a more than welcome addition that will help spice up what looks to be a rather uninteresting final week of the regular season.