The Mahomes Paradox: Does His Greatness Doom the Defense?

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Did Patrick Mahomes’ offense hurt the defense last year and are we doomed to repeat it?

After his breakout 2018 season, there is no doubt Patrick Mahomes will go down as the greatest player to ever step foot on an NFL field.

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OK, OK, maybe there is some doubt, but still he looks to be one of, if not the, top quarterbacks in the NFL for the next decade or two, which is great news for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. Having a top guy at the most important position in sports means the Chiefs will be consistent Super Bowl contenders for the foreseeable future. But as we’re painfully aware, the offense is just one side of the ball, and the defense prevented the Chiefs from winning the Super Bowl in Mahomes’ first season. With the defense hopefully improved this offseason, all Chiefs fans have dreams of Lombardi trophies next February. So the question is whether Mahomes is partly a cause of the bad defense or not.

No, I’m not talking about the argument that his turnovers put the defense in a bad position. In fact the Chiefs defense in 2018 enjoyed the 2nd most favorable starting field position in the NFL. Despite this they gave up the 5th most points per drive. It wasn’t bad field position that allowed other teams to score lots of points, but the Chiefs defense allowing them to move down the field.

So if it was on the defense, then what did Mahomes have to do with it? What’s the Mahomes Paradox? To build the Mahomes Paradox we will need three building blocks:

Simpson’s Paradox

The Mahomes Paradox is derived from Simpson’s Paradox, which was conveniently covered in a recent Science Saturday post.

The idea is counter-intuitive at first, but makes sense when you think about it. Consider two hospitals, Hospital A and Hospital B. Hospital A has a higher survival rate than Hospital B when treating patients in both high risk and low risk categories, but Hospital B has a higher overall survival rate because they treat fewer high risk patients and more low risk patients. This may not seem like it has anything to do with football, let alone Mahomes, but bear with me, because this leads us to our second building block.

Passing > Rushing

This is a fact that’s been well known among analytical types for a long time. If you measure how many yards NFL teams gain on the average pass play compared to the average run play, passing plays are much better. This is true for virtually all NFL teams no matter how you choose to measure. In spite of this metric NFL teams insist on running more than they should, so any team that passes more than the NFL average automatically gains an advantage over the competition.

Which brings us to the final building block.

Teams Pass More When They’re Losing

This part should be obvious, because if you’re down 17 points in the 4th quarter you’re not going to be running the ball very much.

Because of how good Mahomes is, the Chiefs offense will be putting up lots of points, which means that the other team will very often be facing deficits late in games, which will lead to them passing the ball more. Since passing is more efficient than rushing, and teams already don’t pass enough, this means that these teams will be calling a more effective run-pass balance out of sheer necessity. Thus the Chiefs defense overall will be facing more of the plays that are more effective and less of the plays that are less effective.

So because of Simpson’s Paradox, even if the defense is good at stopping the pass and the run, their overall numbers could look much worse. This isn’t just a theory, but a big contributing factor to the Chiefs’ defensive struggles in 2018. For example, the pass defense was 13th in passer rating allowed. That’s right, 13th best. Better than teams like the Eagles, Colts, and even the Cowboys.

But because Mahomes was such a monster other teams were passing far more than normal. The defense had the most pass attempts against them in the NFL, which led to them allowing the 2nd most passing yards. This becomes our paradox because, well, what are you supposed to do, tell Mahomes to stop scoring so much? That’s obviously ridiculous. But the more points the offense puts up the more the defense will bend through no fault of their own.

Is there a solution? Perhaps the solution is to do nothing, a paradoxical paradox, if you will.

Thinking back again to 2018, the Mahomes Paradox games, where the Chiefs built a huge lead forcing the other team to pass, all ended up being victories. The game against San Francisco is a typical example of a Mahomes Paradox game. The Chiefs offense had a perfect first half, scoring a touchdown on every single first half possession to go up 35-10 at halftime, but in the second half the 49ers became much more aggressive and managed to score 17 points, making the game look closer than it really was (the final score was 38-27).

The 5 games the Chiefs actually lost were not Mahomes Paradox games. In both Patriots games as well as against the Seahawks and Rams the Chiefs were down virtually the entire game, and when they did have a lead it wasn’t by much. Against the Chargers at home the Chiefs did build some 14-point leads, but that’s still relatively small, because in that particular game every time the Chiefs extended the lead to 14, the Chargers answered with a TD, so they were never down big for long.

In conclusion, while perhaps the Mahomes Paradox didn’t actually hurt the team in the win column, it does seem to have made the defense look a bit worse than it really was.

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ProfChesterTQ
ProfChesterTQ

A game-winning article nullified by an untimely Dee Ford offsides penalty

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Berserker

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Chief-Blinders-On

Interesting.

There may be some truth. But I think the defense just needs to be coordinated better. Teams are always trying to move the ball and score points. They may pass more if they are down big, but they also pick up huge chuncks in the screen game and run game. Because of called defensive coverages playing soft.

This is a coaching issue.

Teams don’t have to allow easy completions to avoid giving up the home runs. They scheme to do so. Where if they played less preventive defense and treated every play like it was do or die. There might be less garbage time stats. I think Mahomes needs to score more and the defense needs to play better and pick off more passes. I’d like the Mahomes paradox to be a pair of dos interceptions per game for our defense.

Spider
Spider

Jesus Tits, I hate prevent defense!

A pair of dos interceptions: brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department

NovaChiefs
NovaChiefs

Which means corners are even more important. Luckily, corners are our strong…wait. Oh, that’s not good.

4thQtrMagic
4thQtrMagic

Man that’s deep. Makes sense to me! But the defense still sucked, whether they had to defend the pass the most or not. Our pass rush looked good (which could be the paradox too), but the LB’s and DB’s couldn’t cover. My god it’s all a paradox! I could go insane thinking about it.

MasterChief
MasterChief

The only thing I think of is that when the offense scores super fast, the defense doesn’t get much time to rest and may get winded. But, this also happens with a really bad offense (3 and outs and turnovers).

Even then, the defense needs to get off the field quicker and allow less 8 minute, 80 yard drives. Bottom line is the defense needs to get stops faster and more often regardless of whatever the offense does.

I don’t buy it.

Berserker

If an offense clearly abandons their running game, then they become more predictable. A more predictable offense should be easier to defend, if the defense is willing and able to adapt.

tsv0728
tsv0728

I don’t buy this ‘you can’t play defense because the offense is too good’ crap. The best offense in history (’13 Donkeys’) had the 22nd ranked PPG defense and the 19th YPG. The Chiefs were 24th and 31st. The Donk D was 12th in y/drive and 7th in plays/drive. They got off the field. Their offense scored right away (2nd y/drive and 23rd in time/driver), and the defense got off the field again. They faced a lot of drives because the offense was fast, so the volume stats were inflated, but the drive stats were excellent. The Chiefs were 32nd in def plays/drive. They couldn’t get off the field. It’s that simple. It has nothing to do with Pat. You aren’t going to field a top ypg defense with a historic offense, too much volume, but you can still field a good defense on a down to down basis.

Enite

The theory is interesting, and probably has some truth to it. But there is one major factor that was left out… bad tackling.
I don’t have any numbers to bring to this discussion, but I remember several missed tackles that would have gotten the defense off the field. If our team tackled better, we would have been a much better defense both in real life and on paper.

Team Player
Team Player

QB cap hit will be a bigger obstacle IMHO

Not this year but somewhat next year as they get ready for it and then it will be huge. Unless the new CBA has a surprise or two

legal_kush
legal_kush

This conveniently overlooks the fact that the offense couldn’t even get a first down in the AFCCG until some point midway through the second quarter:

the defense prevented the Chiefs from winning the Super Bowl

Armychiefj
Armychiefj

couldn’t even get a first down in the AFCCG until some point midway through the second quarter

Nice BS way of framing it. It was two drives. They went 3 and out on their first two drives. They only had three drives the entire first half because the defense couldn’t stop Brady and give them the ball back, which is like, ya know, the defense’s job. Was it the offense’s fault that the Pats had an 8 minute opening drive?

This is dumb and I can’t believe it’s being brought up again. The defense was the complete and entire reason for the AFCCG loss to include the dumb offsides against Ford and their inability to stop Brady on 3rd and 10 3 different times during the OT drive. There is no coherent argument otherwise.

Petey Mussolini
Petey Mussolini

get ’em

TNCHIEFS
TNCHIEFS

This

tsv0728
tsv0728

Reccedum

Spider
Spider

Damn near killdum.

Berserker

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venturachief
venturachief

Agree. Patriots converted 68% of their 3rd down attempts in the game. 68 f’ing %.
3-1 (2)
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3-4 (3)
3-5
3-7 (2)
3-8
3-10 (3)

Chickennpickles
Chickennpickles

I read that & I’m not sure if the tears in my eyes are from sadness or rage.
I think not being able to stop the run was a huge problem for them, as it allowed teams to control the clock & keep the Chiefs offense off the field. I believe Veach & Reid figure if they can stop the run, they’ll be able to keep pace with a team that has to pass all the time, because few teams are really good at that. I’m sure they’ll add corner help in the next draft/offseason, but they put their effort towards being run a stopping D this year. Let’s hope it works!

ProfChesterTQ
ProfChesterTQ

A poignant post nullified by an untimely Dee Ford offsides penalty

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