Mahomes Gets Even Better: Adjusting to the Defense

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Dan breaks down how Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs bounced back against the Oakland Raiders.

Patrick Mahomes has taken the entire NFL by storm, and by the accounts of most “experts” he was set to take a marginal step back in 2019 because, well, he’s just supposed to.

It’s the name of the game; defenses get more tape on you and the entire NFL just adjusts to your style of play and that’s just how it works. Well, maybe not in this case. If you didn’t think it was possible, Mahomes is currently on pace to surpass his totals from 2018, granted it’s only through two games, but you get the point. The fact of the matter is that Mahomes is a transcendent talent at the quarterback position and he also has film of what defenses did to him all last year. 

As a player, he has grown and looks to have taken his skills to a different level. You can tell how a player holds themselves by the way they handle adversity or struggling out of the gate. We saw Mahomes get a bit juiced at times last year and that lead to some bad throws, but this most recent game against the Raiders we saw him just make questionable decisions. Whether it was due to his ankle or not, it happened, and then he adjusted to the defense.

In the first quarter, the Raiders had the momentum. They went down and scored a field goal on their opening drive and their defense came out to play early. They were physical with the Chiefs offensive line and receivers, making it difficult to get chunk plays early. They also tried to play some games with Mahomes scheme-wise, and whether it was due to those games or just starting bad, he made some poor throws.

This is one of the ways the Chiefs tried to help Cam Erving get into a rhythm, they moved the offensive line to the left and made it easier for help to get there if need be. But the real issue here was Mahomes trying to force this ball to Watkins. He never gets loose from the corner and there was safety help over the top, a common theme the Raiders employed to keep an eye on Watkins. But out of his break with the corner draped on Watkins, Mahomes lets this ball fly and it should have been picked by the defense.

Mahomes had a few throws that were just off and there are many different factors that could have been impacting them whether it be the defensive scheme, his ankle, miscommunicating with receivers, or him just being a bit off. At the end of the day, those are all just excuses to a great player like Mahomes and he isn’t about making excuses. So when the second quarter came around things looked a bit different on the offensive side and it took the Raiders by surprise.

You got to see the play that sparked the offensive onslaught yesterday here, but Mahomes saw that the Raiders defensive backs could be beaten early and be forced to turn their heads away from him so he could use back-shoulder throws and allow his receivers to go make plays for him. I don’t think this was underthrown by Mahomes, it looks more intentional to allow Robinson to come back to it with the defender turned away from the play. I’d like to give a shoutout to Robinson here as this was the most complete game I have ever seen him play as a Chief and this unorthodox route to get few steps of vertical separation works beautifully, the corner bites on the inside move and that’s all he needs. Mahomes throws this pass and Robinson makes a great play on the ball for a touchdown.

I think Mahomes threw this ball knowing Robinson could make a play on it, he very easily could have thrown it further but we have seen enough of Robinson to this point and his strength is catching jump or 50/50 balls. I have been pounding the table for the Chiefs to introduce more throws like this into the offense, and even though it was just one game, Mahomes may have found a guy besides Kelce to throw it up to and trust he will come down with it. Was an impressive showing from Robinson for sure. 

The second quarter was just an onslaught that the Raiders never saw coming. They even did everything they were supposed to do in getting the ball deep in the Chiefs own territory for them to start with but that didn’t matter. They had two drives over 90 yards that ended in touchdowns and they did it with chunk plays and with Mahomes manipulating the defense.

This is one of the many things that Mahomes is excellent at, and it starts with making a defense believe he’s going to throw the ball to Kelce. Two things make this play work: First, having a weapon like Kelce automatically draws a defense in and when Mahomes stares him down, that’s the part that drives it home for defenders watching his eyes. Two, Mahomes has the utmost trust in his players. Pre-snap, he sees that if he holds the defense in close enough to Kelce, that Williams is going to beat the linebacker trying to catch up. So knowing all of this, he stares down Kelce, then looks briefly at Williams and tosses the pass into his arms on the run for a big gain. 

The use of running backs out of the backfield helped halt some of the pressure the Raiders were trying to get as well as confuse the coverage at times, as we saw on the first touchdown. But Mahomes’ ability to trust in his players and manipulate defenses is what allows him to come back after poor starts and do it quicker than we saw last year. He is getting the hang of NFL defenses and it helps when you have Reid’s play calls aiding you in your rise to dominance.

But at the end of the day, Mahomes went to doing what we all know he does better than any quarterback in the NFL, throwing accurate bombs for touchdowns. Well, except for one that was called back due to a penalty – but it would have been one without the flag. Two of my favorite throws from the day might not have looked as flashy live, but they are just impressive throws that take you to a place where you have to remind yourself that this is, in fact, the Chiefs Quarterback. Amazing.

His second quarter was just an absolute clinic, and not only was he forced to stay in the pocket because of his ankle, but he was surgical from it. He was kept relatively clean on Sunday and made the Raiders pay for it. We know the first play didn’t count because of the holding call on McCoy, Chiefs Kingdom thanks you for your service to the franchise and will never be upset with that specific hold. But let’s focus on the throw. He is moving gingerly back in the pocket, then flicks his wrist and the ball is just shot out of a cannon to Hardman who is running wide open downfield. He hits him in stride, with a literal snap throw, 50 yards downfield and Hardman runs it into the endzone. This is one of the craziest throws you’ll see and even though Hardman is wide open, he made that throw seem so effortless and easy, when being that accurate with a flick of the wrist is anything but.

Then we come to the airdrop touchdown, as I call it. Kelce gets free down the sideline with the corner closing in from behind and the safety coming in from the middle part of the field for help. Mahomes sees all of this and knows he has to drop it in over the trailing corner in order for Kelce to catch this ball. One of the seriously underrated parts of his game is the “touch” accuracy he has and continues to display. We saw it on multiple throws in this game, but this one was for a touchdown. Again, staying clean in the pocket and knowing Kelce is going to be free for a TD he waits for the right moment and drops this beauty in for Kelce to make a great catch on for the touchdown.

It has to be frustrating playing against Mahomes on defense because he does so many different things at an elite level. Just when you think you have an edge, like Mahomes having to play from the pocket, he comes out and dismantles the defense anyway. He does such a great job with buying time and extending plays that he is already an underappreciated pocket passer even though he was the best pocket passer in the NFL last year. And he showed once again that he doesn’t need to run around to make plays. He’s just that special, and no amount of tape on him is going to change that fact. 

Getting to watch him as the Chiefs quarterback and then getting to break down what he does on Sundays is a true privilege, and he always does something that surprises me. Seeing him adjust earlier and more efficiently in-game is a great sign moving forward because not only does that mean that dry spells will typically be shorter, but it also means he is still getting better as an NFL quarterback and that spells trouble for defenses everywhere. And he’s only 24 years old…Just think about that.

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backbone313
backbone313

Mahomes is 2nd to none with pocket presence.

Gruden said it best “you have to defend every blade of grass”

alsi2
alsi2

Screenshot-20190918-133714-Twitter

MasterChief
MasterChief

I wish they would say “19 career REGULAR SEASON starts”, but yeah, he’s our dream QB finally coming true. It’s a good time to be a Chiefs fan!

stjoechief

With Mahomes there really is no down and distance situation that concerns me much. Third and 20? No problem. Fourth and 17 (Hi Baltimore)? Hold my beer. I can’t find a breakdown with cursory searching but it would be interesting to see the Chiefs’ success rate on third or fourth and long compared to the rest of the league.

MasterChief
MasterChief

Inside the 50 is the Red Zone for Mahomes. 🙂

MasterChief
MasterChief

A large percentage of his highlights from 2018 are 3rd and long. It’s beautiful.

CHIEFSandSABRES
CHIEFSandSABRES

Was really hoping Blake Bell would have caught that pass for a score. Forget what quarter it was in. Also, I remember there was a counter up years ago of all the people Donkey Manning threw a TD to. Does anyone know if there is one for Mahomes started?

MasterChief
MasterChief

I predict Blake Bell just might throw a TD pass this season.

zulu trader
zulu trader

according to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs offensive line is ranked 5th in adjusted sack rate, only giving up two on the season.

Slayer0810
Slayer0810

I never believed the regression talk, just like I was all-in on Mahomes after the Denver game in 2017. It’s surreal to have a QB who is legitimately the best QB in the NFL right now, and who it’s actually not crazy to say might one day be the GOAT.

Warpath
Warpath

Excellent job, Mr. Harms.

APtransplant25
APtransplant25

Great article, the joy in watching Mahomes and thinking he is a chief still makes me giddy

zulu trader
zulu trader

Getting to watch him as the Chiefs quarterback and then getting to break down what he does on Sundays is a true privilege, and he always does something that surprises me

stjoechief

Gruden: “We’re going to stack the box, play press man cover one, and dare Mahomes to beat us deep.”

Mahomes: “Um. Thanks.”