The bye week came over the weekend for the Chiefs, but while the team was relaxing the week leading up to week ten, Chiefs twitter had some choice words for the PFF community. The words “turnover-worthy play” are probably muted by many a Chiefs fan as those in the analytics community turn to that data as a criticism toward Mahomes on the season. Mahomes has been “lucky” with only one interception to this point in his 2020 MVP campaign. I have five of PFF’s turnover-worthy plays, there may be more, but I don’t know for sure. If anyone knows of others that I don’t show here, I would appreciate it if you commented below, so I can take a look at them!
I’m going to preface this discussion with a word of caution. I am going to look at these with an unbiased eye, so that you as fans reading this get the best information possible. You deserve to see the truth of the matter and that’s what I am going to do. I hope you continue reading because it’s good information that I want you to have.[Ed. Note: Another word of caution, Dan’s not building a case to some crescendo, so read it all the way through before jumping on him. He doesn’t come down on PFF’s side, in the end.]
Patrick Mahomes has built a reputation for being a risk-taker at times, and usually getting away with it. In the last few seasons, this “turnover-worthy” play phrase has come into use by the analytics community, at least that’s when I’ve noticed it. It’s not a bad thing to grade plays in that light. When a quarterback makes a poor decision and gets away with it in the form of not turning the ball over or say a dropped interception that should be reflected in the evaluation process. I have joked about these plays being “shoulda coulda woulda” turnovers and to some degree, that’s what it is. A linebacker misses an assignment, but the running back and/or quarterback doesn’t take advantage of it, it’s all in the same bubble in my opinion. The first such play came in the opener against the Texans and while there was a clear miscommunication on the play/throw, there’s more to it than that.
As you can see above, Mahomes is attempting to hit Hill on an outward-breaking route, but the ball sails five yards over and out of Hill’s reach and is nearly intercepted. As the play shifts to the endzone view, Hill is communicating with Mahomes about what happened. Mahomes appears to be throwing to a spot on the field that Hill didn’t get to and it seems to me that Mahomes expected him to get a bit further upfield before breaking to the outside. These things happen in every game and will continue to happen, but as much as you can chalk this up to a miscommunication error, I think some blame lies with Mahomes as well.
Throwing to spots is excellent for a quick-strike offense and getting the ball out fast, but on deeper developing routes there is a lot of room for the receivers to read the defense as they are running their routes. Hill saw a soft spot in the defense and tried to get into it. I don’t think there’s much room for Mahomes to fit this ball into, the defender undercuts the route well, and maybe Mahomes tried to throw it to nobody. That part remains unclear without verification from the source. The point being, that in the event Mahomes is attempting to throw this to nobody or a spot, he needs to understand, in this position, that he’s not in any danger and can see where Hill is before letting this go. He looks off the safety and immediately pulls the trigger to Hill after coming back with his eyes from left to right and this is nearly picked off because of it.
This is a little more of the same, it looks to me like Mahomes tries to look the safety off and get this to Watkins. Two things happen on this play that turns it into a turnover-worthy play. The safety never leaves his position on the field and is disciplined in his duties to remain deep until the ball is thrown. Secondly, Gilmore is running Watkins inside and not letting him straighten his route out where Mahomes is assuming he’s going to be. The safety breaks on the throw and drops the interception.
Could that have been for Kelce? I don’t really know, to be honest. The thing about having two receivers in the area and the ball sailing on the quarterback is that it’s hard to know for certain the intention without confirmation. Either way, Mahomes tried to move the safety with his eyes and then went right back to the right and pulled the trigger without evaluating the position. He nearly paid for it.
This is one that irritates me to watch from Mahomes. Even though the likelihood of any Raider defender intercepting this throw is minuscule, the fact that Mahomes didn’t just throw it away out of bounds is the issue. Taking an unnecessary risk when there is no option for a touchdown, results in a Raider defender having a chance to get a miraculous interception. Just don’t do it.
From the very start of this play, it wasn’t a good look for Mahomes, as he leaves a clean pocket right after the ball was snapped. He gets out to the right and starts going through the three receivers on his side of the field. At the time he decides he’s going to throw the football, he knows he’s got to fit it over the defender in front of Robinson to ensure the ball isn’t tipped or picked. He’s on the run, making the level of difficulty higher, as well. He unloads and sails the ball over the defender and Robinson and nearly into the arms of a Raider defender closing on the ball. This is Mahomes’ fault, he makes crazy plays like this all the time, but that one almost cost him another turnover. It’s a difficult throw to make, but he nearly did it, too.
While this play was a hell of location job from the corner to find the rocket that left Mahomes’ arm, it starts again with a poor decision from Mahomes on third-down. He leaves a clean pocket into the pressure of the stunt. Not only is he maneuvering outside of the pocket, but he’s also trying to not get sacked in the process. He finally gets free from the immediate pressure and there’s only one viable option: Demarcus Robinson in one on one coverage. He slings it low and a little too close to the defender, in hindsight, and the corner nearly comes down with the interception.
I give the corner a lot of credit on that play because the ball just goes off the end of his hands after finding it immediately after he turns around. Great awareness and location on that play, but this all started with the pocket. Mahomes leaves a clean pocket and it turns into a turnover-worthy play.
That’s five turnover-worthy plays, plus one interception on the season for Mahomes through nine games. With a quarterback like Mahomes, some level of risk is inherent in his style of play, and you live with it as an offensive coach. He is a playmaker and what he’s done on the field because of, and sometimes in spite of, the risks he takes has made him an elite player. While these plays are turnover-worthy against Mahomes, a lot of that value feels more like a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage that falls into a defender’s hands. The interception is still charged to the quarterback even though there was something he couldn’t control that happened during the play.
Should we as fans and even evaluators take it into consideration? Of course. I’m sure Mahomes has as well, considering the last play I have was from week six, and I’d say he’s done a good job mitigating them. Let’s not pretend that they don’t matter because plays that are turnover-worthy that don’t result in a turnover can still impact the future if the players don’t learn from them. I don’t give much weight them very much in the overall evaluation of Mahomes, because the plays haven’t been all over the place. He impacts the game in so many more ways than five or six turnover-worthy plays. They still have a place, but it’s not as big of a deal to me as it is to others.