The Truth Of The Turnover-Worthy Play

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Dan looks to breakdown the truth of Mahomes’ turnover-worthy throws. This should go over well.

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!

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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. 

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DenverDonkeyHater
DenverDonkeyHater
11/17/2020 11:11 pm

There are 40 qbs with more ints than mahones this year

alsi
alsi
Reply to  DenverDonkeyHater
11/17/2020 11:49 pm

I guess they were more worthy. lol

alsi
alsi
11/17/2020 9:42 pm

Bad throws, bad reads, bad routes (on the receiver rather than the QB…and are you sure that none of the ones you point out above are not bad routes?) are obviously part of the game, but in evaluating a player as an MVP candidate, none of that really matters. Performance and success is what matters to be called an MVP. A QB could dink and dunk and get a nice or even a great stat line, maybe even MVPish, but what if his team lost every game? Is he still an MVP candidate? A stronger pushback to this idea of “turnover worthy plays” is an element I have just thought of, and I haven’t seen anyone take it into consideration yet. That is that some of the greatest plays a QB may make are actually “turnover worthy plays.” Mahomes has made some amazing passes in his short career, and at least some, if not a majority of those amazing COMPLETED passes, were passes that perhaps likewise should have been “turnover worthy.” Remember that crazy 2 point conversion he had a couple games ago (was it against the Bills?…don’t remember). He completed that 2-point conversion to a receiver who had defenders completely around him. There is NO reason why that ball couldn’t have been or shouldn’t have been picked off…but he threw it with such a strange and unique passing angle while at least partly looking away, the defenders were stunned that the ball could even have been thrown in there. Could the pass have been picked off? I think so. Should it have been picked off? If they were superhuman like Mahomes, I think so too. They aren’t, so they didn’t. Yet, the “turnover worthy” designation conveniently doesn’t seem to rate this kind of successful pass which should be equally something if “turnover worthy” passes are considered something. Mahomes makes a superhuman pass and it’s just a completion. Nothing more. But if he or his receiver makes a mistake that doesn’t result in anything other than an incompletion, all of a sudden, it’s MORE than an incompletion, it’s a “turnover… Read more »

steve_chiefs
steve_chiefs
11/17/2020 4:51 pm

nice read

Thank you

slackator
slackator
11/17/2020 4:27 pm

turnover worthy play is as nonexistent a stat as QBWINZ. If it wasnt a turnover then it wasnt a turnover worthy, does Mahomes get credit for his probably 60+ touchdown worthy plays or are those just missed opportunities forgotten to the ether?

Big Chief
Big Chief
11/17/2020 2:48 pm

I’m not sure Mahomes is fleeing a good pocket in those last two plays. With all the receivers on that side, it looks more like a delayed roll out. It looks like a short pass play with the chance to get some blockers around. But it looks like the D has taken away the intended target so Mahomes tries to create something.

I haven’t had a chance to really watch the replays closely, but those last two plays look really similar.

Chiefs4322
Chiefs4322
11/17/2020 2:06 pm

Its weird that this has caught on yet a pass bouncing off a receivers hands for a pick still goes on the QB.

MasterChief
MasterChief
Reply to  Chiefs4322
11/17/2020 2:31 pm

I’ve been wanting those to be a separate stat for a long time. So many interceptions are not really the fault of the QB.

Conversely, should we put accidental TD’s in a different category as well? Like if a pass bounces off the hands of a receiver or defender, then lands in the hands of another receiver and he takes it it?

How about those 6″ TD passes that Mahomes “throws” around the goal line? Should it count differently if the pass is not in the air across the line of scrimmage?

Chiefs4322
Chiefs4322
Reply to  MasterChief
11/17/2020 7:07 pm

Yeah, I think it should work like an error in baseball and as far as the 6″ passes, I think that’s just an easy classification for a forward toss rather than have a set of different rules to clarify. Those dont bother me nearly as much as the interceptions for whatever reason. Part of it is my dislike for how utterly important the rules changes have made a QB, this is why there are really only 5 or 6 top level QBs in my opinion.

tsv0728
tsv0728
11/17/2020 1:36 pm

I think the biggest problem with TWP in the context of the recent PFF kerfluffal is how they used them to ding Pat. If you want to whatabout him on the potential interception, don’t you need to whatabout him in the positive too? If there is a turnover worthy play, doesn’t there need to be a touchdown worthy play? Not only drops, but how about PIs that prevent a TD? You can see how stupid it gets, very quickly.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
Reply to  tsv0728
11/17/2020 1:36 pm

Like drops in the endzone.

Tony Sommer
11/17/2020 1:19 pm

Counting TWP is common sense in my opinion, but instead of talking about them realistically we’re too busy fighting the war of whether to count them at all. It’s a useful stat, but like all stats it isn’t perfect. Some issues include:

  • It’s subjective. If you have 3 people going through and counting TWP for a certain QB you will end up with 3 different numbers.
  • There are shades of grey. As you pointed out on his one in the end zone against the Raiders it would have been a difficult play. A TWP like that and one where a QB throws it right to the defender’s numbers really shouldn’t be counted the same.
  • Like Interceptions, there’s no context. An interception on a deep pass on 4th and long late in the game when you need a TD obviously isn’t as bad as a pick-6 early in the game. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that 3 of Mahomes’ 6 TWP were against the Raiders when our defense had their worst game of the year.
  • There could be some as-of-yet undiscovered factors. For example, maybe Mahomes’ TWP are TWP instead of interceptions because the way he throws the ball makes them harder to intercept. So while normally more TWP means more actual interceptions there could be exceptions.
spiderwomn69
spiderwomn69
Reply to  Tony Sommer
11/17/2020 1:44 pm

Does PFF have a definition or examples of what they consider TWP? Are they showing each of the TWP they ding a QB for? I’ve heard this before with them is they will make up a grade but not give a range or examples on what they are actually looking at. This is why it becomes subjective.

Tony Sommer
Reply to  spiderwomn69
11/17/2020 2:02 pm

I don’t know, I kind of assumed that the 5 Dan listed were examples they provided.

BleedingRedAndGold
Reply to  spiderwomn69
11/17/2020 4:19 pm

This, basically. Subjectivity is built into the TWP stat and there’s no way for them to know if the WRs all followed their routes correctly. This is pretty much why I don’t take QBR scores seriously, because unlike TWPs the entire process is a “black box”. TWPs only have the interpretive element as a black box, but as far as I know, how QBR is calculated is still a trade secret. That pretty much destroys QBR’s value as a statistic, converting it to little more than an opinion, like PFF rankings.

HawaiiFiveOh
HawaiiFiveOh
11/17/2020 12:31 pm

I don’t believe it’s worth much as a stat to be honest. This isn’t the same as a missed tackle, which has a very real consequence. A dropped INT is still an incompletion. Defenders drop INTs all the time. We as fans see at least one a game for the Chiefs.

EAFOX
11/17/2020 12:12 pm

Excellent read here as usual. Here is my take. Penalizing any player for what might have happened makes as much sense as a wife punishing a husband for having a potential affair, not a real one.

Team Player
Team Player
Reply to  Daniel Harms
11/17/2020 5:00 pm

My wife disagrees

steve_chiefs
steve_chiefs
Reply to  Daniel Harms
11/17/2020 5:08 pm

Mahomes is pushing the boundaries and of course is going to have some near misses both on Interceptions and Touchdown passes

There is another stat PFF tracks

Tight window throws

Mahomes is unbelievable in his ability to fit the ball in places most every other NFL QB ever can’t.

Could you look up that stat please?

steve_chiefs
steve_chiefs
Reply to  Daniel Harms
11/17/2020 5:10 pm

actually that might be a Zebra Technologies stat

they have imbedded tracking equipment in every NFL football with I think 6 inches or so of the ability to track on every play

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