The preparation commenced last fall, as Patrick Mahomes sat in the same quarterbacks room with Alex Smith day after day. It accelerated over training camp this summer, after Mahomes had assumed the starting job in Kansas City. He took dozens of snaps in practice, rolled with the first team in three preseason games and received significant attention from offensive-minded coaches.
But no matter the amount of time or facets allocated toward Mahomes’ development, there were aspects of it that remained unknown until the real games arrived.
His response to pressure in the pocket. His response to a defense that disguised and diversified its looks.
So far, so good. A day after Mahomes tied a franchise record with six touchdowns in the 42-37 win in Pittsburgh, Chiefs coach Andy Reid started there.
“The thing that I think gets overlooked in this one is they threw a bunch at him,” Reid said Monday of the Steelers’ defense. “Which I thought was going to be an important thing for him to work with.”
The film room identifies the coverages and the sources of potential blitzes and pressures. The Chiefs spent considerable time helping Mahomes distinguish them.
But he doesn’t get hit in practice. The risk of standing in the pocket isn’t elevated in the same manner it is during a game.
Reid said Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler “threw the kitchen sink” at the Chiefs with different pressures. To be sure, the offensive line deserves a major share of the credit for that being a non-factor, which Reid, Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce were quick to point out.
But Mahomes earned his share, too. Rather than scrambling and breaking the plan of a play, he manipulated the pocket.
“For a young guy, you wanna see how he handles the blitz and/or any pressure (and) how he settles in the pocket,” Reid said. “There are subtle things that can take place off of a three-technique or a one-technique. And if you’re getting a little pressure there, how do you move and still keep your eyes downfield? There are a bunch of little things in there that take place.
“Until you’re live — until you take that yellow jersey off — you’re not sure exactly. We get to see it here, (and) he seems to be doing that pretty good.”
A couple of plays — one from each of the first two weeks — serve as a prime example.
On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Mahomes had Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt bearing down on him. The play call was actually a run-pass option, meaning Mahomes could have simply handed the ball to Kareem Hunt and avoided a hit. Instead, he faked the handoff, then fired to Tyreek Hill for first-down yardage.
It mirrored a similar sequence against the Los Angeles Chargers in the opener.
“He’s done that the last couple weeks. He’s pretty good with that,” Reid said. “There’s going to be games where he’s going to have to maneuver some things, but he’s doing that right now. And the line’s giving him enough time right now, which is an important thing for a young quarterback.”
As for the coverages, Mahomes was able to shift the secondary with his eyes. He did it on each of the touchdowns to Kelce.
His reads have been true. Well, for the most part. Moments after Reid said the amount of nuance encountering Mahomes on Sunday might have been overlooked, he finished the same thought with acknowledgment that not all of it was handled perfectly — that even after a six-touchdown day, there remains opportunity for development.
“He’s using his instincts. He’s using his guys. He’s seeing it right now,” Reid said. “He’s just gotta keep growing with that. There were some things that he could’ve done better. I don’t wanna take anything away from him, but he’s a young kid, man, and he’s learning as we go. You’re seeing it. There’s room for improvement there.”