Chiefs

Film review: Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes thrives while going off-script

Patrick Mahomes leads Chiefs to Monday Night Football win over Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambled his way to lead to the team in a 27-23 win against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football at Mile High Stadium in Denver on October 1, 2018.
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Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes scrambled his way to lead to the team in a 27-23 win against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football at Mile High Stadium in Denver on October 1, 2018.

Second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes garnered a lot of attention for his performance on Monday night in Denver, and he certainly added to his growing folklore with his left-handed pass to convert on third-and-five.

However, the most impressive part of his performance might have been how he handled pressure. In this case, pressure in every sense.

Not only did he have the physical and tangible pass rush pressure applied by the defense, but the first-year starter also thrived under the more abstract pressure of knowing he had to “make plays” or find a ways to move the ball outside of simply stepping up in the pocket and throwing to a receiver. If he hadn’t been able to create time and openings for his receivers with his legs, the offense likely would’ve sputtered. He threw for 192 of his 304 passing yards while outside of the pocket, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Here’s a look at few examples of how Mahomes’ improvisational abilities made the offense successful in Denver against a defense where they weren’t able to exploit match-up advantages or put the defense in a bind with personnel — something that will be relevant this week against Jacksonville’s defense.

The coaches’ film is courtesy of NFL Game Pass. The game-day television broadcasts, a condensed 45-minute version of every game and the coaches’ film, are available with an account at www.nfl.com/gamepass.

The now-infamous left-handed pass obviously provides a great example of Mahomes’ ability to make something positive out of a potentially drive-stifling situation.

“It was magical, you know, watching them matriculate down the field,” Chiefs safety Eric Murray said of watching from the sideline as Mahomes operated. “Even the left-handed pass, like (shrugs shoulders), come on now (laughs). I don’t know what else to tell you.”

Slight of hand

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Situation: Third-and-5 at the Kansas City 45-yard line

Alignment: The Chiefs had “11” personnel on the field with one tight end (Travis Kelce), one running back (Spencer Ware) and three wide receivers in Tyreek Hill, Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson. Ware lined up to the left of Mahomes, who was in the shotgun, while Conley split wide left on the line of scrimmage at the top of the numbers. Kelce lined up in the slot on the same side as Conley, giving the Chiefs three eligible receivers to that side of the field. Robinson lined up wide right on the line just inside the top of the numbers with Hill in the slot.

At the snap: The Broncos bring six pass rushers and outnumber the blockers available with Ware releasing into the pass pattern. With the Broncos having shown blitz pre-snap to the three-receiver side — and having brought pressure off that same edge earlier in the game — the left tackle, left guard and center’s attention were to the left side.

The center Mitch Morse (61) stabs the nose tackle and lets right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif pick him up as Morse peeled off to pick up the blitzing defensive back Will Parks (34), who Morse flattened. Meanwhile Eric Fisher (72) and Cam Erving (75) doubled up to block outside linebacker Bradley Chubb (55).

With LDT blocking the nose guard, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz came out of his stance with an eye on Von Miller (58) coming off the edge, but he also was responsible takes the next most dangerous man, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (54). Marshall came on the blitz and Schwartz got his hands on Marshall and knocked him off of a straight line to Mahomes. Meanwhile, Miler and Shane Ray (56) pursued Mahomes off the edge on Schwartz’s right side.

“There will be games like that where they’re doing a lot of things,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They had a couple of nice little blitzes for us early — fire zone-type things and blitzes — where he had to move. The one he threw left-handed was one of those.

“That play is a man-beater, and they just brought an extra guy and so he scrambled out and made a play there to an open Tyreek. Tyreek was actually the primary on that. Tyreek was coming wide open, but it was just a matter of moving and trying to get him the ball. Now obviously, he’s not left-handed but that’s what he did with it. There’s certain plays where you just have to be able to do that.”

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes wowed football fans Monday night when he completed a pass throwing left-handed. Learn how the photo was made.

With Kelce dragging across the formation from the slot on the left and Hill dragging across from the right, there were opportunities for a defender to get bumped/picked off. Not to mention Hill’s speed makes him a tough cover running away from a defender who can’t jam him at the line because he’s coming out of the slot off the line of scrimmage. Conley also ran a deeper in-cut before breaking back toward the corner. Hill’s defender Chris Harris Jr. (25) got caught up as he tried to get over the top of Conley’s route and Conley’s defender.

Of course, all of that means nothing if Mahomes wasn’t able to buy enough time to get away from the two unblocked blitzers who came from his right side.

“I felt Von on my back and I knew I couldn’t throw it with my right hand, and I knew we needed the first down. I kind of just shot putted it to Tyreek, and he got the first down and made a great play. You’ve just got to get the ball in their hands somehow.”

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Broncos set tone early

At times, in just about all of the Chiefs’ earlier games, Mahomes had been able to stand in the pocket and pick out mismatches or see where the safeties were giving help on one receiver and leaving another defender vulnerable.

Early in Monday’s game, the Broncos showed him a variety of pressure post-snap from multiple places, which sped him up on a couple throws.

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Instead of letting the pressure of appearance of pressure force him into bad decisions or rush throws, Mahomes moved in and outside of the pocket and used his elite arm strength to find receivers as he threw on the run.

Example: Mahomes completes a 15-yard pass to Hill on third-and-16 with 10:53 remaining in the fourth quarter and his team down by 10. The Chiefs converted on fourth down, and went on to score a touchdown on a pass from Mahomes to Kelce.

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Example: Denver rushes four and drops seven into coverage on third-and-11 and Mahomes didn’t force a throw. He got out of the pocket as it tightened around him, scrambled left and completed a pass across his body for a gain of 29 to Kelce.

Again, if he doesn’t make something happen, the offense stalls there.

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Getting defensive

The Chiefs’ defense has continued it’s Jekyll and Hyde ways of giving up yards by the dozen and still getting the ball back often enough to give the offense a chance. However, the Broncos’ success running at the Chiefs will certainly be something to keep in mind this week with Jacksonville (minus Leonard Fournette) coming to Arrowhead Stadium.

The Broncos averaged 7.2 yards per carry on Monday night. Rookies Phillip Lindsay (12 carries, 69 yards) and Royce Freeman (eight carries, 67 yards) each got into the end zone.

From just a couple examples we can see that the issues weren’t necessarily the same throughout for the Chiefs. At times, they were in position and didn’t tackle well enough to prevent big gains. At other times, the Broncos’ offense -- particularly the offensive line -- executed better.

Example: Freeman gashes the Chiefs for 18 yards up the middle out of the I-formation with two tight ends.

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In this slow-motion version, you can see inside linebackers Reggie Ragland (59) and Anthony Hitchens (53) diagnosed the play quickly enough to avoid the initial blocks. Chris Jones (95) occupied both the guard and tackle in front of Hitchens. They both moved to fill the center-guard gap, Ragland apparently anticipated Freeman winding it back toward the middle. Hitchens recognized that and jumped to fill the other cut-back lane. Cornerback Kendall Fuller came up aggressively to fill the other play-side gap. Broncos guard Connor McGovern (60) may have gotten away with enough of a push in the back on Ragland to shove him past the ball carrier, and Fuller couldn’t take down Freeman, listed at 6 feet and 238 pounds.

Example: Phillip Lindsay gains 17 yards up the middle running out of a one-back, two-tight end set.

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In this case, the offensive line does a great job of getting to the second level quickly and giving Lindsay the ability to open up to the defensive right side with his initial two steps, receive the handoff and press the line of scrimmage almost as if running off tackle before he came back up the middle.

Lindsay’s pressing things on the front side set up the blocks on inside linebackers Hitchens on Ragland, and McGovern did a great job of staying with the block on Ragland even as Lindsay appeared to have perhaps cut back one gap too far. McGovern stays with Ragland and rides him out of the path enough to create the crease necessary for Lindsay.

Even without Fournette, the Jaguars could use breakdowns in the run defense to control the tempo of the game and take pressure of quarterback Blake Bortles.

Lynn Worthy

Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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