Sam Mellinger

Chiefs film review: Here are four plays Patrick Mahomes probably wants back

This entire premise is a little silly. We admit that right here at the top. Transparency has never been more important, so there it is. Silly. Laughable. Absurd.

Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s reigning MVP. He played nearly three quarters of the Chiefs’ season opener on a leg and a half, and more than that without his best receiver, against a prideful and talented defense that a year ago was among the best in the league and last weekend desperately wanted revenge.

All of that is true and so is this: Mahomes threw for the second-most yards ever in an NFL first quarter, and finished with 25 completions on 33 attempts for 378 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 143.2 passer rating was the second-best of his career, behind only the six-touchdown day he had in Pittsburgh last year.

So why the heck are we spending time going over what he could’ve done better? Glad you asked! Two reasons.

First, let’s be honest. This is more fun than the work you’re supposed be doing.

Second, his head coach started it.

“The quarterback had a couple of things that he can clean up,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after watching the film.

More transparency: I cannot say with certainty that the following four examples are what Reid referred to. He undoubtedly is aware of some protection calls that Mahomes could’ve improved, for instance, and we have no way of knowing that here.

But a closer look through the first snaps of the 2019 season reveal at least these four misses. Perfection is impossible in the NFL, as in life, but the Chiefs’ offense has been closing the gap for a year, now so here goes.

Third and 3 at the Jacksonville 9, 9:05 left in the first quarter:

This is the one being discussed the most, so we’re including it here, but honestly it’s not much of a miss.

Mahomes has the option to give Tyreek Hill the ball on a jet sweep to the right. But he keeps and rolls left, where Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce are surrounded by four defenders.

Watkins, who lined up on the outside of the original formation, cuts inside. Kelce comes from the slot and cuts toward the outside sideline. The defensive backs follow Watkins, which leaves Kelce with space, but cornerback D.J. Hayden stays in his zone — in direct line between Mahomes and Kelce.

Mahomes tried to move Hayden toward the middle of the field with his eyes, but the defender doesn’t budge. The result is a no-look pass that sails high and wide. Mahomes took the blame for the throw after the game, but it’s hard to see what other angle he could’ve used.

The miss here isn’t the accuracy, then, but the possibility the angle didn’t exist. Perhaps it could’ve been created with a pump-fake; or, with a blocker (Damien Williams is in front), he may have been able to get the first down with his legs.

Third and 7 at the Jacksonville 7, 8:57 left in the second quarter:

Another memorable play that we’re looking at in a different way. This is the snap where Mahomes fumbled and Eric Fisher jumped on it (similar to when he saved the Ravens game last season) and eventually Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack lost his mind. But the moment Mahomes would likely want back happened earlier.

This is another smart play design, with three receivers to the left and Kelce split to the right, requiring extra attention. Mahomes sends Damien Williams in motion to the left just before the snap, and the defenders on that side are pulled away by the receivers. That leaves Williams wide open in the flat, and Mahomes has a clear lane to get him the ball.

He holds onto it, though, and you know the rest.

Second and 7 at the Jacksonville 28, 0:45 left in the second quarter:

This is Mahomes’ biggest miss of the day. Damien Williams is split wide left but motions to the backfield as the ball is snapped. Robinson is wide right, with Mecole Hardman and Watkins inside in a trips formation.

Watkins and Hardman run deep routes down the right side, taking the deep safety with them. That leaves Robinson streaking upfield on a post route with a step or two on cornerback Jalen Ramsey and no help behind. Without knowing the read progression, it’s hard to imagine a better look coming from this particular combination of routes.

Mahomes throws deep down the right sideline to Watkins, however, and when the ball lands the three closest players are all defenders.

Third and 7 at the Jacksonville 28, 40 seconds left in the second quarter:

This is the very next play: Robinson, Hardman and Watkins split right with Williams in the backfield. Kelce is lined up as a receiver on the left this time instead of a tight end, but it’s a similar formation.

Watkins runs a skinny post and is open for a second. Mahomes holds onto the ball, continuing to drive back. A beat or two later he looks ready to throw, but by then Calais Campbell is too close to Mahomes, so he pulls the ball back in. He is agile enough to avoid the clean hit, staying on his feet while in Campbell’s grasp.

But rather than go down, Mahomes throws somewhat blindly while being pulled to the ground. That’s a dangerous throw, but the risk is counterproductive here. There is no receiver even close, which makes an easy intentional grounding call.

On a normal down, the penalty likely would’ve taken the Chiefs out of field goal range. But on this play, it offset a defensive holding call that would’ve given the Chiefs a first down in the red zone.

One more time: We’re nitpicking, and not just nitpicking, but nitpicking the MVP on a day he went for 40 points on the road with an injury against a good defense and we’re doing it from a very comfortable chair with lots of replay angles.

But played differently, the Chiefs might’ve had 12 more points — three touchdowns instead of three field goals.

Also, it’s no fun to go through Mahomes’ film without pointing out some extraterrestrial moments, like the time he waited an extra beat for the right angle to throw this ball in front of the safety to a spot Watkins could catch and run — and he did it while wearing Campbell like a belt.

Or this throw, on the same drive, shuffling up and left and throwing right while preparing to be hit on both sides and still getting the ball between three defenders.

So, you know. Mahomes is still awesome. But somehow, like his coach said, he’s still less than perfect.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.