Patrick Mahomes Week 1 Film Review, Plus a bonus look at Chris Jones
Charting every snap of Mahomes vs the Browns... and talking Jones.
It’s that time again.
Time for one of my favorite parts of this job. Time for me to do what I’ve been doing on every single snap since 2013. Time to get back to charting every snap of Chiefs’ quarterback play. Which means I get to do (as a JOB, lol) one of the most fun things on earth; Watching Patrick Mahomes play football.
Quarterback play is very, very difficult to accurately quantify. Even the best statistical tools we have (such as expected points added, completion percentage over expected, QBR, etc.) are all trapped by the same flaws that they measure team success rather than what the quarterback specifically did on a given play. You know the drill… a 2-yard screen pass can result in 75 yards and a touchdown while a gorgeous 15-yard out from the opposite hash can result in an incomplete pass if the receiver doesn’t do his job.
So for those who haven’t been reading here or at The Athletic (or SB Nation before that), I set out years ago to try and find a way to quantify what really matters from a quarterback’s play: Accuracy, pocket presence, vision/awareness, playmaking, and ball protection. If a quarterback does these things well, he’ll consistently play well.
With that in mind, when I watch all-22 film I chart plays/yards created when the play breaks down, franchise QB throws (you know them when you see them), multiple-read plays, accurate/inaccurate throws from both in and out of the pocket, flushes (plays the quarterback is forced to bail out due to pressure before anyone is open), drops by receivers and yards cost, potential interceptions (because a bad throw is still a bad throw if the defender drops it), missed shots (a receiver who was open and should have likely been seen, but wasn’t), and “happy feet” (when a quarterback bails on clean pocket or creates pressure with his movement. By looking at these things, we can separate Mahomes’ (or any quarterback’s) play from the team around him.
There are a few changes this year. I am no longer charting depth of target of each throw, as that information has become publicly available every week via Next Gen stats. Additionally, I’ve started tracking “offsides drawn” to reflect how often Mahomes is able to earn free plays and free yards.
Now that we’re done with the numbers explanation, let’s look at how Mahomes did in Week 1 against the Browns and then talk about a few things I saw on film. We all know Mahomes is incredible, but there were a few interesting nuggets from Week 1 that I’ll be keeping my eye on moving forward.
*Not included in potential INTs are the offsides “shot plays” where Mahomes knows he has a free play and chucks it down the field, because it would be dumb to penalize the QB for that.
(Because not all throws can be charted for depth of target and/or accuracy, the numbers will look wonky at times)
There’s a lot to be taken away from Mahomes’ performance against the Browns, but one of the first things I noticed was how consistently accurate Mahomes was throughout the day, and how he kept taking whatever the Browns were giving him with quick underneath throws.
(Just to get it out of the way, no, there’s not a deep option on this play. The Browns’ secondary converges on the ball once the throw is made and so it looks like he’s open at the end. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have sent me screenshots of after the ball is already in the air claiming a guy is open, not taking into account how fast NFL players see and converge on throws)
Here, the Browns are playing what looks to be a zone look with 4 defenders deep. They spent much of the day trying to avoid getting beaten over the top. This is generally a sound way to play the Chiefs, but it requires quick pressure to avoid Mahomes seeing the field clearly. The Browns don’t get that, and he reads the coverage to see that the underneath linebacker is going to have to either let CEH have room or Hill. The linebacker runs to CEH, and Mahomes hits Hill for a quick underneath throw with room for easy yards after the catch.
Mahomes spent much of the game hitting easier throws like this underneath shells, but still found a way to take some shots in deep and intermediate zones.
Mahomes showed absolutely tremendous timing with Hill and Kelce throughout the day, which is hardly surprising. However, he’s at times been a little fired up early in the season and had some overthrows because of it. This year, he was ruthlessly efficient finding the cracks in the Browns’ zone schemes and making throws even as his favorite targets were making their breaks.
Mahomes often knew where he wanted to go prior to the snap, demonstrative of a quarterback who has been around long enough to recognize defensive looks pre-snap. It resulted in a very efficient performance overall that didn’t often require heroics, in part thanks to the fact that the offensive line largely held up throughout the game.
Of course, that didn’t mean that no heroics ever occurred. Mahomes still made some of those “how does he make that look so easy” throws that have defined his career to this point. Obviously there was a big touchdown to Tyreek Hill, but my favorite throw of the day didn’t result in points.
Here, Mahomes has Hill going across the field to the left corner on a route that only he is probably fast enough to get past the attempted bracket from the safety. It’s a route that takes a little time to develop, and Niang has a tough snap here where he allows the pass rusher to slide off him and gain the edge. Mahomes knows he’ll take a hit, but hangs on for an extra beat and delivers a tremendous pass with touch 35 yards in the air.
Mahomes was also his typical self in creating yards when the play wasn’t working around him, either moving around to buy time and open up passing lanes then delivering big throws on the run or just saying, “fine, I’ll do it myself.”
Mahomes’ ability to create remains second to none. What makes him the best quarterback in the league, though, is that he combines that ability to create with ruthless efficiency when operating within the parameters of the offense. Other quarterbacks can take what the defense gives. Other quarterbacks can be consistently accurate. Other quarterbacks can throw players open. Other quarterbacks can create when things break down. But no one combines those traits the way Mahomes does.
It’s also worth noting that Mahomes was able to bait the Browns into several offsides plays but played relatively mistake-free in his approach, with a single potential pick (frankly one that’s borderline but rules are rules) and not missing any shots that I could notice. In other words, Mahomes was creative and game-mangery (definitely not a word, but it should be) all at the same time.
One interesting thing about the Browns game was watching how Mahomes played with the new offensive line, which showed that there’s still some trust to be found between the two and a place where he can be even better in future weeks. Note that Mahomes had 5 happy feet snaps on the day, higher than his average of roughly 2-3 per game throughout his career.
(WARNING- You’re about to read about an area where Mahomes can improve his game. Understand that even the best of the best have areas they can get better, and take some deep breaths. Also, know that the rest of the league should be terrified that there are areas Mahomes can be even better)
The interior line played at a higher level in pass protection than we’ve seen in years, and it may be that it’ll take Mahomes a little time to get used to having a better pocket to step up in. It also called more attention to how his movement can be too “big” at times for what the play requires.
Watch how the blocking goes here vs Mahomes’ movement. He has a little concern about Brown giving up an edge, and so he steps up. That’s natural movement and the right idea, but rather than just sliding up a step Mahomes instead moves multiple yards and brings himself right into pressure from Thuney’s defender, who Thuney had reset his anchor against and stopped.
It’s a hard thing to picture what “would have happened,” but imagine if instead Mahomes had taken a single step forward while continuing to scan. He would have given his line help by putting them squarely between him and the defenders, and he wouldn’t have been under duress when making the throw. The contact he takes from being too far up in the pocket results in an inaccurate throw (one of his few of the game) and an incomplete pass.
This happened several times Sunday, whether it was Mahomes moving into pressure that wasn’t there before or making a throw more difficult than it needed to be.
Here, the Chiefs do a nice job picking up the stunt (which is helped by the defender hilariously falling down. Humphrey losses his feet but is right back up and still between Mahomes and the defender) and pushing the edge rushers wide. There’s no real pressure here to speak of when Mahomes climbs the pocket, and he could sit and survey from there for several seconds. Instead, he again gets caught making his movements too big and rather than resetting he throws on the run. It ends up short to Robinson, who had some separation (though not a ton).
This is an incredibly small nitpick against the best player on the planet, but the fact is that one can see that Mahomes is used to operating with pressure from the interior line and is not used to having good pockets to step up into consistently. Ever since the 2018 season the interior has been prone to either getting pushed back, losing track of stunts, or just flat out getting beat often enough that Mahomes has been forced to utilize sprinting out of the pocket or dancing through traffic.
We’ll see how the interior line plays in the coming weeks (remember, we’re talking about a one week sample size here), but the early returns show Thuney/Humphrey/Smith providing a much more stable “wall” along the interior and giving Mahomes the option of limiting his pocket movements. That’s going to take some adjusting, but even in the first week he showed more tendency to climb in the pocket than bail out left or right in previous years, so it’s a safe assumption he’ll adjust (like he has to every other change over the years).
Overall, Mahomes played at his typically absurdly high level, demonstrating an ability to carve up a defense trying to limit big plays, and on top of that there’s a real area for him to take a step forward and adjust to his new line. That’s good news, and a couple of fun things to watch as the year moves along.
Let’s talk about Chris Jones
You know I wasn’t going to finish the week and not even MENTION Jones, so… bonus content!
I’ll make this short and sweet. I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea of Jones playing a lot of time on the edge, but the Browns game was an excellent example of a time that it could play dividends. Cleveland has an excellent interior line that was doing a nice job in pass protection all game. They were more vulnerable on the edges, especially after an early injury to their left tackle. And Jones demonstrated in several big moments how he can alter a game at the edge. First, right before the half he effectively killed Cleveland’s chances of scoring and showed that tackles aren’t equipped to deal with his power and handfighting.
There’s just no chance for the quarterback here barring the first read being very open. Jones threatens the edge with his first step and when the tackle shows his hands Jones gets underneath them to swat them away and, with his typical freakish upper body strength, toss the blocker aside. It’s a nice win inside that will force tackles to think about trying to punch first when dealing with Jones, and leave them worried about being powered aside.
Of course, late in the game (on a drive the Browns needed points) on a first down Jones showed that he can also win around the edge in a more traditional fashion.
Once again, there’s no real chance for this play to succeed. And this time Jones shows off that while he’s not a great athlete on the edge, his first step is still high-level enough that tackles risk being blown by if they aren’t careful. He also corners JUST well enough to finish the play quickly.
This sort of win (even on a really rough rep from the tackle, who wasn’t expecting that sort of jump from Jones) should frighten the league. It shows that despite his status as a massive defensive end, Jones isn’t just a threat to go through tackles or rush inside. He’s a legitimate threat to win around the edge as well, which means cheating for the bull rush or an inside move carries a ton of risk.
With regards to the run game, Jones showed more than enough strength to hold up the edge, and the Browns ran away from him a fair amount. But he showed the ability to make big plays there as well in critical moments, including a late-game 2nd down that helped force 3rd and long.
A lot of players did a nice job here, particularly Wharton and Nnadi holding up the interior line, but Jones forces the runner to pause by getting into the backfield quickly and holding up the north/south movement.
Watching Jones this year will be interesting. I’m curious if they alter how frequently he’s used on the edge depending on matchup (he played almost the whole game there against Cleveland). But based on the early returns, making one of the best defensive players in the league even more versatile as to where he can line up looks like a smart move. Who would’ve thought it?
Week 1 was terrific fun, and I hope seeing Mahomes’ play more in-depth and celebrating Jones has made it even more fun for you. Here’s hoping Week 2 is as good.