Mahomes Report: Divisional Round
Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown of what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.
For the first time since before yours truly was born, the Kansas City Chiefs have won a home playoff game, knocking off the Indianapolis Colts 31-13 in the AFC divisional playoffs. The game was effectively over early; Kansas City got out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and 17-0 early in the second, and never looked back.
Unsurprisingly, Patrick Mahomes was impressive in the victory.
In the first playoff game of his career, Mahomes didn’t throw a passing touchdown yet still led several scoring drives and picked apart the Indianapolis defense with the off-the-wall throws we’ve grown accustomed to.
There’s plenty of room to improve for next week’s AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, but it’s hard to be upset about the show Mahomes and the Chiefs put on this weekend.
The Colts had a top-10 defense in the NFL this season, and they allowed the fifth fewest 20+ yard pass plays in the league. While their defense usually does a good job limiting the big play, the flips side is that a lot more opens up in the short and intermediate passing games. When that starts working for an opposing offense? Deeper throws open up. For the Chiefs, they set the tone and took the upper hand in the on-field chess match with the first drive of the game.
First things first, Mahomes used his mastery of the RPO game to connect with his No. 1 receiver, Tyreek Hill.
Hill is facing off coverage, so he gets a free release on his slant. Mahomes is reading linebacker Anthony Walker (50), who bites on the run option, Mahomes makes the right read, pulling back and throwing into the window fully vacated by Walker. Easy first-down completion.
This was followed by another RPO, which was a short run by Damien Williams. Next, Mahomes has easy pickings when the Colts drop into a zone.
This is a perfect of example of the Colts giving up yardage underneath. Wisely, Mahomes and the Chiefs looked to take advantage early. This time you can see the linebackers drop back and the left corner fade to the boundary. Travis Kelce runs a quick comeback route and has plenty of cushion. Mahomes knows he’ll be open once he recognizes the defense.
Now with the short passes conquered on this drive, the offense can open up. Enter Sammy Watkins, making his first appearance since Week 11.
Zone defenses don’t work particularly well when defending Mahomes’ arm. Watkins, from the far left, breaks on a deep crosser and Mahomes hits him in stride in the soft spot in the zone along the left hash. Watch the quarterback’s eyes on this play. He looks the coverage off toward the left boundary, creating a bigger throwing window. Look off, look back, throw a dart, big completion. The Chiefs scored on a Williams touchdown run one play later, but the score was set up by a perfectly scripted opening drive and some precise passing from Mahomes.
The second-year starter didn’t have to get overly creative with his own movements on the first drive, but that doesn’t mean that was the case all game. The first of his more acrobatic passes came later in the first quarter.
It’s hard to understand how he completes these passes. Margus Hunt (92) applies a little pressure up the middle this time, with Al-Quadin Muhammad sealing off the left. Mahomes has to run to his right and fade backwards because of Hunt’s pursuit. He’s watching the play unfold the entire time though, which allows him to see Hill open back in the center of the field. While his momentum is carrying him in two different directions away from the play, Mahomes still gets enough behind the throw and aims it well enough to connect with his receiver for a first down. This is next-level athleticism for a passer.
Arguably the most physically impressive pass from Mahomes, however, came in the second half when he went full shortstop on a throw to Kelce.
Yes, the baseball thing is overplayed, we all know he played baseball, his dad played, of course. But that skill set legitimately benefits Mahomes now and it’s why it’s so hard to get in front of his passes. He’s got a wider range of arm slots than any passer in the NFL by a mile. Kelce runs a dig from the left and comes all the way across the field as Mahomes tries to escape pressure. He navigates the pocket masterfully and then drops his arm all the way to the side and fires a strike to his tight end. He’s got the velocity and accuracy to put the ball where only his man can reasonably catch it, and he did it from an angle nobody else can or would replicate. And again, all of that came after he had to escape pressure that was closing in on him in the pocket. This throw is nuts.
We’ve already looked at one RPO pass from the game, so let’s peak at a couple other crisp throws out of those options from later in the game. The first one is the laser of the week.
You can essentially see the smoke emanating from the ball as it exits his hand. This is a tough throw to make because he’s got to release it post haste with a free runner (Zaire Franklin, 44) bearing down on him. He gets it out and rifles it to Hill, who gets inside leverage on his post route. It’s perfectly placed, too. A throw that fast is hard to handle, but it’s thrown where even an incompletion will be a safe play. There’s no risk of a tip popping the ball in the air. Hill is the only one who can catch this, and it’s absurd how often that’s the case with these tough throws.
Hill was the top target on these RPOs against Indianapolis, and it’s easy to see why.
With an accurate throw and a crisp route, Mahomes and Hill can’t be stopped on these plays. It’s child’s play at this point. Williams sweeps left to right, Anthony Walker bites on the run, the window opens and Mahomes uncorks a throw to Hill. A couple times this season we saw a defensive back actually get inside of Hill or Mahomes make a bad read and it would result in an incomplete pass. Not on Saturday, though. The Colts defense didn’t have a prayer on these options.
Kelce was the game’s leading receiver, and the next few plays will spotlight his big game. First off, a creative play design helped the protection and allowed Mahomes to find his tight end open down the field.
You can see Jabaal Sheard (93) not commit all the way to attacking Mahomes because of the play fakes. That alleviates a little pressure on the offensive line (specifically Mitchell Schwartz and tight end Demetrius Harris) and gives Mahomes more time. He finds Kelce immediately cross the field and fires a dart right to him. This is a rapid reaction by the quarterback and a really nice throw. He knew the big man would be open.
Sometimes there didn’t need to be many distractions or deceiving elements to find Kelce open, though.
Kelce is bunched on the right end of the line, simply runs up the seam and is left alone like McCauley Culkin. There isn’t much window dressing here, it’s just an easy pass to Mahomes as his receiver breaks inside and it turns into a big gain. The Chiefs had a week to prepare for a defense that leaves a lot of room open within 20 yards; it would have been ridiculous to expect Mahomes to not tear that defense up.
One more throw to Kelce, and that’s a beautiful example of play extension and trusting your arm to make a play.
The pocket collapses, so Mahomes has to go into evasion mode. He skips out to the right and runs toward the line of scrimmage. He’s got Walker waiting for him just a few yards away. He could have kept heading toward the right and gained a few yards with his legs before he had to slide or go out of bounds. Instead, he showed off his awareness and identified Kelce leaking open in the middle of the field. Walker is in no-man’s land, because he has no chance to drop back to Kelce without giving the quarterback a massive running lane. Mahomes sees him, flicks the wrist and the Chiefs get the first down. It’s the awareness and extension ability that allow this to be a first-down gainer.
There’s one more throw to get to in this week’s “good,” and that’s this completion to Gehrig Dieter.
First of all, good for Gehrig Dieter getting involved in a playoff game. This one is another tight-window throw, with an added difficult element of getting beyond the inside defender just so it can reach the receiver. If you attempt this throw in Madden it will be intercepted every single time and you’ll curse at yourself because you knew it would happen. Patrick Mahomes is better than Madden, though. Defenders can’t easily break up a pass with this much velocity.
Finally, while he didn’t throw for a touchdown in the win over the Colts, he did run for one.
A quarterback who can throw? A quarterback who can run? Get you a quarterback who can do both. He breaks out right quickly enough that Hunt won’t be able to reach him as he penetrates. The late pump fake freezes Darius Leonard (53) for maybe a quarter of a second, but it’s enough to give Mahomes a slightly longer window to reach the pylon. He does it and the Chiefs extended their lead. He’s fearless with his legs but also does a good job of picking his spots. Picked a good one here.
Picking out the bad this week is sort of splitting hairs. The only clip we’ve got for No. 15 is something that frankly happens to a lot of quarterbacks all the time, but on this sack he didn’t feel the pressure whatsoever coming from his blind side.
Kenny Moore (23) had a good game for Indianapolis and laid the wood on this corner blitz sack. Mahomes has developed a sixth sense for feeling that blindside pressure during the year, but it was AWOL on this snap. In fairness to him, the pressure was instant and he didn’t have time to react. Still, if you want to point out a flaw, here you go.
The only other “bad” will be explored later on in the Report, but as it pertains to QB1 his game wasn’t bad after the early offensive explosion, it just sort of stagnated, and that was the case for the entire offense. In the first half Mahomes went 16/23 for 185 yards (8.04 yards per attempt). In the second half, however, he was just 11/18 for 93 yards (5.17 YPA). The Chiefs didn’t need a whole lot of offense in the second half, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been nice to see a little more of that explosion in the third and fourth quarters.
Four different Chiefs scored a rushing touchdown in Saturday’s win. We already saw Mahomes’ score, but the first touchdown of the game came courtesy of Damien Williams.
Oh look, another RPO. This run is another example of why Kansas City is so high on Williams and why he received a two-year contract earlier this season. He’s got a great combination of power and elusiveness, which is visible on this play (specifically the latter part). Simply enough, from a fan’s perspective, he’s just fun to watch when he’s got the ball in his hands. His skill set fits the Kansas City offense so well, and he’s given them something that looked lost when Kareem Hunt was cut. This run clowned a usually solid Indianapolis run defense.
He wasn’t the only Williams who ran for a score in the victory, as Darrel Williams cashed in the final touchdown of the game for the Chiefs.
Talk about a powerful run. He took plenty of contact, then kept his legs churning while being stood up in order to keep the play alive as long as he could. Props to the offensive line for shoving him across the plane; that’s a true team effort. Darrel Williams is just a role player on this team, but it’s clearly a valuable role, considering he was trusted to carry the ball late in the game on the goal line.
We’ve already seen Tyreek Hill shred the Indianapolis defense with his routes, but he did the same on the ground in the first quarter.
Ask a Royals fan about Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson, and they’ll probably utter the phrase “That’s what speed do” at some point during your conversation. The same applies to Hill, because his speed is so difficult to defend. He doesn’t need much of a crease to ramp up to full speed, which he did on this score. There’s no chance a defensive lineman is going to catch him, so you don’t have to worry about him bending a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. He hits top speed and when he does that, you’re already behind him if you’re not in front of him with plenty of space. Great call by Andy Reid to dial this up early, because it was another tone-setting play.
The defense needs a lot of love this week. The Chiefs didn’t allow the Colts to convert a single third-down attempt. Indianapolis went 0-for-9 on third down; that’s crazy. The Chiefs defense plays better at home, but nobody could have expected them to not allow a single third-down conversion and hold an opponent to six offensive points.
Like always, Kansas City’s defensive success started up front with the pass rush. The Colts had one of the best offensive lines in the league this year, but the Chiefs’ front seven beat them plenty of times. The first sack of the game for Kansas City came courtesy of Justin Houston.
Houston’s return to prominence has been pleasurable to watch. The Chiefs load their pass rushers on the right side of the line, with Houston lined up on Dee Ford’s inside shoulder. Mark Glowinski (64), in his fourth year in the league, was outright embarrassed with this blocking effort. Houston goes with a stutter step before breaking inside with the rush and Glowinski barely gets a hand on him. He looks like he did in 2014 again.
He was involved on another second-half sack too, picking up the loose ball after a Ford strip sack.
Rookie Braden Smith (72), the Olathe South product, wasn’t ready for Ford’s speed. This is what we’ve seen all year from Ford, though. He’s already bending and making his break toward the quarterback before his assigned blocker can even get his hands out. Quarterback Andrew Luck isn’t able to get the ball out quickly enough, so Ford is able to bat it loose, something else he’s excelled at this year.
The pass rushers weren’t the only players who beat a previously highly regarded Colts offensive line.
It was not a good game for Mark Glowinski. This time it’s rookie Derrick Nnadi who just steals his lunch money, bull rushing right past him and ending up in running back Marlon Mack’s lap by the time he takes the exchange from Luck. Even though Nnadi doesn’t wrap up Mack on first contact, he’s still able to recover his legs, reach around Glowinski again and make the tackle. The Chiefs won the battle up front in this game, which was a pleasant surprise given the narrative entering the weekend.
The most stunning miscue for the Chiefs in the divisional round was the meltdown on punt protection in the second quarter that led to the Colts’ first score.
You don’t usually see Dave Toub’s unit commit a blunder like this. Najee Goode (52) is abandoned by the protection team, allowing him to burst through a parted red sea and attack Dustin Colquitt (Najee Goode also follows yours truly on Twitter for some reason, which you can do here). This was so unexpected and uncharacteristic that you have to assume it won’t happen again, but it was still a big-time blunder.
Kansas City committed just one turnover in the game, and that was a Sammy Watkins fumble.
This was a lose-lose play for the Chiefs. One result is the turnover, or it would have been a significant loss had he held on to the ball. Probably not one we’ll see Reid call again next week. The ill effects of Watkins coughing it up were negated two plays later when Luck fumbled for Indianapolis (see above), but you still never want to give the ball away deep in your own territory. Against a team like the New England Patriots you can’t afford to make any mistakes like this.
Lastly, as was alluded to above when talking about Mahomes’ game, the Chiefs took their foot off the gas in the second half until the late touchdown drive. It makes sense because the game was firmly in hand, and this has been a long-time criticism of Reid’s game management. Plus, it’s not like this is indicative of what will happen with a Chiefs lead, in a close game, etc. next week against the Patriots. More than anything, it just shows that there’s still plenty for the team to work on going forward.
Still, you don’t love seeing an All-Pro quarterback average just over five yards per attempt for a whole half of football. The play calling was a little too conservative, the execution wasn’t up to Kansas City’s typical lofty standards and, frankly, it was just uninspiring action for most of the last 30 minutes. Again, it’s important to understand the game situation and recognize that the Chiefs didn’t need more points. But you absolutely cannot fall asleep at the wheel against New England next week.