Mahomes Report: Week 1 vs. Jacksonville

Welcome to the Mahomes Report, a weekly breakdown from Brendan Dzwierzynski of what Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes did, either good or bad, during the most recent Chiefs game. For past editions, click here.

You can’t say the season started without a hitch for reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes, but considering he went through an injury scare and played with a heavily wrapped ankle, it was an exceptional season debut.

Jacksonville is a hot candidate for a bounce back year, specifically because of its defense, but Mahomes shredded that unit in Week 1. He picked the Jaguars apart using all of his various tools. He torched them deep, worked them on intermediate throws and helped inch the team down the field on short ones.

Part of Mahomes’ success will always be attributed to coach Andy Reid’s hyper creative play designs and calls, but No. 15’s skill stands up on its own. And now, after they clung to this “accolade” in the week leading up to the opener, the Jaguars have finally allowed a passing touchdown to Mahomes.

Comp. % Yards TD INT Rate
75.8 378 3 0 143.2

Mahomes Good

The Chiefs opened the season with a bang so that’s what we’re going to do too, showing off his three touchdown passes from Sunday first. All three of the scores went to Sammy Watkins, who did plenty of work on each of these plays. First up, the first touchdown of the game.

It’s easy to ignore how fast Watkins is when guys like Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman are on the team, but Watkins ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. On this reception he shows off his speed and elusiveness, splitting defenders and racing to paydirt. Mahomes glances toward Hill running out of the backfield first while Watkins runs a slant from his isolated spot to the quarterback’s right. From there, Mahomes simply waits for Watkins to separate, hits him in stride with a dart and he’s gone. This is reminiscent of the first game of last season when Mahomes connected with Hill, who then ran a long way for a score.

On the second touchdown pass of the game Mahomes had to throw long, but he was able to loft it to a wide-open Watkins in the softest spot possible in a zone.

Run action after the snap goes right and the offensive line shifts that direction. That group bottled up the pass rush, giving Mahomes plenty of time to find an open man. As you can see, nobody is anywhere close to Watkins, so the MVP has time to gather himself, turn his shoulders and put a perfect touch on this pass to drop it right in the bread basket.

Let’s look at why Watkins was so open.

Watkins is circled in light blue, while Hill is marked with dark blue. This is a zone look for Jacksonville, and the defensive backs in the picture are dropping back on the snap. Watkins is crossing Mahomes’ field of view to start the route, and is briefly met with contact by Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack (44) before turning upfield. The linebackers are all playing shallow in the zone, while Hill occupied the attention of the right-side corner. That vacated the entire right third of the field, and there’s no chance Jack can catch up to Watkins from there. Excellent scheme that opens up an easy touchdown.

The third score of the game through the air came via a strong throw and a strong route by Sunday’s top duo.

Whip route, bounce route, bounce house, doesn’t matter what you call this work from Watkins, it’s fantastic. He’s again on Mahomes’ dominant side, which is the same side he has to slide to when there’s traffic in front of him and some penetration from the defense. This is a difficult throw for QB1, on the move and off the ground while generating enough power to get velocity on the throw. It doesn’t phase him, though, as he puts this one on the money to his receiver.

Here’s another look at how Watkins got good positioning against one of the best cornerbacks in the league, Jalen Ramsey:

Ramsey showed up to training camp this year in a Brinks truck as a symbol of what he hopes to get with his next contract. This play will be used against him in negotiations. Watkins makes sharp cuts and is physical without doing enough to draw a flag, roasting Ramsey in the process. The throw by Mahomes was impressive and well-timed (which is more evident in this clip; watch when the throw comes in compared to when Watkins turns his head and gets separation), but he was still aided by his receiver’s effort.

There were a handful of long throws from Mahomes against the Jaguars in Week 1, and Travis Kelce was the target several times. That included one first quarter throw that gave the quarterback a chance to show off his combination of arm strength and accuracy while moving.

Kelce is lined up on the end of the line to the left and is running a deep crossing route. Mahomes does a masterful job here of evading the pressure from Jacksonville rookie edge rusher Josh Allen (41). Allen is fighting around right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and collapses the pocket. Without shifting his eyes from down field, Mahomes skips out to his right through the pressure and delivers an accurate throw on the move. He leads Kelce to the ball, which in turn leads to plenty of YAC. This looks like the escapability and poise of a seasoned veteran.

Mahomes showed off his masterful touch on another deep throw to Kelce in the second quarter.

Myles Jack is going to want to scrub Sept. 8, 2019 from his memory as soon as possible. He’s matched up on Kelce, which is a disaster waiting to happen for the defense. The offensive line does a great job keep the pass rush at bay this time, giving Mahomes all day to set up and throw. He knows that he has a favorable matchup in the left seam, and immediately after the play fake he identifies his open man. Once again, the throw doesn’t force much of an adjustment by Kelce, leading to plenty of extra yardage after the catch. There are about 25 air yards on this pass, yet Mahomes makes it look like an effortless toss. And check out this move by Kelce to get separation:

He’s open right out of the break, giving Mahomes plenty of time to set up. The supporting cast did their jobs to perfection on this play, giving Mahomes no choice but to make a good throw.

Let’s get to more action from Watkins, including our Laser of the Week in this next play.

The Jaguars bring a stunt from the right on this rush, leaving Mahomes unprotected before the throw. He knows he’s going to get hit (we’ve already seen that he can feel pressure while in the pocket), but stands in anyway and lets this one rip. It’s an awkward throw as he braces for the impact, but while lunging forward he still gets a lot behind the ball and puts it on a rope to Watkins, who’s open behind the linebackers. It takes mental and physical toughness to make this play, not to mention arm strength. Check out the arm angle, too. This isn’t one of those tricky sidearm throws, rather an over-the-top delivery. He’s as good as ever at throwing from multiple release points to fit the ball where it needs to go.

That wasn’t the only time Mahomes took a hit while completing a pass, either.

There’s a total lapse in edge protection on this play, with strong side and blind side pressure. This is the classic Chiefs RPO with a slant route, one of the most frequently deadly plays in the NFL. Watkins is a frequent target on these plays, and he makes an athletic grab this time around. The most impressive part is Mahomes though, who withstands a hit from Yannick Ngakoue (91) to the back and contact in front to deliver a ball where only Watkins can make the catch (low and away). There’s a weird-looking sway in his body and another unorthodox arm angle on the throw, but it works. Again, this takes a lot of talent, and physical and mental toughness.

We’ll finish up the positive plays with a couple of quick hitters from Sunday’s win. First, more RPO action.

This one features an out route, not a slant, but it goes for a big gain anyway thanks to Watkins’ effort after the catch. Mahomes has to make a quick play here when he reads the outside linebacker, who’s rushing in instead of dropping back into the zone. Watkins is wide open, and Mahomes is able to make a throw in one fluid motion after pulling the ball back at the mesh point. He needs to make that throw quickly and fluidly, too, taking advantage of a step in toward the running back by the linebacker.

One last example now, a simple yet well-executed timing route.

Is this throw spectacular? No. Is it particularly unique? No. Great job of selling it, obviously. That all doesn’t mean it isn’t a difficult throw though, which it is. Mahomes needs to both hit Hill out of his break and place it well enough that a closing Ramsey can’t break it up (or worse). It’s a long throw, only adding to the level of difficulty. It’s little things like this that get lost in the shuffle amidst the more exciting plays, but you don’t have to look far to find plenty of quarterbacks who can’t do this consistently.

Also, let’s be honest, we’ve gone a long time without football. May as well break down as many plays as we can while we can.

Mahomes Bad

We’ll start with the play that everyone has seen by now, the most egregious mistake of the day by Mahomes. It’s overkill to say he’s too cocky or anything to that degree, but he was certainly feeling himself a little too much on this throw.

Everyone loves the no-look throws. They’re fun, they’re wild and most importantly, they work. Usually, anyway. Kelce was uncovered in the back corner of the end zone, any throw would have gotten the job done and put six on the board. Mahomes opts to keep his eyes back on the middle of the field and throws back across his body without looking. He proceeded to throw it way over his tight end’s head. It didn’t matter in the long run, but if you can keep it simple (and a throw while rolling to the left isn’t simple, anyway) you should.

Arguably the biggest issue for Mahomes during his MVP campaign was the moments when he would try to do too much. That sort of mentality nearly cost the Chiefs points in the second quarter against the Jaguars.

It’s possible that the ball gets knocked out here even if Mahomes had just gone down and tried to fight less. And generally speaking, you don’t mind him truly never giving up on a play because he can turn nothing into something special like it’s effortless at times. This was not one of those times, though. He gets tangled up in a mass of humanity, and (along with having a brief injury scare) loses the ball while fighting to get free. This is an example of a play when Mahomes should have just tucked the ball, gone down and lived to fight another day. Thankfully, Eric Fisher was nearby to recover the fumble.

There was another example of Mahomes doing too much later on, although this next play was wiped out by offsetting penalties.

It’s fair to say this is probably not exactly where he wanted to go with the ball, but it’s risky to the point of dangerous to throw this ball while being dragged to the ground. Calais Campbell (93) is a strong man, you’re not going to fight out of his grip. This was called intentional grounding, but again, was wiped out. No harm no foul, but this easily could have been grounding or worse.

When you take into consideration that the Chiefs left points on the field a couple times on Sunday, it makes Mahomes’ ridiculous numbers even more unbelievable, since they could have been even better. Here’s one more example of a play that could have padded his stats (and the score) even more.

Kansas City kicked a field goal after this to close the half, so the Chiefs didn’t come away from this empty handed. Still, this isn’t something you often see from No. 15. He leans back on the throw and overshoots Watkins, who’s got three Jaguars defenders around him. This is one Mahomes often hits, even though it’s a tough throw.

Non-Mahomes Good

Starting off the positive team plays is another Mahomes pass, but the big gain on this one is all thanks to Reid’s incomparable screen game designs.

There are so many moving parts in the backfield on this play (something that’s become a staple over the past couple of years for the Chiefs). Thanks to all the misdirection and good blocking, Damien Williams gets the ball cleanly with plenty of room to run. That room is set up by three offensive linemen who only need to block two defenders. Williams then uses his speed and agility to finish the run. Reid’s screen designs and their effectiveness were a big deal among some of the smarter minds in football analysis over the past few weeks, from Seth Keysor to Ben Baldwin to Warren Sharp. Plays like this are why Reid is held in such high regard in that particular area.

Speaking of running backs, LeSean McCoy showed this week that he’s still got it.

McCoy doesn’t have the same speed he had earlier in his career, but he’s clearly still got plenty of burst. He hits the hole and explodes through it on the left side of the line on this run. It’s magical to watch. He makes one cut to the left and he’s gone, only being dragged down by his shoe strings. Without facing seven or eight-man boxes like he often did in Buffalo, he’s got a chance to make plenty of these explosive plays this season.

He wasn’t even done with them on Sunday after the above play.

Doesn’t look like he’s aged a bit. Those cutbacks that made him famous are still fantastic. This time he’s angling left off the handoff before cutting back to the right, and against he’s able to explode into the open field. He’s still got moves in the open field too to pick up extra yardage. McCoy is going to be dangerous this season if he keeps getting opportunities like this.

On the defensive side of the ball, it took a while for Kansas City to get any pressure, which felt like something of a concern through one half of action, but in the second half the defensive front was finally able to break through.

This is a relentless rush from Emmanuel Ogbah, who is way too fast for rookie tackle Jawaan Taylor (75) on this play. Taylor can’t turn his hips quickly enough, and by the time he does he’s playing catch-up to Ogbah. The new Chiefs defensive end is able to work around the rookie ad brings down Gardner Minshew for a sack. It’s nice to see some of the new defensive acquisitions making plays.

Speaking of those new players, a linebacker and defensive back made their presence known with the game’s first takeaway.

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette hadn’t fumbled since 2016, when he was still in college, until Damien Wilson forced the ball out on this play. Bashaud Breeland then swooped in and recovered the fumble. The Chiefs are counting on these guys to fortify their respective weak position groups. They did enough to earn some credit on this play.

Frank Clark also made what one can assume was a spectacular play in the fourth quarter, recording Kansas City’s second takeaway with a late interception. Unfortunately, broadcast tape of that play doesn’t exist because the game went off the air due to some major production issues. Nevertheless, if the new guys can keep up the Chiefs’ tradition of winning the turnover battle (Kansas City has the best turnover margin in the NFL over the past five seasons), the defense will ideally be serviceable enough to not lose games constantly this year.

Non-Mahomes Bad

DJ Chark was a good player at LSU who the Jaguars are hoping becomes a true No. 1 option for their bleak receiving corps. He looked the part on Sunday.

Chark had four receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. You can’t stop every player from having a big day, and passing attacks beat even the best secondaries several times per game, but this play from Charvarius Ward illustrates the issues the Chiefs secondary still needs to work out. Beaten on the route, give up the catch, then outmatched while giving up YAC. This was not the only flawed play by the defensive backs against the Jaguars.

One play that stood out immediately as another example of this defense still having plenty of room to grow came in the first quarter when Jacksonville was facing a third down and 18.

Nick Foles does a nice job evading pressure here, but old friend Chris Conley shouldn’t have had this much space to make the catch and reach ahead for the first down. No defense should be giving up conversions when the opposing offense needs 18 yards. Compounding the issue here was rookie safety Thornhill hitting Conley in the head, leading to 15 more yards. The Chiefs were the most penalized team in the NFL last season, something that needs to be rectified.

Lastly, Chiefs, you need to tackle better.

To a degree, it’s unfair to show one play and use it as an indictment that the team can’t tackle or do any other specific thing. The sample size is too small. However, against better players and better offenses it could become a costlier problem than it was against the Jaguars.

It’s easy to nitpick at faults after Week 1. Kansas City has Super Bowl aspirations and expectations for the franchise are higher than ever. But it’s still important to recognize that this is a brand new defense with largely new personnel, and it’s going to take some time for everything to mesh. The defense will have some growing pains and is likely going to make plenty of mistakes as the whole group gets acclimated to what defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is looking for. That said, until it all gets worked out it’s nice to have an offense that hasn’t missed a beat in the offseason and is putting up a ton of points with regularity.