In his first season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback, Patrick Mahomes was sensational – 50 touchdown passes, more than 5,000 passing yards, a 113.8 quarterback rating and an NFL MVP award. It’s tough to argue that things could have gone much better. That’s the scary thing about Mahomes, though. There is still plenty of room for improvement.
Mahomes needs more refinement with his feet in the pocket, plain and simple. He was, and will continue to be, able to get away with it at times because of his tremendous athletic abilities. However, his sloppy footwork got him into some trouble in 2018, and it cost the Chiefs dearly in the AFC Championship Game.
Two plays from Kansas City’s season-ending loss to the Patriots serve as a microcosm for where Mahomes can take the next step. Below, you can see the design of the first play. The Patriots were playing man coverage with the deep safety cheating to Tyreek Hill’s side, something they did often throughout the night. To the other side, running back Damien Williams ran a wheel route out of the backfield and tight end Travis Kelce pinned his defender inside with a pick.
Williams was clearly open, as his defender was pinned inside of Kelce, and there was no safety help over the top to his side. Mahomes should have planted his back foot and started his throwing motion at the exact point shown below.
He didn’t, though. Instead, he took three additional hop steps and ended up making a jump throw because the pressure was closing in on him. The result was a wildly inaccurate pass on what should have been an easy touchdown.
From the end zone angle, you can see that Mahomes never set his feet. This prevented him from being ready to throw on time with his body under control. His feet kept moving, and when your feet don’t stop moving, it’s basically impossible to throw with a solid base. Mahomes held the ball too long as he drifted back in the pocket, enabling the pass rush to influence the pass.
It’s impossible to know what would have happened if the Chiefs put 6 on the board there. Maybe they settle down and the flood gates open up. Maybe we’re talking about the Super Bowl champion Chiefs instead of the Patriots. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome at all. Regardless, it was a massive missed opportunity.
Two plays later on 3rd down, Mahomes again lacked discipline in the pocket, preventing the Chiefs from scoring any points on the drive. On this play, the Patriots rushed five, using a 3-man stunt inside. On the outside, they used a mush-rush. This means that the edge rushers didn’t rush further upfield than the depth of Mahomes’ drop (as shown below).
The idea was to eliminate escape lanes in front of Mahomes. When his initial read wasn’t open, he turned and ran backwards to escape the pocket and try to make a play. He ended up taking a sack that knocked the Chiefs out of field goal range.
Mahomes has to get rid of the ball in that situation. This is what the other side of having a quarterback with such special play-making ability looks like.
Not every snap is going to be a home run or a big-chunk play. Sometimes, the best option is just to avoid negative yards or stay on schedule. In the AFC Championship Game, Mahomes missed some opportunities to keep the offense moving forward and keep his defense off the field.
If Mahomes can fine tune his abilities and get better at doing some of the little things right in between all of those special plays, there is no reason why he couldn’t have an even better season in 2019.