In Week 7, the Titans successfully continued a recent trend that we’ve seen against the Chiefs offense: Predominantly play zone coverage, align safeties deep to take away big plays over the top, and reduce blitz frequency. The underlying theme here has been to challenge Patrick Mahomes to win by being patient and repeatedly taking underneath throws. He hasn’t shown the ability to do so consistently this season.
There are several issues underlying Mahomes’ erratic play right now. The two biggest are that he’s not seeing the field and he’s not navigating pressure well from within the pocket. I can’t say why this is happening exactly, but it’s at the core of why he’s struggling. And given how defenses are now choosing to match up to Kansas City, his issues have been amplified. Against the Titans, they were on full display.
This was a 1st-and-10 in the first quarter. Focus on Tyreek Hill at the bottom of the screen. Mahomes looked at him initially but didn’t throw this ball for some reason:
I’m guessing he was spooked by that underneath defender dropping out. But on a quick throw like that where the defender’s back was turned, he wouldn’t have been a factor if Mahomes had released the ball at the top of his drop. It’s the little plays like these that you have to hit to keep the offense on schedule and on the field. The Chiefs would go on to punt just a few plays later after facing one of many avoidable 3rd-and-longs on the day.
There were several other plays throughout the game where Mahomes didn’t take what was given to him. However, many of the opportunities Mahomes missed were because of poor pocket movement or a lack of willingness to sit in the pocket and work through his progressions.
On the below play, he appeared to be frenetically scanning the field from sideline to sideline before scrambling out of the pocket and throwing the ball away:
Mahomes had open receivers to throw to here. He had time and space in the pocket to hit those receivers. There was no real pressure until well after the ball should have been out. Normally, when you see a quarterback with his head on a swivel like that, it’s because he’s seeing everything and nothing at the same time, which is always a problem.
Mahomes also never really set his feet on this play and was ready to run at a moment’s notice, which is further evidence that he is anticipating pressure:
Mahomes’ 2nd-quarter interception was the result of poor pocket movement, which led to perceived pressure. First, let’s look at the route combination:
Off of play-action, Mahomes quickly dismissed the routes to his left. He then moved to the deep-over route in the middle of the field, but that was covered. He should have continued through his progressions to Mecole Hardman’s dig route coming from the right side, which would break open late:
But Mahomes never got to the dig. Instead, his eyes moved back to the left before he fled the pocket:
From the end zone angle, you can see that Mahomes never even considered Hardman. Had Mahomes remained more of a statue in the pocket at the top of his drop, he may have found him. Instead, he unnecessarily stepped up, which moved him into the pass rush. That led to him perceiving that he needed to bail from the pocket due to pressure, leaving a potential big play on the field.
He also forced this pass to a receiver who wasn’t open. Not exactly a great example of doing the little things right.
I won’t pretend that the protection was stellar in this game. But as a quarterback, hanging in the pocket is what you have to do to be consistently successful. The second you start anticipating or perceiving pressure when there is none, you’re in trouble.
I also think Mahomes isn’t trusting himself to feel the pass rush, a sign of a lack of confidence in the protection around him. Multiple times on Sunday, Mahomes’ instincts took him to his right in an attempt to escape instead of stepping up underneath an outside rush and keeping his eyes downfield.
The below example was a 2nd down from the first drive of the game.
There was room to step up and navigate to his left there. Had he done so, he may have found Josh Gordon open on a dig route (bottom of the screen). Instead, he scrambled for just a couple of yards, setting up a 3rd-and-7 that the Chiefs wouldn’t convert.
I’ve followed this game long enough to know better than to doubt a player of Mahomes’ caliber. I believe he’ll eventually right the ship. But he better do it soon because he doesn’t currently have the defense to keep him in games until he figures things out. This season could get away from the Chiefs in a hurry if they’re not careful.