In this series of articles, our resident tape wizard Greg Cosell will take an in-depth look at some of the more interesting fantasy players for the 2020 NFL season. It’s a peek behind the curtain of the film room, as these are Greg’s raw, unfiltered notes he takes as he watches a player.
Patrick Mahomes just got paid. To the tune of half a billion dollars. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in sports media who would say he doesn’t deserve to be the highest-paid player in all of sports.
For this film breakdown, I took a look at two of the biggest areas where Mahomes separates himself from his peers, and where he is so dangerous — on third down, and on big plays.
Mahomes’ Special Traits
Mahomes is a fascinating study in that no other QB plays like he does. He plays, at times, with a lack of pocket and structure discipline, often breaking down in the pocket when there is no pressure. But his movement ability, vision, aggressive mindset, and special throwing talent allow him to consistently make plays outside of structure.
There is a randomness to Mahomes’ play that coaches would not teach you a young quarterback, but that is a significant and successful part of his game.
One of Mahomes’ traits, which is often overlooked because of the spectacular nature of his play, is that he is consistently precise with his ball placement. He rarely misses routine throws and he can throw with pace and touch when demanded.
Mahomes is a weapon as a scrambler, especially against man coverage. Two great examples are his 25-yard run against the Lions on third-and-6, and his 24-yard scramble in the first game against the Chargers on third-and-7.
Mahomes maintains his downfield vision as well as or better than any QB in the NFL when he breaks the pocket – it’s a strength of his game and a tough deal for the defense.
What consistently stood out was the number of movement second-reaction throws Mahomes made – At times there is a randomness and lack of discipline to Mahomes’ game but he is so good on the move that he can often compensate.
The more tape you watch of Mahomes the more you see that he is the best second-reaction passer in the NFL. Without specifically charting all his third-down dropbacks, it seemed as if Mahomes made more explosive plays off movement than staying on the midline and throwing from the pocket.
What consistently stood out when Mahomes broke the pocket was his downfield vision. He had an intuitive feel for both his receivers and the defense.
Mahomes is an aggressive and confident thrower, he will turn it loose to all levels of the field, especially versus man coverage.
My sense watching Mahomes is that he sees the field well, and that he has a strong intuitive sense of coverage and where to go with the ball.
Chiefs Third-Down Tendencies
- Mahomes stats on third down: 72/115 (62.6%), 1096 yards (9.53 YPA), 9 TD, 1 INT, 8 sacks taken
- The Chiefs featured hi-lo concepts on third and short-to-medium, at times with a horizontal stretch element to expand the underneath coverage and create passing lanes for Mahomes.
- The Chiefs featured 1x3 sets out of 11 personnel on third down, with TE Travis Kelce the boundary X from multiple splits – this was a foundational formation on third down.
- The Chiefs also featured 1x3 sets out of 12 personnel with Kelce as a part of trips, and the second TE the single receiver to the boundary – the Chiefs played significant snaps of 12 personnel, even on third-and-long. Will that continue in 2020?
- Kelce, when was he part of trips to the field, aligned in all 3 locations: #1, #2, and #3 (inside slot).
- Kelce has shown the ability to win one-on-one against corners when he is aligned at boundary X.
- One of the things that separates Mahomes is his ability to make precise ball placement throws off-balance, and from different throwing platforms, including across his body with some velocity.
- The Chiefs featured “levels” concepts in their passing game, both hi-lo concepts and flood (a three-evel stretch).
- One thing that stood out was the Chiefs were effective with rubs and picks, particularly on third-and-short or medium, and in the red zone where “mesh” was featured – a good example of this is RB Darrel Williams’ 52-yard reception on the first third down against the Texans. In the red zone, RB Damien Williams scored a 14-yard TD on a rub concept against the Bears.
- At times, the Chiefs featured trips bunch to the field, another effective tactic to create natural rubs and picks and attack man coverage.
- Coach Andy Reid likes to get all five eligible receivers out into routes and go with five-man protections on third down – Mahomes is good enough to beat unblocked rushers with his recognition and arm talent, in addition to his second-reaction movement ability.
- Running backs are a featured part of Kansas City’s third-down passing game. They ran multiple route concepts from offset alignment in the shotgun, including vertical routes. The Chiefs are an outstanding screen team, and it’s clear they see the value of rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the passing game.
- The Chiefs featured vertical routes, seam routes, crossing routes, and line routes (where the WR just runs across the field off the line of scrimmage) versus man coverage, all to take advantage of their speed.
- The Chiefs also featured middle seams, especially with WR Tyreek Hill when he was the inside slot to trips, against split-safety zone coverage.
- Through game planning and understanding defensive coverage tendencies, the Chiefs had a good feel for attacking zone coverage with overload concepts.
- The Chiefs showcased an excellent game plan approach against the Titans’ third-and-long defense in the AFC Championship, given Tennessee’s tendency was to present pre-snap pressure looks with disguised zone coverage behind it. As a result, the Chiefs played with more six-man protections.
- The Chiefs ran dagger (96 combination — go route with underneath dig) on third down. It is primarily a zone route concept, but it can be run against man coverage. The Chiefs also ran scissors concept 10-12 yards into routes. It’s a good concept against both zone and man.
- As the season progressed, the Chiefs used the offset back to chip. I sid not see much of that on third down through the first half of the season – it gives more help to the OT against edge pass rushers.
- Here’s a Chiefs tendency out of 11 empty, with Hill inside slot to trips and Kelce slot to twins — if it’s man coverage, Mahomes works to Kelce, If it’s split-safety zone, Mahomes looks to Hill running the middle seam.
- Through the regular season, the Chiefs third-down pass game success was more a function of Mahomes’ outstanding second \-reaction movement throwing ability than the precise execution of the passing scheme.
- LT Eric Fisher was inconsistent in one-on-one pass protection. He was not a liability, but he did not play at a consistently high level.
- On third-and-14 in the second quarter against the Chargers in Week 17, the Chiefs ran the same field route concept that they did on third-and-long in the Super Bowl that produced a big play to Hill – the Chargers were in Cover 3, just like the 49ers, but CB Casey Hayward got the right depth and took away the deep sail to Hill, so Mahomes had to scramble.
- However, in the Super Bowl on third-and-15 with just under seven minutes left, the Chiefs ran the same dig-deep sail combination to the field, but this time the Cover 3 corner Emmanuel Moseley sat on the dig and did not get the needed depth to take away the sail to Hill for 44 yards.
All Mahomes 20-Plus Yard Completions
- Mahomes had 50 completions of 20 or more yards in 2019.
- What stood out was the number of explosive pass plays that came on first down for the Chiefs – Mahomes had outstanding first-down numbers: 137/201 (68%), 1920 yards (9.55 YPA), 13 TD, 1 INT.
- What showed up early in the season on first-and-10 was the Chiefs’ use of reduced splits and tight formations out of 2x2 and 3x1 sets. The Chiefs ran vertical routes out of tight formations.
- Play action, with Mahomes under center and in the shotgun, was featured on first-and-10 for the Chiefs. In shotgun, one run-game tactic was outside zone, at times with Mahomes on designed boot action away from the run action.
- The Chiefs featured movement routes – verticals, over routes, sail routes, crossers, drive routes – to take advantage of the speed of their receivers.
- One of the things that makes the Chiefs passing game so difficult to defend is that Kelce also presents a vertical dimension from multiple alignments.
- Levels is a featured concept in the Chiefs passing game, two-man hi-lo and three-man flood are part of levels approach.
- The Chiefs feature as diverse a screen game as there is in the NFL, with their multiple backfield actions and misdirection elements.
- One tactic you saw from the Chiefs was placing four receivers to one side against zone coverage. It was an overload concept that caused problems for zone coverage.
- The Chiefs featured backs in the pass game on designed intermediate and vertical route concepts. Damien Williams’ 32-yard reception on the wheel route in the first game against the Raiders is a good example.
- The Chiefs showed RPO looks and threw vertically: a completion to WR Demarcus Robinson for 43 yards in the first game against the Raiders is a good example – RPO outside zone looks often featured Mahomes boot action away from the run action.
- Kelce is a tough matchup when he is the boundary X on the backside of trips. Three great examples are his 27-yard TD against Raiders safety Karl Joseph, his 34-yard reception against CB Daryl Worley in the same game, and then his 24-yarder versus CB Quincy Wilson of the Colts.
- The more tape I watched, the more it was apparent just how much of a weapon Kelce is in the context of the Chiefs’ passing game. He is so difficult to defend when he is the boundary X on the back side of trips, because he has the ability to beat safeties and corners in man coverage.
- The Chiefs used stacks at times to create free releases off the line of scrimmage, and it was an effective tactic against man coverage. Look at WR Sammy Watkins’ 30-yard reception against the Lions for a good example.
- Chiefs continued to run “All Go H Seam” — an effective way to run it was to offset the back to the trips side of the formation. That often forced an underneath LB to match up or carry the back on the seam route, as in Darrel Williams’ 30-yarder against the Lions.
- The more you watch the Chiefs’ passing game, the more it is evident how much they attack and pressure coverage with vertical route combinations. They run away from man coverage with their speed: MeCole Hardman’s 48-yard TD against the Patriots illustrates this.
- Another big first-down play, Kelce’s 47-yarder in the second game against the Raiders, came on a well-designed quarters beater concept with scissored vertical crossers/over routes.
- Andy Reid and staff did an excellent job with route concepts versus zone coverage in terms of both isolating defenders and putting them in conflict. Doing that defined the reads and throws for Mahomes.
- Hill’s 20-yard touchdown in the AFC Championship Game was a great example of a high red zone trips route combination that was designed to attack both man and zone coverage. The Titans played man and Hill, from #2 (the slot), beat CB Adoree Jackson’s press coverage on a seam route.