This is Patrick Mahomes’ NFL, until somebody prise it from him. Many have tried, many more will try.
The league has been Mahomesified to the point of unlikely return, bowing to brilliance and burying heads in playbooks in a race to unveil prevention remedies. By the time an imperfect nugget resembling some sort of answer for him presents itself, the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback has evolved and upgraded before skedaddling in triumphant glee.
He is the already-handsomely-equipped market-leading gizmo that remodels at an unassailable rate in ruthless pursuit of software perfection, and the Frank Abagnale who navigates life two steps ahead of a scampering Tom Hanks, only difference to the latter being that the skills to which he lays claim are very much real.
His torpedo is on course for your Plan B before teams have even acknowledged Plan A faltering. The idea of his ‘prime’ continues to be redefined according to the immediacy at which greatness has been rubber-stamped and the rate at which he continues to lift the bar. He is football’s best, at football’s defining position.
Mahomes has just won his second Super Bowl ring in three visits to the NFL’s showpiece game over the last four years, having notably spent his rookie year sat learning behind Alex Smith in 2017. He is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and a two-time league MVP, last year becoming the first player since Kurt Warner in 1999 to collect both accolades in a single-season. All before the age of 28. He snatched the torch before Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers had the chance to pass it on.
Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce says there is a family mentality and togetherness within the squad and he is ready for any pass that comes from the ‘unstoppable’ Patrick Mahomes
September 8, 2023, 1:10am
In a normal world this could and maybe should be Joe Burrow’s league, or Josh Allen’s league, or Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts’ league. In a normal world it would be Rodgers’ league in the post-Brady era. In a normal world the timeframe for Trevor Lawrence’s ascent to poster boy stardom as the most highly-regarded quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck would be shorter. Mahomes sees each of their defining individual traits and raises them a juggernaut concoction of quarterbacking totality.
Hurts produced the game of his life in February’s Super Bowl and a one-legged Mahomes, nursing a high ankle sprain on which he had beaten the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier in the playoffs, out-humaned him. A couple of weeks earlier he had out-humaned Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals a year after Lou Anarumo out-baited him by retreating seven or eight men into coverage and daring Mahomes to retain his downfield aggression. He gets bored of the same bait rather quickly, they would later discover.
Anarumo had done what a lot of savvy defensive coordinators would seek to do with his hokey cokey espionage, his nickel fire zone pressures deploying an extra defensive back as a late rusher to the line of scrimmage in unison with his weak side defensive end retreating into coverage at the snap as a means to muddying Mahomes’ field read. He would instruct a defensive back to tip-toe as a ‘will he stay or will he go?’ creeper to create further conflict, and draw on the Vic Fangio-cultivated two-high safety coverages designed to deny the league’s best arms their dose of regular 20+ yard chunk plays.
The Mahomes of then bit, trusting his creativity and accuracy to take on drop-two coverages, to the sight of a Bengals masterplan guiding them to victory. Teams followed suit with the Fangio ideologies in a bid to blunt the arms of Mahomes, Allen and co., inviting the run with light boxes while aligning in two-high shells and rolling defensive backs at the snap to heap stress onto both the quarterback’s field read and his will-power to resist deep-ball temptations.
The best plays from Patrick Mahomes’ Super Bowl MVP performance, all on an injured ankle
Mahomes had to adapt, and did. He matured in his decision-making, accepting the gimme throws underneath and showing the patience to piece together long drives having previously dunked on teams with splash plays as they threw pressure his way. The latter had been fuelled by arguably the league’s most potent source of back-to-front speed in Tyreek Hill, whose departure to the Miami Dolphins in itself might have played a factor in Mahomes spreading more short-to-intermediate balls between multiple receivers.
Even with that, he entered the Super Bowl with the second-highest passing DVOA on deep balls in the league at 97.7 per cent. Go figure.
“It’s really tough because it tests your patience as a player and a coordinator,” says Sky Sports NFL expert Jason Bell. “Because if you’re going to play with these two safeties back in the parking lot, as I say, and try to keep it in front then what he does is he dices you up underneath and stretches you horizontally too.
“So at some point, he keeps picking up first downs, you think ‘we’ve got to tighten up, we’ve got to break on these routes, we’ve got to change the defense or technique’.
“As soon as you do that he is waiting for that and that’s when he strikes on the big play. He’s got a counter for your counter.”
He has reconfigured the image of the once-prototypical NFL quarterback; the conventional stand, pivot, scan and throw has become out-of-structure baseball pitches on the run, improvised darts-like wrist-flicks, jump passes, jump pump fakes, and ‘don’t pass across your own penalty area’ cross-field daggers. Oh, and he can sit in the pocket and read your coverage disguises from there, too, if you want him to.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire said it’s a surreal feeling being a Super Bowl champion and was full of praise for his quarterback Patrick Mahomes
Even the non-plays are unforgettable, his mid-air side-arm near-touchdown pass while diving horizontally outside the pocket against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Super Bowl featuring among his sizzle reel of Mahomes magic.
If the underarm shovels to Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the no-look flips to Jerick McKinnon on the run against the Denver Broncos are not enough, he continues to flirt with a behind-the-back pass. Reid is the league’s most accommodating coach when it comes to players pitching concepts; as long as they can draw it up and justify it through their whiteboard explanation, he is all ears. It’s what has made him and Mahomes one of the most fun and successful marriages in NFL history.
Take the Arctic Circle play against the Las Vegas Raiders, where running back McKinnon took the snap before going through the RPO motion with Kadarius Toney and flipping the ball to Mahomes, who tossed it across to Toney on the outside where the former New York Giants receiver beat one defender and followed the screen into the end zone. Couple controlled confusion with Mahomes’ wand arm and you have an untameable force.
“I know from coaches, college coaches around America that I’ve spoken to a various times have said, all our kids are trying to do this stuff. There’s only one Patrick Mahomes,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid told Sky Sports.
Teams might utilise a wide-9 tech pass rusher (often outside the tight end) and late cornerback pressure in order to generate greater width with the hope of penning Mahomes in the pocket. Others might converge on the interior in hope of squeezing Mahomes outside the pocket and have him believe his off-script prowess is ready to feast yet again, only for a safety to be lying in wait.
He is the reason why teams are having to rely on creating pressure with four-man fronts in order to plug every passing avenue possible at the second and third level. And the reason teams are having to replace blitzing with stunting (where two defenders will swap rushing roles at the snap to cause confusion for the offensive line) in order to maintain some imagination and some sense of illusion to pressure packages.
Highlights of the Kansas City Chiefs against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII
With all that said, Mahomes led the league against pressure last season – so what do you do? He gobbles up the opportunity to slide outside and zip passes on the move, he has mastered the job of juggling an eyes-down-field vision with the awareness to climb through the pocket, and he has shattered the walls of convention when it comes to passing angles.
“When he plays free and to his strengths, he’s unstoppable and makes unbelievable plays,” says tight end Travis Kelce. “Coach Reid says it best, always show your personality and have fun with it.
“He’s got a bunch of different arm angles. The first quarterback that I had Alex Smith, every single time you through it, you knew it was very consistent here and there. So you knew the flight of the ball, you knew how the ball was going to fly through the wind; Pat has so many different angles that he can throw the ball that you just have to be ready to, it’s gonna be somewhere here.
“You know, you don’t know that angle. You don’t know that trajectory, but it is going to be somewhere in your catch radius. You just got to be able to get your paws on and bring it in.”
A lot of the themes in personnel type and defensive scheme prevalent across today’s NFL are influenced by Mahomes and the mould of quarterback he represents. In a fight back against the AFC’s depth of modern quarterbacks, led by Mahomes, Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots were among those who sought to redesign the makeup of their linebacker group with more rangy, agile sideline-to-sideline movers who could crab-and-dash horizontally in view of mopping up a pocket-escaping Mahomes. A league-leading partnership with Kelce has in turn reignited the value of the Belichick and Nick Saban-hailed bigger-bodied defensive backs capable of taking on today’s dynamic receiving tight ends. Fails to do so, and the Chiefs duo will punish you.
A look at Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ best plays from an outstanding two touchdown performance against the Cincinnati Bengals
The Buffalo Bills, realising their only way to fend off Mahomes in their efforts to maximise a Championship window is to beat him in a shootout, went and armed Allen with what they hope can serve as his Kelce-like big-bodied receiving ally in first-round rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid.
While the NFL may have gravitated towards college football’s spread offense, the Mahomes and the Chiefs became trend-setters again last season by utilising 13 personnel with three tight ends at one of the highest rates in the league last season, rotating between combinations of Kelce, Noah Gray, receiver-convert Jody Fortson and Blake Bell. It was yet another thorn in an opponent’s task of foiling them: heavier personnel would lure defenders downhill into the box, space would be vacated behind them and the Chiefs would plot their tight end mismatches by exploding out of condensed formations to disguise route intentions. Here was Mahomes running his own version of subterfuge and seeing the picture unfold ahead of time.
Mahomes led quarterbacks in EPA (an advanced down-by-down efficiency metric) last season, and leads all quarterbacks in EPA since taking over as Chiefs starter in 2018. He owns the highest-career passer rating in history, has thrown the most touchdown passes and most passing yards in the league since 2018 and has never finished outside of the top four in DVOA since becoming starter.
Young quarterbacks now arrive in the NFL to be greeted by Mahomes-fuelled expectations of talent development and success. Reid and the Chiefs have found and elevated a master of the ridiculous, who has seen in the new era with the imagination and sidearm splendour that leaves fans stuck down a rabbit hole of binging Mahomes highlights on YouTube.
His list of conquerors will be stingy, such is the way of an all-time great. A Mahomes-led Chiefs remain the gatekeepers.
Don’t miss a second of the 2023 NFL season with Sky Sports NFL – watch the Kansas City Chiefs begin their Super Bowl title defence against the Detroit Lions in the early hours of Friday September 8 live on Sky.