I don’t know anything about basketball, but I follow enough people on social media who know enough about basketball to know that once, Chris Paul was going to get traded to the Lakers and the commissioner stopped it. I’m pretty sure it was because Chris Paul was going to make the Lakers too good. Chris Paul to the Lakers was giving a flamethrower to a T-Rex. The league office would have been an accessory to murder for each Los Angeles Game. It couldn’t be allowed.
I also understand that NBA fans widely treat that decision with mockery and derision. I don’t really know enough about the situation, and I don’t really care.
The NFL should have had a similar big red button to smash when Andy Reid drafted Patrick Mahomes.
Listen, it had been a hot second since I watched some Mahomes college tape, and I had forgotten how godly of an arm he had; I had forgotten how clinically insane he was as a decision-maker; I had forgotten how transcendent his ceiling was. It’s hard to mentally capture greatness and retain it at its apex — the mind naturally reduces it to something more understandable and commonplace. Mahomes’ college career was dumbfounding in every sense of the word.
Giving him Reid?! Andy Reid?! I didn’t see that movie where The Rock was buddies with a giant white gorilla and I think there was a wolf with wings flying through Chicago, but Mahomes + Reid is that nonsense. It’s supersized wolf with wings perched on the Sears Tower versus Dwayne Johnson with a prosthetic leg levels of unfair. That might be two different movies.
Mahomes danced on the graves of Steeler defenses past last weekend, throwing more touchdowns than incompletions (WHAT?!) and breaking a bunch of records for his 10 tuddies across two games. While he did have a redshirt season to transition to NFL play, Reid has done what many expected him to do: He has adapted his offense to provide Mahomes with familiar reads from his Texas Tech days, seamlessly incorporating Air Raid looks into his own West Coast roots. His offense is intentional, builds off of itself, and cannot be easily predicted or defensed.
It is a good offense.
Let’s start with an easy one: running seam routes and reading safeties. The Chiefs ran a ton of four verts — yes, four verts. The simplest play that you run on Madden 30 times a game — against the Steelers on Sunday. While Mahomes very often took outside vertical shots on 2/3/4 vertical concepts as a Red Raider, Reid has emphasized using the slot verticals instead.
On both of these plays, two seam routes release from the trips side. Mahomes was reading the safety on top of the vertical stems, from the middle of the field to the hash.
Both Arizona State and Pittsburgh ran split-safety look. The Sun Devils’ outside corner squated down on the stop route to the boundary, which left a space behind the No. 2 receiver’s vertical; the safety stayed over the No. 3 vertical and failed to gain width, so Mahomes put the ball on the outside shoulder of the No. 2 vertical, to keep him away from the safety — if not for the trash at his feet, this could have been a more accurate throw that allowed for YAC.
Against Pittsburgh, the strong safety did gain width over No. 2 vertical, but the weak safety wasn’t quick to rotate to the seam route from No. 3 vertical (Travis Kelce), and Mahomes had the arm strength to slot this ball between the levels of the defense with enough velocity to allow Kelce to push into the end zone.
You’ll notice both plays do have some pre-snap motion — more from the Chiefs — which helped Mahomes identify how the safeties dropped at the snap. If they’re in a disguised shell, the motion can often force the defensive backfield to tip their hand a little earlier, in that they have to adjust their alignment.
I find the fact that Reid is emphasizing attacking the seam routes on these vertical concepts very interesting. Perhaps it is more a result of the coverage deployed by Los Angeles/Pittsburgh early in the season — but I surmise there’s more to it.
The longer the ball is in Mahomes’ hand, the more magic can happen — but also, the more chaos and room for egregious error. All too frequently on Mahomes’ tape in college, he sat on vertical reads without making a choice — the understandable vice of having the arm strength to reach 60+ yards down the field after dawdling on the best option. He invited pressure and forced himself into unnecessary scramble plays and desperation heaves.
By emphasizing these quick-window slot throws, you not only maximize the value of Mahomes’ turbo-boosted futuristic ion cannon of a right arm, but you minimize the variables he has to process. Read the safety; hit the window; chunk gain. You’re protecting a talented player from his own worst vices.
Now, when you want to go outside, Mahomes not only has the arm strength, but he has the touch to get the job done. Being able to drop in those bucket throws on outside vertical shots is hugely valuable for Mahomes. Teams are going to try to play bump-and-run coverage with a single-high safety, because it allows them to bring five to generate pressure, buzz against the seams with a ballhawk, and disrupt early hot routes.
You’d struggle to find a route combination from Kansas City’s offense that didn’t have a go route tagged backside. It was a common occurrence in Texas Tech as well. Here against Texas, Mahomes seemed to have a man-on-man advantage to the trips side — look at the bender route from No. 3, cutting in front of the safety in off coverage over him.
But at the snap, the weak safety rotated to the center of the field, putting the 1-on-1 matchup to the isolated receiver to the boundary side. The moment Mahomes read that safety’s positioning, he stopped his drop and teardropped a gorgeous ball to the near pylon — he made that throw frequently as a Red Raider. Because Mahomes is such a good downfield passer, especially into the boundary, you can always tell him: “If you see the defense rotate to the passing strength and it gives you a one-on-one shot, take it.” Few passers will give you a higher degree of success on such throws.
Such a look presents itself against the Steelers, in perfect ‘touchdown territory’ right inside the 30. If you look at the strong side concept, you see how much space opens up in front of the deep safety (admittedly exaggerated by that safety’s vacating to challenge the actual throw). Regardless: this Cover 1 press is an advantageous look for the in route on the Pin concept you see here.
But because Mahomes knows he’s going to have room on the boundary for a deep shot (to Tyreek Hill, of all people), he makes that his first read. (You can see him coming back from the line after some adjustment pre-snap.)
But what impresses the most about the Reid + Mahomes marriage is how Reid has taken Texas Tech ideas and integrated them into his offense. For example: switch verticals. (Funny how all of these plays are vertical, huh? Makes you think.)
The Kliff Kingsbury offense in Lubbock loved to tag delay/ghost verticals onto the bubble screens they ran as constraint plays. By still threatening deep on an occasional bubble screen look, you forced defenders to think and play with discipline, which invites mistakes, hesitation, and more space for YAC.
It’s so hard to ask aggressive, man-cover corners like TCU’s to not only slow play the bubble screen, but also slow play the release of the second vertical receiver. Not only are two would-be, almost, coulda-been blockers coming at you at full tilt, they switched their stems and delayed their releases to force you to make a choice.
Now, reseting from the bubble to the vertical is a tough ask of any quarterback — even Mahomes leaves this ball a little short, forcing WR Jakeem Grant to come back to it. But that’s not a hard window to open if your quarterback can hit it — and Mahomes can. Even if you don’t get the window open, you have your #1 receiver against a safety down the middle of the field — Mahomes can come late to that throw and still hit it 60+ yards down the field.
Now, Andy puts the exact same constraints on a defense, but this time 1) includes pre-snap motion to force the defense into a late adjustment and 2) releases with an in-line tight end to further disguise the late vertical release with “blocking” intent. Mahomes doesn’t take that wide-open Kelce vertical — and I’m sure he’s kicking himself because of it — but what interests me is why he didn’t take it.
Because he had a one-on-one vertical route (with a switch release) to the backside against a single-high safety. He had Sammy Watkins 1-on-1 up the seam — should he have not taken that shot?
I dunno what to tell you.
Everyone should be arrested. I feel like Thaddeus Ross looking at all of the Avengers in Civil War and saying “Yeah this is the most powerful team ever assembled, but you might kill us all by dropping cities on our heads.” I feel like George Washington looking at King George and going “Nah that’s too much power for one dude, we need to set up some checks and balances and maybe also just revolt.”
The Chiefs are going to remain psychedelic for as long as they play teams with secondaries as poor as Pittsburgh’s — but even then, you need top-flight athletes who have been communicating/coordinating for a while to deal with this offense. And even then, at this juncture, Mahomes is still more generally accurate than he is precise, still relying more heavily on first reads than he is finding the best match-up every time.
He’s going to continue getting better.