Patrick Mahomes needs only one quarter against the Raiders to flip the entire regression argument on its head

0
15

OAKLAND, Calif. — With the infield dirt belonging to the same diamond his dad once pitched from beneath his feet, Patrick Mahomes fired fastball after fastball beyond, between, and around the Raiders defense, carving up Oakland for 443 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Chiefs to a 2-0 record with a 28-10 win, staving off regression for one more week, and forcing us to question if he might still be ascending. It’s understandably difficult for the human brain to fathom that Mahomes might actually have the capacity to improve, but through the first two weeks of the season, it’s what’s actually happening.

On Sunday, in the Chiefs’ final game at the Coliseum before the Raiders abandon Oakland for Las Vegas, Mahomes flipped the entire regression argument on its damn head — and he needed only one quarter to do so. In a second quarter showing that won’t soon be forgotten, Mahomes threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns.

Twenty-four years ago, Mahomes’ father allowed a walk-off single at the Coliseum. Two days later, a boy was born. Twenty four years later, Mahomes said farewell to the Coliseum by completing 30 of his 44 pass attempts while averaging 10.1 yards per attempt and generating a 131.2 passer rating. 

“Patrick had a nice day,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid in the understatement of the postgame media sessions.

The regression argument, which dominated the discourse surrounding the Chiefs this offseason, isn’t hard to follow. History — the entire history of football — says he’ll regress. 

After throwing for 5,097 yards and 50 touchdowns last season, Mahomes probably won’t be able to do it again. To this point in NFL history, only two quarterbacks have ever thrown for 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns in a single season: Peyton Manning in 2013 and Mahomes in 2018. Doing it once is a near-impossible task. Doing it twice is literally unheard of. 

It goes beyond his raw numbers. While throwing for those 50 touchdowns, Mahomes averaged a touchdown pass on every 8.6% of his pass attempts. One doesn’t need to scour through history books to discover that a touchdown rate like that isn’t supposed to be sustainable. To name just one recent example, Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson threw a touchdown on 9.3% of his passes in 2017. In 2018, he threw a touchdown on 5.1% of his passes. The point being, it’s almost impossible to consistently throw touchdowns at as high of a clip as Mahomes did a season ago. 

A year ago, Mahomes averaged 8.8 yards per attempt. Since the 1970 merger, only two quarterbacks have averaged 8.8 or more yards per attempt in multiple seasons (minimum eight starts per season). The point being, 8.8 yards per attempt seasons should be treated as hurricanes, not thunderstorms, and multiple 8.8 yards per attempt seasons should be considered rogue waves.

Finally, Mahomes got picked off 12 times last season. According to Football Outsiders’ advanced metrics, Mahomes adjusted interception total was 21, tying for the league lead with Sam Darnold. The point being, he got a bit lucky.

There wasn’t any luck involved on Sunday. It was all Chiefs, and there wasn’t much the Raiders could do about it, as Mahomes submitted his own argument against regression and dismantled the Raiders in the process. 

The Raiders fought valiantly. The Raiders fought nobly. And the Raiders allowed 28 points and 464 yards.

After falling into a 10-0 hole in the opening 15 minutes and punting on their first two drives, the Chiefs exploded for touchdowns on all four of their drives in the second quarter. Mahomes went a measly 6 of 9 for 35 yards and a 73.8 passer rating in the first quarter as the Chiefs averaged only 2.8 yards per play. In the second quarter alone, Mahomes threw for 278 yards and four touchdowns. At halftime, he was 18 of 26 for 313 yards, four touchdowns, and a 149.5 passer rating, and the Chiefs held a 28-10 advantage.

“That’s just what we do,” said Chiefs receiver Demarcus Robinson, who racked up six catches, 172 yards, and two touchdowns.

Trailing by 10 at the beginning of the second quarter, missing Eric Fisher after the left tackle departed the game in the first quarter with groin injury, lacking his favorite receiver in Tyreek Hill (shoulder), and dealing with an ankle knock he sustained last week, which he admitted he “felt a little bit” at “times,” Mahomes submitted a second-quarter masterpiece.

It started with a 44-yard bomb to Robinson, which concluded a three-play, 72-yard touchdown series.

It’s a testament to Andy Reid’s ingenuity that he continues to dial up wide-open bombs for Mahomes to detonate. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, only 12.4% of Mahomes’ pass attempts last season were thrown into tight windows — only four quarterbacks threw into tight windows less frequently than Mahomes. In Week 1, Mahomes threw the ball into tight windows on only 3% of his 33 pass attempts — the lowest percentage in the league. The throw above, obviously, was not thrown into a tight window. Throws like that, which continue to materialize due to Reid’s brilliant scheme, give Mahomes a viable chance to make history again, because they’re not asking him to consistently thread the needle.

After the Chiefs’ oft-maligned defense forced a punt, the offense was pinned at its own 5-yard line. Mahomes proceeded to lead a 14-play, 95-yard march. On that series, Mahomes converted a third-and-9, a third-and-7, a third-and-10 that was negated by a holding penalty, and a third-and-20 with a 42-yard touchdown pass to rookie Mecole Hardman.

Mahomes released the ball at second base. Hardman caught the ball in stride at the goal line.

Two minutes later, the Chiefs got the ball back, this time at their own 6-yard line. It took them three plays to reach the Raiders’ 20-yard line after Mahomes hit Damien Williams on a wheel route for 32 yards and Robinson downfield for 43 yards. Two plays later, Mahomes connected with tight end Travis Kelce for a 27-yard touchdown with 1:41 remaining in the half. 

Kelce got a step on the trailing defender and Mahomes delivered a perfectly placed strike before the safety over the top arrived. 

On consecutive series, the Chiefs journeyed 189 yards on 19 plays.

“You’ve gotta be able to do that. That’s one thing we emphasized this year,” Mahomes said. “When those long drives go, we gotta make sure we finish them and get points and score touchdowns. Last year, we scored a lot quickly, but sometimes we stalled out on those long drives. So it’s good to see early in the season we’re having those long drives, to keep the defense off the field and get them rested up.”

That looked like the end of Mahomes’ half, but after the Raiders promptly self destructed on offense, managing negative-12 yards on three plays, the Chiefs were granted another opportunity. Mahomes and Robinson promptly hooked up for a 39-yard touchdown on the first and only play of the drive. 

Mahomes went back shoulder and Robinson came down with the contested grab.

“Listen, I never take it for granted,” Reid said. “Some of these throws, it makes you go, ‘All right.’ And we just buzz right through them, like it happens every day. Well, it kinda does happen every day. That’s what makes him unique.” 

Finally, it was halftime. 

“Well, we had a breakdown in one coverage. I know that, but a couple of those were just incredible throws and catches also,” said Raiders coach Jon Gruden. “You have to tip your hat to them. We didn’t get enough pressure. We let Mahomes move around back there and cock his arm, and when he gets an opportunity to do that he can drop them in there no matter where they are.”

Thirty minutes remained, but the game for all intents and purposes was over. No more points were scored by either side, but from the Chiefs’ perspective, no more points were needed. 

In the third quarter, Mahomes appeared to throw his fifth touchdown — this one a 72-yard bomb to Hardman on third-and-long — but a holding penalty negated the play. It didn’t count, but it’s yet another example of just how many rocket ships the Chiefs have in their fleet.

It’s the depth and explosiveness of the Chiefs’ personnel that is another piece of the argument against regression. The absence of their starting left tackle and their WR1 didn’t even matter, as Robinson and Hardman served as more than adequate replacements for Hill. 

At some point soon, the Chiefs are going to add a Pro Bowl left tackle and the league’s most explosive receiver to an offense that just dismantled the Raiders. The Chiefs’ offense wouldn’t be what it is without Mahomes — he’s the key, obviously — but he’s not doing all of this alone. He’s got arguably the league’s best offensive mind and the league’s biggest armada of playmakers. 

Other teams are forced to modify and tweak their offense when they lose one of their best players. The Chiefs don’t, because they don’t need to. 

“I think that’s one thing about this offense,” Mahomes said. “I just through my reads and whoever is open is open. I just try to give them chances to make plays.”

“We’re not gonna change what we do,” Mahomes said later when asked about Hill’s absence.

As both Mahomes and Reid noted after the game, the Raiders were keyed in on Sammy Watkins after his nine-catch, 198-yard, three-touchdown outburst against the Jaguars, which created openings for the likes of Robinson and Hardman. The two backup receivers combined for 10 catches, 233 yards, and three scores.

“They spread it with five eligible receivers,” Gruden told the Raiders’ website during game week. “And they make you defend every blade of grass, I call it. You’ve gotta defend these people laterally with all the jet sweeps and you’ve gotta defend them vertically with all the bombs that they can throw. So they really do a great job creating one-on-one situations for all five eligibles.”

And Mahomes isn’t afraid to spread the ball around instead of locking onto his favorite target, as Kelce pointed out.

“He was hitting on all cylinders,” Kelce said. “He does an unbelievable job at staying true to his reads. Some quarterbacks might be … they might want to hang on to a certain guy in terms of reads. Just because of how good he is, a guy like Sammy had 200 yards last week. Pat could have came into this game and tried to feed Sammy knowing that he’s on a roll right now, but he stayed true to his reads and that’s hats off to him.”

For a second straight game, Mahomes also avoided interception-worthy throws. In Week 1, he didn’t throw a single interceptable pass as the Chiefs redid their offense on the fly after Mahomes suffered that ankle injury in the first half. In Week 2, he lost a fumble in the fourth quarter of a blowout, and only had one or two throws that could’ve been picked off earlier in the game.

After his performance against the Raiders, Mahomes has now thrown for 821 yards, seven touchdowns, and no interceptions, which puts him on pace for 6,568 yards, 56 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He’s averaging 10.7 yards per attempt and a touchdown on 9.1% of his passes after averaging 8.8 yards per attempt and a touchdown on 8.6% of his passes last year.

Take that for data:

All of it begs the question: What if Mahomes is still on the ascent? What if he’s still yet to peak?

It’s an argument that — like the regression argument — makes sense. Last year was his first season as a starter and his second as a pro. He just spent his third offseason absorbing Reid’s system. He’s accrued a full season of experience going up against NFL defenses. He’s had time to develop chemistry with his targets. That all matters.

A couple years ago, Tom Brady — probably the greatest quarterback of all time — put it best when he said he feels like he has “the answers to the test now.”

“You can’t surprise me on defense. I’ve seen it all. I’ve processed 261 games, I’ve played them all,” Brady said. “It’s an incredibly hard sport, but because the processes are right and are in place, for anyone with experience in their job, it’s not as hard as it used to be. There was a time when quarterbacking was really hard for me because you didn’t know what to do. Now I really know what to do, I don’t want to stop now. This is when it’s really enjoyable to go out.”

Apply that same logic to Mahomes. Remember it’s only Mahomes’ third season in the NFL, his second as a starter, and his age-23 season. And then ask yourself, at this point should the question really be “Will Mahomes regress?” Or should it be “Is he ascending?” And if he is, just how much better can he get? What happens when Mahomes gets the answers to the test? Those are scary questions to consider because the answers to them defy what history has taught us, but they’re the right ones to be asking.

NFL history says Patrick Mahomes will regress. But never before has history seen a Patrick Mahomes. 



Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here