How the Chiefs Can Get Patrick Mahomes Back on MVP Track
Kansas City fell to 3-4, and Mahomes posted a 20-of-35 line with 206 yards (5.9 yards per attempt) with one interception.
His teammates laughed during a film session at a horrendous interception he threw the week prior. But it's no laughing matter now. Mahomes has thrown nine interceptions in seven games, more than the six he threw last year over 15 games and the five he threw over 14 games in 2019.
What isn't left up to chance is what the Chiefs can control around Mahomes, which could help him get back to playing at an MVP level.
Here's the good news: The issue up front should fix itself organically as the unit gets more experience playing together.
But the offensive line has been bad through seven games, bordering on the Super Bowl debacle. Kansas City has allowed 14 sacks after Mahomes suffered 22 last season.
The five-year deal worth $80 million thrown at guard Joe Thuney hasn't turned things around. Neither has the big trade for left tackle Orlando Brown or the draft investments in center Creed Humphrey (second-round pick) and guard Trey Smith (sixth-rounder).
As ESPN's Adam Teicher noted, opponents only blitz Mahomes on 13 percent of his dropbacks, yet he's been pressured on 35 percent. Debuting four linemen was never going to be easy, and time may be the only fix, but the next change wouldn't hurt.
Scheme More Quick-Hitters
Andy Reid and the Chiefs love to air it out. That's their identity, how the big highlights happen and why opponents dread preparing for them.
But it's also hurting them this year.
The desire to run the same offense as past years isn't feasible behind an offensive line that is a work in progress, and Mahomes feels the pressure to make it work. That desire has played a big part in creating more interceptions.
The quarterback admitted to pressing after the loss to the Titans.
"I was just pressing a little bit too early in the game, and then we got down and you're in that kind of mode when you're no-huddle, which you don't want to be in in the NFL. You can execute a little bit, but it's hard to get sustained drives," he told reporters. "So I've gotta be better early in the games so we don't get behind like we did today."
Mahomes is taking too many risks, especially while waiting for deeper patterns to develop. His intended air yards is down to 7.8 through six games from 8.4 the year prior, but it's still too high. Using higher-percentage routes on quick drops to minimize the blocking time needed can mean a play won't be as flashy, but it could mean fewer rolls of the dice and fewer big mistakes.
Fix the Defense
Part of the reason Mahomes feels like he has to press is that a shaky defense can't stop opponents.
In the Week 7 loss to Tennessee, the defense coughed up a touchdown within the first five minutes and 27 points by halftime. As of this writing, it's one of five defenses that allows at least 29 points per game. It has given up 27 or more points in six of seven contests and allowed the first points of the game four times.
The unit has generated just eight sacks, and mainstays like Chris Jones and Frank Clark have had problems staying healthy. An ineffective pass rush makes things harder on a talent-starved secondary, especially when opposing offenses are looking to keep up with Mahomes and Reid.
It doesn't help that Kansas City has allocated lots of resources to offense. They spent big money on Thuney, used a first-rounder in 2020 on running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and dealt this year's first-round pick in the Orlando Brown trade.
Unlike the offensive line, more time together isn't the solution. Toning down the blitz percentage (30.6 through six games, the league's seventh-highest mark) might help; they're last in sack percentage (3.3) as it is. Fewer chunk plays while short-handed in coverage could reduce pressure on the offense.
Stop the Drops
Another change that seems obvious: Chiefs targets need to haul in their looks.
Mahomes had 11 drops by his targets through six games after no more than 28 in each of his last three seasons. Yet his on-target percentage of 79.1 is the highest of his career.
At least three drops by Mahomes' targets have led to turnovers, even though his turnover-worthy play rate has decreased as Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson pointed out.
While Mahomes is pushing too hard and taking too many risks (whether it's to compensate for other areas or not), his cast of weapons isn't helping.
Seek Outside Help
On paper, the Chiefs don't have much wiggle room to make win-now moves. But this is the NFL, where teams find creative ways, like restructures, to finesse more cap room, so the $1.5 million in cap space isn't the biggest hindrance.
Maybe the answer is seeking edge-rushing help, like Olivier Vernon or even an interior guy like Geno Atkins or Kawann Short. Anything to help a putrid pass rush that needs more depth, especially as the season continues.
Elsewhere, secondary depth (think Kenny Vaccaro) or running back depth (Todd Gurley) could provide a boost to areas hit by injuries. The Nov. 2 trade deadline looms as another way to address these problems while maneuvering around cap limitations.
Team improvement will still come down to Mahomes and Reid dialing it back, alongside some fundamental boosts. But adding a player or two might be what the Chiefs need in a deep AFC they no longer control.