Is Mahomes the Best Show in the NFL?

I remember the moment quite clearly.  It was the first football Thursday of the 2017 season, and Kansas City was in the process of knocking off the New England Patriots.  Alex Smith was doing the honors as the KC quarterback, but at one point the camera panned the Kansas City bench and found young Patrick Mahomes standing and watching.

Even as their season was beginning, it was already a foregone conclusion that this would be Smith’s last season as a Chief, and that Mahomes would be the man beginning in 2018.  So we looked at him, standing there along the sidelines – a diminutive kid with a mop of unruly hair — placidly watching the football game.  He was about as far from an intimidating presence as you could imagine, and I remember thinking, “so this is the future, is it?”

Mr. Mahomes, of course, landed on the NFL like a typhoon in 2018.  The numbers were scary enough – among other things the kid tossed 50 touchdown passes as a rookie.  He has 10 already this year (3 last week) and has chucked 60 touchdowns over his 19-game span as the headliner in KC.  For his brief career, he is completing 66.8% of his passes and has a career QB rating of 115.3.

Beyond that, though, Patrick has become – I believe – the NFL’s best show.  The “how” he does what he does is almost as amazing as the results.  There is an almost video-game aspect of his game that must be seen to be believed.  He throws from a myriad of arm (and body) angles.  He sees everything, reads defenses like they were comic books, and throws the ball with uncanny accuracy and arm strength.

His most recent demonstration had him chewing up one of football’s best defenses (Baltimore) for 374 yards last Sunday.  The only success that Baltimore had against him Sunday was when the pass rush put quick pressure on him.  That is about the only success that anyone has ever had against him, and pretty much needs to be the general game plan.  Young Patrick must go down, or he will assuredly carve up your defense.

On the other side of the field last Sunday was Baltimore’s young quarterback, Lamar Jackson.  He is the reason Joe Flacco is now in Denver.

The two young QBs have some similarities – they are both dangerous running threats, but that is about where the comparisons end.  Where Mahomes is arguably the most dangerous passing threat in the league, Jackson is still uncomfortable with that aspect of his game.  According to football reference, 15 of his 43 passes in this game were “bad” – an errancy rate of 34.9%.  He finished with 46 yards rushing – including a touchdown, but only 267 yards through the air and a 70.6 passer rating.

Lamar led Baltimore to the playoffs last year – and, barring injury, he will be the man this year.  But they will have to overcome this offensive limitation.  They are not a team that can fall behind and throw their way back into contention.  With Jackson under center, they are committed to running the ball at all times, whatever the game circumstance.

The Ravens trailed 23-6 at the half, but continued to run the ball.  At a point where most other offenses would have packed away the run game, the Ravens ran on 17 second half plays – for 119 second half yards.  Even though they came up short in this one (a 33-28 loss), Baltimore still gouged Kansas City for 203 rushing yards, 4 rushing touchdowns, and a 6.3 average per running play (they averaged just 5.4 per passing play).

This is powerful mojo.  A team that is organizationally committed to beating you on the ground – and one that almost always take control of the second half of games because of their running prowess – is a scary opponent.

Raven opponents, beware.

Deshaun is Pretty Good, Too

If Pat Mahomes is the best show in the NFL, then Houston’s Deshaun Watson isn’t too far behind.  Like Baltimore, Houston faced a significant halftime deficit (they trailed 17-7).  Unlike Baltimore, though, Houston was never able to get its running game going, finishing the night with just 39 rushing yards managed against a very stiff LA Charger defense.

Their comeback – and they did come back to win on the road, 27-20 (gamebook) (summary) was totally reliant on a passing attack that is becoming more and more electric with every passing week.  On his way to a 351-yard, 3-touchdown, 135.8-passer rating day, Watson went 12 for 17 (70.6%) for 199 yards (16.58 per completion) and 2 touchdowns in the second half to ignite the comeback.

And, Deshaun is not without his visual “wow” moments.

With 9:53 left in the game and Houston still trailing 21-17, Watson faced a second-and-ten from his own 47.  Dropping back to pass, Deshaun was immediately overrun with defenders and seem to have gone down under a large stack of defensive linemen.

Except that somehow or another, he didn’t go down.  Emerging from the rubble in what should have been his pocket, Watson looked up to find his tight end Jordan Akins standing all alone a few yards beyond the line.  Deshaun tossed him the ball and watched Akins, with no one in front of him, turn the pass into a game-deciding, 53-yard touchdown.

It was the blow from which the Chargers never recovered.

It was a frustrating day all around for Los Angeles.  They racked up 182 yards in the second half, but managed only 3 additional points.  Keenan Allen caught 8 passes for 134 of his game-total 183 receiving yards in the second half.

Trailing by just the touchdown, the Chargers closed the game with a fabulous 14-play, 60-yard drive that consumed 4:08 of the final 4:19 of the game.  Three times the Chargers went for it on fourth down on the drive, converting a fourth-and-thirteen as well as a fourth-and-two.  But with 17 seconds left, quarterback Philip Rivers couldn’t connect with Dontrelle Inman on fourth-and-fourteen from the Houston 34, and the comeback came up short.

Speaking of Frustration

Before their game even began, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll found himself on the injury report.  At the end of pre-game warmups, Pete was bonked on the nose with a football.  For the Seahawks, it was all downhill from there.

Before the half was over in their game against New Orleans, Seattle had given up 2 touchdowns on returns.  Deonte Harris had taken a punt back 53 yards, and Vonn Bell had scooped up a fumble and returned it 33 yards for another score.

Quarterback Russell Wilson was 13 for 14 in the first half and Seattle outgained New Orleans 245 to 115, and yet the Hawks went into the locker room trailing 20-7 at the intermission. 

After a failed fourth-and-one run had set up New Orleans for their final touchdown of the half, Seattle had one more chance.  With ten seconds left in that first half, and the Seahawks on their own thirty, Wilson hooked up with rookie D.K. Metcalf on a 54-yard strike that set Seattle up on the Saint 16-yard line.  Unfortunately, they had no more timeouts, and Metcalf couldn’t get out of bounds, and the half ended before Seattle could do anything with it.

Early in the third quarter, the momentum seemed to turn as New Orleans’ opening drive petered out on the Seattle 35, and kicker Wil Lutz missed the long field goal.  But an illegal formation penalty on Al Woods who lined up sort of over the center, gave the Saints new life.

Seven plays later, replacement quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tossed a short touchdown pass to Michael Thomas, and the Hawks trailed by 20.

There will be better days in the great Northwest, but this one ended with Seattle outgaining New Orleans 515 yards to 265, but losing 33-27 (gamebook) (summary).

Unmet Expectations

The Sunday night game last week had a little more buzz than usual, as it featured a couple of young quarterbacks who were already getting significant attention.  The Los Angeles Rams – still fairly fresh off their Super Bowl appearance from last season invaded Cleveland to play the Browns.  It was billed as Jared Goff vs. Baker Mayfield.

But what emerged from that game was a significant defensive struggle – surprising since injuries had forced the Browns to rebuild their entire secondary just the week leading into the game.

The Ram defense is starting to do this all the time, now.  With a secondary that is getting more recognition every week, and an irrepressible pass rush, few people are accomplishing much against Los Angeles.  For their part, Cleveland averaged only 4.3 per offensive play (4.0 per running play, and 4.5 per pass).

But the surprising element in the Rams’ 20-13 victory (gamebook) (summary) was the play of the re-built Cleveland defense.  They held the Rams to 11 yards rushing in the first half – including no rushing first downs.  From there, they held Goff and the passing game to just 8 of 15 (53.3%) in the second half for 121 yards.  They allowed Jared 2 touchdowns, but also came up with 2 interceptions.

Only two Ram receivers (Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp) caught passes in the second half, and Cooks’ 23-yard reception late in the third quarter was the Rams’ longest play of the evening.

It was a good enough performance to earn the victory, but the Browns’ offense could generate no points at all from the interceptions, and the game closed with just 3 touchdowns scored.

The Rams will be home today, playing Tampa Bay.  They are still unbeaten, and are likely to go to 4-0.

Now 1-2, Cleveland will get the unique opportunity to face Baltimore and Lamar Jackson in Baltimore this afternoon.  The Ravens will test this impressive young defense in a very different way.

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