Super Bowl 54! Jimmy Garoppolo vs Patrick Mahomes! It’s way more than that as we all know. After my first article a couple of days ago on Jimmy G and then researching Mahomes for this one, it really is less about those two than I thought.
Looking into Garoppolo really made me start thinking that the Kansas City Chiefs have such an advantage over the 49ers because of what I anticipated finding with Mahomes. I just assumed based on all the hoopla, the reigning MVP trophy, and the ESPN magnification of everything from the sidearm throws, to the off-balance throws, to the long run before the half of the AFC Championship game which everyone saw. Now, I am going to say what I think even though it won’t be popular. Either Mahomes has gotten worse or Andy Reid is holding him back. It may be a combination of both, or it may be that Mahomes simply isn’t taking the same “chances” on downfield throws as he was last year.
I’ll start as I did with Garoppolo, with Patrick Mahomes coming onto the NFL scene like a bonfire being lit amongst a bunch of candles. He simply shined brighter in what seemed like every Sunday. In 2018, he was first in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, DVOA, QBR, TD to Int ratio, and ALEX (the metric that simply shows the average of where a QB throws a pass compared to the first down marker). He was a phenom that showed every throw but better than that, the ability to move his feet and contort his body to make every throw, even when his body was in no position to make it.
Mahomes threw 50 Touchdowns and 2 interceptions last year. That is truly unbelievable for a QB at all, let alone one that young with such limited experience in the NFL.
But look at this year. He dropped in literally every category, and in some categories, is actually quite average. Everyone who reads my articles knows that I am a big fan of great play calling and that I think it is the great equalizer. Maybe that has factored in as well to his drop in some of the categories he shined in last year. Now don’t get me wrong, he was still great. He still finished third and fourth in some but he made dramatic regression in some as well.
Let’s start simply with touchdowns. I know he only started 14 games this year but he only threw 26 touchdown passes compared to the 50 last year. So that number was cut almost in half but interceptions more than doubled in those two less games. Well, that could happen to anyone. His yards per attempt went down from 8.8 to 8.3. That is a meaningful drop in itself.
Those stats above are the easy ones for all to see and make excuses for. Take a look at the list below at his rank among quarterbacks in each of these categories.
He not only reverted back to the mean so to speak, but reverted to and through the mean significantly. The thing that stands out to me the most is the ALEX. When Andy Reid had Alex Smith, the Chiefs were built around short and safe passes. One of the many things bad about this is that the linebackers now come downhill on runs and passes which condenses the area between defender and receiver when the ball is caught and gives a far worse chance of any run after catch.
Reid’s offense looked nothing like that offense last year. But this year, it made me think of it. Is it because Mahomes got hurt and Reid is taking fewer chances? Or is it that he is reverting back to his own mean for playcalling. Or maybe it is Mahomes that is worried about a leg injury or is he being coached to check down sooner so the air yards per pass is down? Whatever the case, we are seeing a lot more of this short pass to Mecole Hardman:
and much less this deep ball to Demarcus Robinson:
Something else that caught my eye that worries me in this game versus San Francisco is that Mahomes loves to escape laterally rather than stepping up in the pocket. So I thought about the teams that the Chiefs played that closely resembled the front and type of pass rush that San Francisco brings. I thought of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram of the Los Angeles Chargers. Those two guys come up the field or take a double team and allow someone else to do so very hard. This type of rush takes away Mahomes’s favorite escape route. In turn, he throws the ball shorter and sooner.
This play vs the Chargers shows just what I am talking about.
In this play, Melvin Ingram comes off the left end and pushes hard up the field. Bosa slanted to the left allowing Jatavius Brown to stunt around and get a hard rush up the field. Mahomes felt the pressure, stepped BACK, not into his throw and completed the pass short of the first down marker, but Sammy Watkins does run for the first.
By the way, Mahomes got hammered on the play and his next three passes are incomplete. They took his escape route away and that is what I believe is his weakness. And oh by the way, in the two games vs the Chargers this year, he threw for 182 and 174 yards. His yards per attempt were 5.69 and 6.96, two of his three lowest of the year.
Well what about that long run to end the half in the AFC Championship Game I mentioned earlier? Mahomes can beat the 49ers with his feet people are saying. I counter with the fact that he averaged less than 4 carries per game last year and barely over 3 this year. He averages close to 16 yards rushing per game. That isn’t going to beat these 49ers.
All that said, Patrick Mahomes still may be the best QB playing right now in many respects. But with what I have seen this year, he is not nearly the same as last year and he is not going to be able to win the game with his many flashes of brilliance. He will have a couple for sure, but nothing like everyone is remembering. And he might just have a huge turnover at the wrong time because of it.
Now for a few of those Patrick Mahomes props I promised in the last article.
Mahomes passing yards Over / Under 302 ½ is an UNDER call for me. This goes over if KC gets way behind but even then, it may not. And Reid will be classic conservative for him in the biggest game.
Mahomes rushing yards Over / Under 32 ½. I am playing UNDER. San Francisco plays a lot of zone, which makes it harder. Mahomes only averages about 16 yards per game rushing anyway. Numbers say this is a good bet so we have to take it. And with that point about SF rushing like LA and taking away that lateral escape route, that adds another reason.
Mahomes first passing TD Over / Under 15 ½ yards. Playing UNDER. Again, public perception versus law of averages. Simply have to do so.
Boston Celtics 3 pt FG attempts – 7 ½ vs Mahomes Completions. Celtics average 34 three-pointers a game. Mahomes averages 22 completions per game. Against the defense I think plays him similarly front wise to the 49ers, the Chargers that is, he had 16 and 19. So I have to take the Celtics -7 ½.
The San Francisco 49ers are my pick to win Super Bowl 54. I am not saying I want them to win, I just see too many reasons why. That 29th ranked run defense in DVOA of Kansas City is a big thing in my mind. The play-action off that ability to run keeps Garoppolo safe and not having to stand back there and make quick reads. The defensive line of the 49ers will affect Mahomes like he was affected by the Chargers. Andy Reid in his biggest games has been more and more conservative.
San Francisco 27, Kansas City 23
Good luck and enjoy the most-watched TV show of the entire year!