Offensive line’s ability to protect Mahomes will determine Chiefs’ success

FILE - Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) stands with teammates during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

Patrick Mahomes drops back into the pocket on first and ten. He’s watching receiver Sammy Watkins take off from the line of scrimmage, staring him down as he weaves quickly up the left sideline and through a pair of Houston cornerbacks. Watkins has a wide opening up the field, wide enough for him to catch a pass and hit the front pylon before anyone could catch him. As Mahomes steps forward towards the line, he cocks his arm back, ready to fire.

Then he’s on the ground.

That was the story for the Chiefs offense in their first preseason game, as a 318-pound Angelo Blackson ripped through the offensive line and recorded Houston’s only sack of the game. Mahomes would finish the game with four pressures in seven pass attempts, failing to convert a touchdown.

This week in Atlanta an entirely different offense appeared for Kansas City. One full of poise, confidence and practice. It was an offense that seemed to work as a more cohesive unit, sparing a first drive that ended in a three-and-out. The line and Mahomes played off of each other in a more natural manner this week, and while the injury-riddled defensive grouping garnered attention for some missed zone coverages, it would be hard to argue that it’s the most important takeaway from this one.

With the offensive line came a few strategic changes -- Andrew Wylie was named the starter at right guard in place of an injured Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Jordan Devey saw a few reps at center alongside the first-string team.

As a whole, it was very apparent that this offensive line was firing on all cylinders in Atlanta. There were still some unsightly errors that come with preseason football (e.g. Wylie’s missed block that led to an 8-yard rushing loss), but the line was racking up pancakes early, as shown here by ex-NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz.

On the few plays in which the line’s protection was sub-par, Mahomes showed a much better pocket presence than he has in the past, with tighter footwork and better vision that allowed him to navigate a collapsing pocket and get a strong throw off.

As a result, Mahomes threw for 138 yards Friday, converting eight of 12 pass attempts and notching a touchdown. Of those 138 yards, 69 came on a single touchdown pass to receiver Tyreek Hill. While a touchdown pass of that distance may not sound that uncommon, Mahomes’ pass traveled 68.6 yards--in the air.

Chiefs fans will not find this type of arm power from Mahomes overly surprising (although still impressive). He has demonstrated it many times before, from his 80-yard hail mary pass at Texas Tech to his warmup of throwing 65-yard darts from his knees during workout camps.

@PatrickMahomes5 working at @teamAPEC today & throws it 65yards from his knees on a dare.. @ESPNCFB @espn #GunsUp pic.twitter.com/nMHqDc6Z1d— Bobby Stroupe (@bobbystroupe) June 3, 2016

One thing that may be overlooked, however, is just how rare this type of power is at an NFL level. In 2017, only three passes over 60 yards were completed all season, all of them just tipping that mark with the highest at 61.8 yards. Even Aaron Rodgers’ famed hail mary attempt in Detroit during the 2015 season “only” traveled an official 61 yards (although many estimates put it closer to 70 once the distance behind the line of scrimmage is accounted for).

What does all of this mean, exactly? The Chiefs have the opportunity to become one of the biggest deep-ball threats in the league. With Hill, who ran an unofficial 40-yard dash time of 4.21 seconds at an NFL pro day in 2016 lining up across from Sammy Watkins, another quick receiver, the speed is there. Mahomes has shown that he’s capable of launching the ball downfield. If the offensive line can consistently hold the rush, a feat that’s easier said than done in a rush-heavy AFC West, Kansas City will have the ability to add another dimension to their offense that can compliment a league-leading rusher in Kareem Hunt.

Kansas City will travel to Chicago for their third preseason game, with kickoff scheduled for 12:00 P.M. CDT. on KCTV5.

Copyright 2018 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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