KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The NFL’s best player is healthy, in the prime of his career and is listed at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds.
Patrick Mahomes is the Kansas City Chiefs’ most valuable asset, a quarterback so talented that the more dropbacks you give him, the more likely he’s able to lead his teammates to victory, a rarity in the NFL. The Chiefs, the league’s reigning champions, can be considered the gold standard. And yet, coach Andy Reid should be criticized for one mistake he continues to make — over and over and over again — that is either egotistical, foolish or arrogant — or a combination of all three.
Just let Mahomes execute a quarterback sneak.
One of the league’s most insane statistics, in a sport where coaches stay at the office for up to 18 hours a day during the week, trying to find any advantage possible, is that Mahomes, including the previous four postseasons, hasn’t attempted a sneak in his past 69 games.
Of course, Reid, a future Hall of Fame coach, can argue that the Chiefs, who have possessed one of the league’s most potent offenses, have won two Super Bowls in the past four years despite never having its quarterback to move forward the split second he receives the ball while under center. However, the Chiefs’ offense could be even more efficient if Reid simply trusts his quarterback with one of the sport’s most effective short-yardage plays, the way he trusts Mahomes in just about any other situation.
“We work like crazy on our short yardage (package),” Reid said late Thursday night following the Chiefs’ season-opening, one-point loss to the Detroit Lions.
Lions upset Chiefs to open 2023 NFL season
The logical answer here for Reid is that he should just work smarter.
In the fourth quarter, with the Chiefs trailing by a point, Mahomes told his teammates in the huddle that they were tasked with running a misdirection play for a pivotal third-and-inches snap on their 34-yard line. Mahomes, in the shotgun, signaled for tight end Blake Bell, a nine-year veteran and a former college quarterback, to start motioning across the bunched formation before pivoting back to get under center, which telegraphed to the Lions, who did their film study, that Mahomes was never touching the ball, removing the threat of a pass. Instead of having Bell, listed at 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, execute the sneak, the Chiefs tried more of a razzle-dazzle approach — which they often succeed at, particularly in the red zone. Bell took the snap and handed the ball to rookie receiver Rashee Rice for a jet sweep, a play that ended in a 3-yard loss.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Reid said.
Josh Paschal was not fooled 😤
— NFL (@NFL) September 8, 2023
The Chiefs, though, have plenty of evidence that shows many of their short-yardage plays that are Mahomes-less — and when the ball is not immediately given to a running back — are not successful.
During this year’s preseason, the Chiefs, against the New Orleans Saints, failed on a fourth-and-inches sneak by Bell while Mahomes watched from a few feet away. The same result occurred against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional round of the playoffs, as tight end Noah Gray was stonewalled, even with fellow tight end Travis Kelce trying to push him forward. Last season, the Chiefs ranked 31st in third-down conversion percentage on plays when the offense only needed a yard for a first down, converting just 48.3 percent of their 29 plays, according to TruMedia. When Mahomes was allowed to pass in similar situations, he completed six passes for a first down while six passes fell incomplete. The Chiefs were the lone team in the league last season that refused to run a traditional quarterback sneak on plays that were either third-and-1 or fourth-and-1.
One of the most egregious examples was in the Chiefs’ dramatic overtime win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the 2021 playoffs. In the fourth quarter of that game, the Chiefs possessed the ball inside the red zone. A touchdown would’ve given them a nine-point lead with nine minutes left. But on third-and-1 from the Bills’ 7-yard line, Mahomes, who lined up in the pistol, motioned to the left, lining up where a slot receiver would be, while Bell moved from his traditional spot to be under center. Once the ball was snapped, Bell ran an option play to the left, pitching the ball to running back Jerick McKinnon. The Bills swarmed McKinnon for a 3-yard loss.
Everyone knows Mahomes is more athletic than Bell.
If Mahomes was given the opportunity to execute a quarterback sneak, he could have three options to gain a yard or two for a first down or touchdown — he could leap over the linemen to stretch his arms to ensure the ball reaches the line to gain, he could power his way forward, similar to legendary quarterback Tom Brady, or he could be given a push from behind by a teammates, which is exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles did often last season for star quarterback Jalen Hurts with their push sneak.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 9, 2022
The overwhelming reason why Reid hasn’t let Mahomes do a sneak is because of what happened on Oct. 17, 2019, Mahomes’ last seen sneak. Against the Denver Broncos in a Thursday night game, and with the Chiefs inside the red zone, Mahomes lunged forward on fourth-and-1 for 2 yards. But he sustained a dislocated right kneecap on the play after he was hit by defensive end Derek Wolfe, an injury that Reid, years later, acknowledged was a freak occurrence.
“What does Tom Brady do?” center Austin Reiter said that night. “I think he’s probably run the most quarterback sneaks since (he entered the NFL). The (New England Patriots) do it all the time. I wouldn’t ever second-guess that call.”
Brady is the league’s all-time sneaks leader. In 23 seasons, Brady sneaked 191 times with a success rate of 83 percent, including 17 touchdowns, while never sustaining a serious injury.
“I believe in the quarterback sneak as well,” Mahomes said last year while appearing on the “New Heights” podcast with Kelce and his brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce.
A month ago, while the Chiefs were in training camp, Mahomes tried to be as diplomatic as he could be about the topic without criticizing Reid, although it was easy to understand why he wants the sneak to be included in his coach’s large, lamented sheet of more than 250 play calls.
“I always say, ‘I haven’t gotten stopped yet,’” Mahomes said then. “Even the one I got hurt on, I still got the first down. I’m pretty sure he’s not going to let me do it unless it’s, like, for the Super Bowl. I might have to call my own number in the Super Bowl if we get there.”
Mahomes smiled after his explanation. His statement was correct, too. In his seven-year career, Mahomes has gained a first down on each of his four sneaks. In fact, Mahomes has one of the highest success rates (90 percent) among quarterbacks, since 2018, who have attempted at least 10 designed runs — whether a sneak, speed option or run-pass option — on third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 plays, according to TruMedia.
Maintaining possession is one of the most important factors that determines winning and losing in the NFL. With Reid, who always says he has 51 percent of the play-calling vote, regardless of whether Matt Nagy or Eric Bieniemy is the offensive coordinator, the Chiefs are choosing to not maximize their ability to maintain possession — which could lead to them scoring more points — when they are just a few inches away from earning another set of downs.
A strong argument can be made that every offensive snap for the Chiefs needs to at least start with the ball in Mahomes’ hands.
An even stronger incentive for Reid should be this: If the Chiefs don’t want to have another loss this season — in a more important game — that is similar to what they experienced Thursday, their best option on short-yardage plays is giving Mahomes permission to do what he’s wanted to do for almost four years.
(Top photo of Andy Reid watching Patrick Mahomes warm up: Reed Hoffmann / Associated Press)
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