Sorting the Sunday Pile: Patrick Mahomes takes the top off Reid's offense for exciting Chiefs
Breaking down all the biggest NFL storylines, including James Conner and more on Week 1
Whatever you do this season, take some time to watch a full game of Patrick Mahomes under center for the Chiefs. Keep the kids out of shouting distance though, because you'll absolutely drop an expletive or two watching the second-year quarterback wing it around the field in Andy Reid's offense.
For several years, Reid's been essentially driving a Honda Accord in Alex Smith -- a safe, perfectly great car with excellent steering, a vehicle perfect for doing just a couple miles above the speed limit. Now he has a Ferrari. The ride might not be perfect, but it's fast, it's fun and it's what we all deserved to see in this offense.
Mahomes is an athletic, strong-armed quarterback capable of hitting targets at every level of the field and generally wrecking havoc in an efficient and explosive manner on a weekly basis. That's what we were lead to believe this offseason, and based on one week's worth of work, it wasn't a lie.
Alex Smith was superb for the Redskins in a cruise-control road win, but his performance will be lost below the screaming maw of hype surrounding Mahomes, who lit up the Chargers defense for 256 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers don't do Mahomes' performance justice; he only threw the ball 27 times, because the Chiefs got up on L.A. so quickly.
Mahomes showed on those throws, just 15 of which were completions, he has every club in his bag.
This throw -- a sidearm joint with a pass rusher in his face about to rip him to the ground that turned into middle-of-the-field laser to Tyreek Hill and a touchdown -- popped off the screen to me. There's like five guys in the NFL who can make this work.
Mahomes also showed he's not just a muscle monster, displaying an impressive amount of touch on a touchdown pass to fullback Anthony Sherman, who was running a wheel route up the sideline.
Reid also clearly feels comfortable continuing to use different concepts on offense, like a funky little pitch jet sweep to Hill and then using Hill on another inside pitch designed to get him out on the edge with his speed as the defense is flowing to try and stop Kareem Hunt.
Those technically count as touchdown passes and certainly beef up Mahomes' stat line. But those easy touchdown completions are good examples not just of Reid's creative scheming -- and how it helps out his quarterbacks -- but of how Reid and GM Brett Veach (and John Dorsey before him) worked to surround Mahomes (and Smith before him) with a diverse and electric set of playmakers.
Hill joined Bob Dayes (1968) and Tavon Austin (2013) as the only players in NFL history with a 90-plus yard return touchdown and a 50-plus yard touchdown reception in a single game. The diminutive speedster is just one of the most electric playmakers in football.
And Sunday's action didn't really feature a whole lot more of the Chiefs' offense. Travis Kelce was a relative non-factor for KC, Kareem Hunt carried the ball 16 times for 49 yards and Sammy Watkins finished with just three catches for 21 yards.
It felt like once the Chiefs got up big, Reid closed up his bag of tricks and tried to get out of Los Angeles with his ninth-straight win over the Chargers.
That's fine, because there's 15 more weeks worth of fun to enjoy.
Sometimes a tie is a win ...
Perspective is a funny thing: tying the Browns on Sunday in Week 1 feels like a disaster for the Steelers, but it sort of feels like a win for the Browns to walk away with half a point in the standings. Sort of is the key part here, because the Browns did more than enough to win the game and still managed, as they have over the past year plus, to do some dumb stuff and give it away.
Credit the defense, including legitimate DPOY candidate Myles Garrett, for giving Cleveland a major burst and helping it climb back into the game. The Browns looked dead after James Conner scored his second touchdown (more on that in a second), trailing 21-7 with minimal hope for the first Sunday win of Hue Jackson's coaching career.
But then Garrett applied pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, creating a pair of sacks and forcing a pair of fumbles. We saw some stinkers from Big Ben last year in the first half of the season, but this might have been the worst game of his career. The Browns defense is legit and helped Cleveland finish with a plus-five turnover differential on the day after creating six turnovers. Accomplishing that should almost always equate to a win.
Almost being the key part of that statement.
That last turnover by Roethlisberger, when he was sacked by Genard Avery -- with the ball recovered by Joe Schobert -- set up the Browns in unbelievable field position to secure their first win since late in the 2016 season.
Alas, it was not to be. Cleveland ran the ball once, Carlos Hyde lost a yard and the Browns spiked the ball to stop the clock and attempt a field goal. It ultimately didn't hurt them, but I think it warrants mentioning the Browns spiked the ball with 13 seconds on the clock in order to attempt a 43-yard field goal in horrific weather.
That's not enough time to reset things if the snap goes bad, and by not running the clock all the way down, Cleveland was giving the Steelers another shot at trying to win the game if they missed the field goal. Unsurprisingly, the kick was blocked and the Steelers got one more look. Pittsburgh didn't score, but the outcome shouldn't dictate the process.
Hue Jackson's mistake there wasn't his only one: he also got way too aggressive at the end of regulation, and it nearly burnt him. With 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Browns holding the ball, Hue and Todd Haley dialed up a play that called for Tyrod to take a deep shot down the field to Josh Gordon. You're not going to often hear me criticize someone for being aggressive, but it was a dumb decision. Cleveland was over midfield and just needed like 10-15 yards for a look at a field goal in pretty decent weather to win the game. Forcing a deep throw there is just poor game management. Hit the throw and you're cranking up the probability of winning to something in the 90 percent range, but throw a pick and you drop from 60-ish percent down to a literal coin flip for overtime.
Cleveland would end up tying, obviously, which can't make the Browns feel great after having a good look at a win. It's still nice that the Browns have more "wins" than they did last year (by a half!) but this easily could have been a full-blown victory for Cleveland instead of a half measure.
The Browns failure to execute late in games cost them several victories last season. It may have already cost them one in 2018. On the bright side, this is their best start to a season since 2004.
Filling in for Bell
Another reason the Steelers can feel good about this outcome? The performance of James Conner, who stepped up in the absence of Le'Veon Bell, who continues to hold out.
After Pittsburgh failed to win the game, Bell made clear his feelings on the 0-0-1 start to the season.
The running back would later say he's not showing shade, and that he simply had never seen a tie before. That feels like a stretch, and it also feels like a stretch for Bell to point at his absence as the reason the Steelers lost.
After all, Conner filled in and was excellent for Pittsburgh, running the ball 31 times for 135 yards and catching five passes for 57 yards. Not too shabby for a backup! Conner also found paydirt twice, including one touchdown where his offensive linemen -- the same ones who buried Bell after he failed to report to practice last week -- went way over the top to celebrate with the backup running back.
As former NFL offensive lineman turned analyst Geoff Schwartz noted above, it sure does feel like the linemen went purposefully over the top as a way of sending a message to Bell.
The good news for Pittsburgh is they can get away with Bell missing time because of Conner's ability to fill in. The bad news for the Steelers is they don't appear to have enough balance to actually succeed if the offense can't score in the high 20s or low 30s.
Expect a lot of Luck
A lot of throws anyway: In his return to regular season football for the first time since 2016, Andrew Luck was heavily leaned on by the Colts, who let their franchise quarterback throw a whopping 52 times against the Bengals. There's a reason I pumped him up as a sleeper to lead the league in passing (30/1 before he got back on the field): the Colts don't have a great defense, and they don't have much of a running game.
Marlon Mack was missing for this game, but he's really more of a recieving back than a feature guy. Jordan Wilkins is a rookie and Nyheim Hines, while capable of banging between the tackles, is clearly going to be moved all around the place by Frank Reich in this offense.
Which leads to Luck being thrown back in the fire and winging the ball around. I thought he was impressive, even if he wasn't perfect. And.
Luck did what he needed to do in order to win, but the defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain. Expect a lot of that this season for Indianapolis. I'm with Jason La Canfora here, however:on the Luck front of things.
Also of note: a Bengals player, safety Shawn Williams, was for a flagrant unnecessary roughness penalty.
Garoppolo impressive despite loss
The Vikings won Sunday and covered as well, both pretty easily. But color me extremely impressive with the play of Jimmy Garoppolo in a tough situation on Sunday. Jimmy G lost Marquise Goodwin, his No. 1 receiver, for a stretch of the game and was on the road against one of the top two or three defenses in the NFL. And he still hung tough and managed to nearly bring the 49ers back to steal one on the road.
As Sean Wagner-McGough pointed out,. Those things don't really exist, but given how they played, it wouldn't be surprising to see them mess around in the middle class of the NFC and flirt with the playoffs. They have their quarterback at the very least.
For the Vikings, Kirk Cousins. The offense didn't come out gangbusters, but there were a lot of moving parts on that side of the ball this offseason. The defense will give them ample room and time to work the kinks out., which did not do a fantastic job of protecting for new quarterback
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