A reigning MVP quarterback wincing in pain with his back flat on the turf is a horrifying sight to watch. It is for the team, for the fanbase, and for the National Football League. What we witnessed Thursday night was devastating. There was one reason, and one reason alone, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos were playing on national television Thursday night: Patrick Mahomes.
No player has ever entered the league in such manner as Mahomes. His swagger, flare, razzle-dazzle, back-yard barn ball style of play is both refreshing and has fans salivating for more. The loss of Mahomes is a significant hit to the league. For the Chiefs, the damage is so much more.
Obviously, losing a player of Mahomes’ caliber to a knee injury is a catastrophic loss for a team. But for the Chiefs, losing Mahomes is only half the problem. The more significant issue is the state of the team around him.
According to PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM), Mahomes has put up an OSM of 25.71. His backup Matt Moore put up an OSM of just 10.7 in relief of Mahomes on Thursday night. Obviously, there will be a steep decline when moving from your starter to your backup. The problem, however, is how much this Kansas City offense has been leaning on their starting quarterback. The Chiefs lack a strong defense, and their running game has been nonexistent.
Too much on his shoulders
The majority of this team’s success has been achieved by riding the arm of Mahomes and the mind of head coach Andy Reid. That is not a blueprint for Super Bowl success. Even with a healthy Mahomes, it isn’t – and it especially isn’t with Moore under center.
Despite the advanced evolution and modernization of the game, at the core of a championship contender is a great defense and the ability to run the football. When the Philadelphia Eagles lost Carson Wentz towards the end of the 2017 season, they were able to carry on with Nick Foles and win the Super Bowl. Yes, Foles played great down the stretch, but he had a team around him that allowed him to thrive. The New England Patriots in 2008 lost Tom Brady for the year, just a year removed from a 16-0 season. With Matt Cassel, they were still able to go 11-5.
What the Chiefs are starting to look like is coming dangerously close to the Green Bay Packers of the last decade. Aaron Rodgers burst onto the scene quickly, the league fell in love with his talent and off-script style of play, and the Packers put 100% of the team’s success on his shoulders. That led to a ton of regular-season success and a few NFC championship games. But in the end, they continued to come up short time and time again because Rodgers didn’t have the pieces around him.
Fast forward to 2019, and the franchise has finally made an effort to give Rodgers a defense and any semblance of a running game. Is it a coincidence they are off to their best start in years? Of course not.
Early reports say Mahomes’ injury, a dislocated right kneecap and the complications that come from such an injury, is not as severe as it could have been. That’s a significant relief for the Chiefs and for an otherwise underwhelming AFC. But while they may have dodged a catastrophic bullet, let this be a lesson for future reference: Full reliance on Mahomes’ talent is not a blueprint for success in this league.
Ethan Knipfer is a writer for PFN. You can find him @Ethan_Knipfer on Twitter.