Patrick Mahomes primed for first Super Bowl appearance

For the second straight year, Patrick Mahomes is one win away from playing in the Super Bowl. What makes this time around different?

If last Sunday’s come-from-behind victory is indicative of what’s to come for the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense this upcoming Sunday, then get your popcorn ready. After his divisional round performance, coupled with his previous success against the Titans defense, quarterback Patrick Mahomes looks destined to make his Super Bowl debut.

For the 2020 AFC Championship Game, the Chiefs battle a pesky Tennessee Titans team, although Sunday will not be the first time they’ve played one another this season. In Week 10, the Chiefs and Titans faced off in what was a barn burner. Between the two, 67 points were scored and more than 900 yards gained. The game concluded with a blocked field goal as time expired, giving the Titans the victory.

If Week 10’s matchup suggests anything, it’s that we’re in for another entertaining contest. It also indicates that Mahomes has already prepared for this defense. Not only was the two-year starter prepared, but he found considerable success the first time around, completing 72% of his throws for 446 yards and three touchdowns in the three-point loss.

Here at Pro Football Network, we evaluate players through our proprietary model called the Offensive Share Metric (OSM). We created this model because it can often be difficult to tell how well a player is performing during an NFL game with conventional statistics alone. While helpful, they seldom tell the full story.

OSM grades measure how much of a player’s statistical production they were actually responsible for. This makes OSM useful for gauging an individual player’s actual effectiveness in a game, separate from the performances of their teammates — proving Mahomes a hard study.

Believe it or not, Mahomes was middle-of-the-road for much of 2019, according to OSM. Don’t get me wrong, though. I recognize that Mahomes is a transcending talent and arguably The best player at the position. However, he’s often received a lot of help from his friends.

Week 10 was Mahomes’ first game back after a knee injury suffered in a Week 6 loss to the Houston Texans. It was expected that he’d need to get the ball out quickly to his speedy teammates in space to protect himself better. It was a strong showing for a loss. But after throwing for nearly 450 yards and three scores, Mahomes regressed according to OSM. 

For three straight games, Mahomes would record single-digit grades before things picked back up in Weeks 15 and 16. With that said, Patrick Mahomes’ grades for his last two games (Week 17 and Divisional) imply his teammates boosted his production yet again. But it’s nice to have cooperation from your skill players when the Super Bowl is on the line.

Given the matchup, Mahomes must be efficient. The Titans running game will undoubtedly slow the tempo and reduce possessions for head coach Andy Reid and his potent attack. With that said, the Chiefs offense is predicated on striking quickly. Doing so could easily shift the tempo, putting added pressure on Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

One thing is for sure: You do not want to get in a shooting match with Mahomes.

Tannehill has enjoyed an elite season, according to OSM. But his production is more strategically unleashed than that of Mahomes. The Titans offense often puts their newly-acquired passer in positions to succeed. All year long, Tannehill has had time to read the field, effectively counter the run with play-action passing, and throw on the move with designed rollouts. In his case, the quarterback has boosted the receiving corps and not the other way around.

However, Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel knows his team is best suited to play with a lead. In games where Tannehill attempted less than 25 passes, the Titans are 6-1. Oppositely, the Titans are 3-3 when Tannehill’s asked to attempt 25 or more passes.

It’s clear that the Titans’ offensive gameplan, to this point, is to run the football and pass when fitting. If the Chiefs speed up the game and force Tannehill to throw more often, OSM tells us the game will become very dependent on the highly efficient, yet bonafide game managing signal-caller. 

With the highest OSM grade of all qualifying passers in 2019, Tannehill has carried much of the production burden when asked to pass the football. He’s done remarkably well, but on a much smaller scale compared to other passers. 

On the other hand, Mahomes was born for that style of play. In 2019, he was tasked with throwing the football nearly 35 times per game on average compared to Tannehill (23.8). And if this game turns into an all-out air assault typical of recent conference championships, my money’s on Mahomes to get to Super Bowl LIV.

Shane G. Tyler is a film analyst and writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter @SugaShane15.

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