Patrick Mahomes survives Saints defense in statement win

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports /
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Kansas City Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes overcame an elite New Orleans Saints defense to win. We have his report card and analysis.

The best matchup of Week 15 was a potential Super Bowl preview. The 13-1 Kansas City Chiefs overcame the 10-4 New Orleans Saints in a close 32-29 win. The Chiefs continue to show that an elite offense can outperform an elite defense — the Saints were the ninth top-five defense that Patrick Mahomes has faced as a starter and the ninth win in such games.

This was far from a statistical gem for Mahomes. He completed only 26 passes on 47 attempts, making it the second-lowest completion percentage he’s had this season. He had to overcome an elite pass-rush and talented secondary and did so with three touchdowns and just one interceptable throw.

We’re looking beyond the stat sheet to analyze Mahomes this season. I’ve been charting catchable passes for the last six years for collegiate quarterback prospects, and the results have brought solid baselines in key areas of accuracy to project NFL success.

Mahomes benefitted from this, and the project is partially why I was so high on him as a prospect. We’ll be grading him on playmaking, decision-making, accuracy, efficiency, and awareness in addition to tracking his directional and situational passing effectiveness.

Playmaking: B+

The Saints defense was absolutely swarming this week. They’re second in the league with pressure without blitzing, and it showed again this week. While the Chiefs’ offensive line is decent, they’ve been a weak spot in several key games and left Mahomes scrambling for his life.

Even the usually infallible Mahomes had moments of confusion and inaccuracy. His completion rate wasn’t great, but he fought through the high-pressure rate to still deliver key blows. The high-end throws he made won the game for the Chiefs and kept this from being a Saints runaway win.

Two of his touchdowns were absolutely insane displays of arm talent, poise and playmaking. His third was special and could make his Hall of Fame highlight reel. Rolling left, he squared his body and put the perfect touch on a ball to the corner of the end zone. Few passers could make this pass without pressure.

The game was littered with these big plays as the offense had to overcome an overall inefficient day. The Chiefs couldn’t find too many reasonable passing windows as the Saints routinely rushed four and clogged passing lanes. Every quarterback would struggle in this situation.

Extending plays continues to be the separating factor for Mahomes from the field. His missed throws were more forgivable with the back-breaking ability to exploit the tiny weaknesses within a defense.

Decision-Making: C+

The Saints were one of few teams that actually confused Mahomes throughout the game and almost limited the star from breaking through with clutch plays. Their ability to play two-high and matchup with man coverage and help with underneath linebackers is devastatingly effective when coupled with a pass-rush.

This makes the Saints unique from other teams. Far too many teams lack one element to truly give the quarterback as much hell. The timing and accuracy needed on a pass like this is an impossible standard, even if Mahomes did execute several times this game.

We saw more of the otherworldly placement and decision-making in the second half. But it wasn’t a drive-to-drive consistency and their five punts in their first seven drives were largely due to Mahomes’ mediocre decision-making and accuracy. Missing one of the three throws like this one below would’ve lost the game for the Chiefs.

Accuracy: C

We can rarely say that Mahomes struggled with placement and not accuracy. He’s usually fantastic at leading his receivers upfield and hitting them in the correct shoulder. The Saints’ pressure had the voice in his head panicking, and it showed as he tried to get the ball out quickly.

In all, 25 of his 37 attempts beyond the line of scrimmage were catchable. Three drops cost him some big plays, but his placement lost yards after the catch potential. His rushed process led to sloppy footwork and leading his target in the wrong direction.

The good was fantastic but the misses were notably uncharacteristic for Mahomes. Four of his five passes beyond 20 yards were uncatchable and into double coverage, and Mecole Hardman dropped the catchable attempt. The Saints deserve credit for their ability to keep a second defender nearby at all times but the forced passes were poor process from the 25-year-old.

Efficiency: B+

The efficiency numbers were more promising than the overall totals. He was accurate on seven-of-12 third-down throws, and on five-of-10 attempts beyond the markers. That’s decent but also includes this game-changing touchdown toss.

His play under pressure was especially exquisite. In all, 13 of his 18 attempts with a defender in his face landed accurate, a tremendously efficient performance. Two touchdowns came under pressure as he rolled out and delivered on the move.

All five of his red zone attempts were catchable, and 12 of his 15 play-action throws were reasonably good. This was a high-level of play considering how the Saints were swarming, and it was all still barely enough. That’s an ode to the foe, but Mahomes and the offense was really good where it mattered most this week.

Awareness: B

The good is clear: Mahomes noticed how the Saints were defending their team speed, and adjusted to quicker throws in the second half. His efficiency in situational play was as good most quarterbacks have done against the unit all year. Though he took one bad sack, a fumble and an interceptable pass, the load on his shoulder was significant.

The quick self-scouting mattered for the Chiefs to prevail. The first half had a lot of bumpy moments and surprised looks for the unit, but they recovered enough to earn a respectable grade. Mahomes continues to get the job done when it matters most.

Just two more games remain until the Chiefs get a bye week and await the chance to defend their title. There’s no reason to think they’re anything but the prohibitive favorite thanks to Mahomes and this offense.