Why Patrick Mahomes' big-armed throw matters in today’s NFL

Terez Paylor
Senior NFL writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It was clear this week that Kansas City head coach Andy Reid was intent on putting a halt to the hype train surrounding his quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, whose soaring, majestic touchdown heave to speedster Tyreek Hill in the Chiefs’ preseason win over Atlanta last Friday — which traveled 68.6 yards in the air, longer than any touchdown thrown in any game in 2017 — has already been dubbed “The Throw” in K.C.

As far as NFL coaches go, Reid is affable, but he understandably isn’t big on filling up reporters’ notebooks with stories and insightful analysis during news conferences, lest he give away too much information. But if you’re around the old coach enough, and you pay close attention, you can still learn plenty independent of his assortment of clichés.

“Yeah, I don’t think he’ll let all that [hype] bother him,” Reid said, gently but dismissively this week at a news conference about his quarterback. “I mean, he’s had success before. And that’s one play. He knows that’s one play in the game, out of the 24 that he had.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has one more tuneup game to show off his big arm. Kansas City faces Chicago on Saturday in a preseason game. (AP)

A few more questions about Mahomes came, and Reid again pointed out how important the other plays — the short-to-intermediate throws that Mahomes was inconsistent at — were to mastering the offense. It was the smart move for the head coach. Push the conversation toward areas where Mahomes needs improvement while tamping down expectations. A win-win.

But Reid was too excited about the young gunslinger to make the serious demeanor hold for all 12 minutes of his talk with the media. A good question by a local reporter about whether another pass, a sideline throw on a corner route to tight end Travis Kelce, was more difficult than “The Throw” led to Reid pondering his answer for a split second before breaking into a grin.

“I mean, not everybody can do the long one,” Reid said, his voice rising as reporters laughed. “People can do the other one.”

Little moments like these show why, preseason or not, there’s just something about watching a quarterback with a big arm like Mahomes’ uncork a deep ball to a 4.2-forty guy like Hill.

Folks better enjoy plays like that, because with the new helmet rule expected to reduce violent hits that made so many of us fans in the first place — and the kickoff return potentially going the way of the dodo, too — I fear the big downfield throw may soon be one of the only exciting plays in professional football.

There’s a practical element to the deep ball, too

The importance of the deep ball in today’s NFL goes beyond looks. It’s also a matter of practicality. The field has been the same size for decades, yet athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. That would favor defenses, if it weren’t for the league-wide crackdown on physical play that has occurred over the past decade.

Yet, there is one saving grace for defensive players and coaches alike. And everyone knows what it is.

“If you don’t have to worry about teams going over the top of you, it’s easy to play because you can tighten everything down,” Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told Yahoo Sports.

I’ve been covering the NFL for six years now, and “easy” is not a word you regularly hear NFL coaches say. The game is complicated and stressful; coaches learn quickly never to take anything for granted, particularly on defense, where the league is essentially doing its best to turn every unit into the Washington Generals. But Austin is a capable defensive coordinator, one who guided some good defenses in Detroit when he had the talent to do so. He went on to explain how, if he doesn’t have to defend the deep portions of the field, he can stack the box with defenders to take away the opponent’s preferred short-to-intermediate pass concepts, all while taking away the run.

“That’s why [offenses] want to have those deep balls, because then, you don’t get safeties creeping into the line of scrimmage and you don’t get corners supporting,” Austin explained. “If the safeties are creeping in close, that means one of the receivers has to come in and dig out a safety and block him, or he’s gonna wreck the run game.

“So yes, it’s important to have that deep throw in your arsenal.”

Austin’s head coach in Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis, knows that. In addition to hiring Austin, Lewis — who is under pressure to win, despite signing a two-year extension in January — has essentially staked his tenure on quarterback Andy Dalton’s ability to get back to connecting on the deep ball. And here’s the thing: it’s a smart bet.

Buffalo rookie Josh Allen is in the running to start in Week 1 at quarterback. (AP)

Cincinnati’s offense was dreadful last season, dead last in yards per game, and a big reason for that was the way defenses were, in Lewis’ words, able to “squeeze” the short-to-intermediate portions of the field because Dalton’s deep-ball accuracy was all over the place. The Bengals have been practicing it more now this offseason because they understand how the mere threat of it makes things easier for every other phase of the offense.

Josh Allen’s big arm is also a big reason why the Buffalo Bills’ first-round rookie might win their starting job out of camp. Bills fans absolutely lost it when Allen uncorked a 65-yard bomb on his first play from scrimmage this preseason — it didn’t even matter that the pass was off the mark, well out of bounds — and his coaches also salivated about the way his big arm could open up the field for the rest of Buffalo’s playmakers.

That’s one of the reasons why Allen and his plus-plus gun went seventh overall in this past NFL draft, despite legitimate concerns about his accuracy, anticipation and decision-making. That’s also why four other quarterbacks with plus arms — Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen — went in the first round this year, and why the uncharacteristically aggressive Chiefs felt exceedingly comfortable dealing two first-rounders and a third to Buffalo a year ago to select Mahomes at No. 10 overall.

So far, the Chiefs have no complaints.

What to expect from Mahomes going forward

Reid is a teacher, a man entering his 20th season as an NFL head coach, but he has seemingly smiled, laughed and been more animated during his training camp pressers than he has at any point in the five years I covered him. It’s because he has found a kindred football spirit in the spirited Mahomes, who possesses a je ne sais quoi — about 65 percent of which is related to the gun — that enchants football men and fans alike.

Reid, by the way, surely understands the importance of the deep pass in today’s game. It’s why he pushed veteran Alex Smith to throw the ball downfield for five full years, a prodding that ultimately led to Smith’s career year in 2017, when he was the best statistical deep-ball thrower in the NFL.

That’s not a coincidence, and neither is the fact they dealt Smith, in part, to clear the way for Mahomes. The kid will have some bad days — he’s definitely going to throw some interceptions this year as he figures everything out — but thanks to his arm talent, he should make enough “wow” plays in the interim to keep everyone excited about the future.

Want proof? How about this: For all the talk about “The Throw,” if you believe NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell, who is as intelligent about quarterback play as any non-personnel man I’ve ever interviewed, Mahomes might have made the wrong read on the play.

“He actually had no sense of what the defense was, he missed the throw he should have made and then he made that throw,” Cosell recently said on the “Ross Tucker Football Podcast.”

If that’s the case, no wonder Reid has been trying to tamp down the Mahomes lovefest. The QB is just 22 years old, and he obviously has so much more to learn. But Reid, in an honest moment, might also concede that the reason he gets so excited when talking about Mahomes is because he knows that watching an uber-talented gunslinger grow is the best thing about coaching them.

Guys with Mahomes’ talent tend to believe they always have a better throw in them tomorrow, and if that’s true in this case — and he  indeed turns into the real deal — then whoo boy, is the Patrick Mahomes era in K.C. going to be a blast.

“I underthrew it,” Mahomes said of “The Throw” on Tuesday, with a smirk. “To be honest.”

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