If there’s a wrinkle that the Chiefs can put into their offense, you can bet Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid will find it.
The latest concept to find its way into Kansas City’s playbook is quarterback motion. The NFL’s teams all use various types of pre-snap motion, be it from running backs, wide receivers or tight ends. But very rarely does the quarterback go in motion. Multiple times of late, though, Mahomes has done just that.
At first, there were questions as to whether Mahomes is even allowed to do that (he is). And then it became just the latest thing Chiefs opponents had to worry about. It’d be plenty to stress about Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce when they’re stationary. But Reid and company don’t ever want stopping them to become easy.
Here’s a look at the ways Kansas City has already put Mahomes in motion before the snap and how it could impact the NFL right through this season’s Super Bowl and beyond.
Is it legal for Patrick Mahomes to go in motion?
The short answer is yes, a quarterback can go in motion before the snap, and that’s what Mahomes has been doing occasionally of late.
The parameters are a bit more specific, though. Mahomes can only begin his motion once the other 10 offensive players on the field are set, and at the time of the snap, Mahomes cannot be moving forward. His motion also can’t be something abrupt that could be called a false start, but rather a distinct, fluid motion left or right.
How Patrick Mahomes in motion causes defenses problems
Mahomes’ all-world right arm causes defenses enough problems when combined with his mobility and just general football IQ. It’s common to hear NFL analysts to proclaim him the most-gifted quarterback ever. And then he’s got one of the NFL’s fastest players and best receivers, Tyreek Hill, along with a top-two tight end, Travis Kelce, as the two main cogs to an uber-talented offense. So Mahomes is dangerous enough once he’s received the snap.
Then you add in all the various motions and wrinkles that the Chiefs had before this one: Jet sweeps, Kelce in Wildcat, plenty of end arounds and reverses, both fake and not. That didn’t stop Mahomes from wondering in training camp if he could add his own motion to the mix.
“You’ve seen me, I think, in training camp before and I’m taking snaps with the centers,” Mahomes told reporters in Week 9. “So obviously I’m doing formations and stuff like that. I started going in motion. After that, I had to go to Tom Melvin, our tight ends coach, and ask if it was legal for me to be in motion. He said as long as everyone was set. So then after I got that, I took it to special teams and started working with Trav [Kelce] and Tyreek [Hill] on these different plays we could run from it.”
About two months into the season, though, and the Chiefs hadn’t implemented the Mahomes motion yet. He began getting on Reid about the possibility.
“I had to start throwing little hints to Coach Reid that we needed to try it out,” Mahomes said to media in Week 9. “It finally got in and it worked out well.”
Week 9 was the first time Mahomes tried out this pre-snap motion. On first-and-goal at the Panthers’ 2-yard line, Kansas City probably felt pretty good about its chances, so it broke out a Mahomes motion where he’d be on the run while receiving the snap. It led to a Kelce touchdown.
The Chiefs tried it again in the red zone two weeks later. This time, Kelce lined up behind Mahomes, and the quarterback served as a decoy the whole play.
Kansas City didn’t pull out the Mahomes motion in a highly anticipated matchup with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Week 12, but it’s not surely not going anywhere.
NFL analysts often say that running quarterbacks are so difficult to defend because it’s something that defenses don’t normally have to account for. Instead of worrying about guarding the five eligible receivers, there’s a sixth player who’s movement needs to be focused on. Mahomes’ motion works similarly.
Before the snap, defenses against the Chiefs likely prioritize figuring out where Hill and Kelce are. That’s enough of a worry. Then Mahomes goes on the move and it creates that much more of a problem. It can be a total distraction, like the Kelce shovel pass above, or the whole point of the play, like on the touchdown from Mahomes to Kelce in Week 9.
At the end of the day, it’s just one more thing opponents have to worry about. Whether the Chiefs use it 10 more times this season or just once, it’ll have a good chance of working — the players executing the defense-confounding scheme are too good for it not to.