Audibles at the Line
Unfiltered in-game observations by Football Outsiders staff

Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Tennessee Titans 24 at Kansas City Chiefs 35

Bryan Knowles: On player introductions, the Titans all ran to the Chiefs' logo and started dancing, rather than going to their own sideline. Expect that to be massively overanalyzed, no matter what the result of the game actually ends up being.

Aaron Schatz: Either that, or we'll overanalyze Tyreek Hill getting on his knees and doing an Ole Miss-style dog pissing routine.

Scott Spratt: Great immediate examples of the Titans' strengths on play-action passing and with yards after the catch on that 37-yard A.J. Brown catch-and-run. Titans already in field goal range a minute and a half in.

Bryan Knowles: Stop the presses, the Titans were held to a field goal. First time in a month they've had to kick it. That was a hell of a run -- unsustainable, but if you're going to go on a touchdown spree, December/January's a pretty good time to do it.

Scott Spratt: And it wasn't just in recent weeks either, Bryan. For the season, the Titans converted a touchdown on 75.6% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. That was the highest in the league, well ahead of even the Ravens (67.2%).

Scott Spratt: That Bashaud Breeland dropped interception seems so huge to me. The Titans are so deadly when they pull ahead in games.

Aaron Schatz: It's always hard to tell from the TV angle but it certainly looks like the Chiefs are more interested in stopping Derrick Henry (like Baltimore) than stopping the pass (like New England).

Scott Spratt: Well so far, it hasn't worked great. Henry has eight carries for 32 yards and just scored on a direct snap run.

Bryan Knowles: I'm really enjoying the Titans' game plan to this point. Plenty of play-action passing, some motion, positive fourth-down decisions ... Mike Vrabel and Arthur Smith are calling a hell of a first quarter so far.

Facing fourth-and-2, rather than kicking a field goal (you're not going to beat the Chiefs with a field goal), the Titans run a quick route to Adam Humphries to pick up the first, and then shoot one out to Jonnu Smith for 22. And then, before the Chiefs can substitute properly, they direct snap to Derrick Henry for the touchdown. Really, really nice sequence. 10-0 Titans, midway through the first.

Andrew Potter: Some beautiful play design and selection to finish that second drive. On the bootleg pass to Jonnu Smith, the defense was so focused on Derrick Henry that they even double-covered him in the flat as Ryan Tannehill rolled out that way, leaving Smith open behind them. The touchdown was a good example of the confusion teams hope for when they run those running back direct snap shotgun plays. I loved Jim Nantz and Tony Romo highlighting that the Titans stole that play straight out of Andy Reid's playbook.

Vince Verhei: Love Tennessee's aggression to go or it on fourth-and-2 in Kansas City territory. Also love the play call, putting Adam Humphries (something of a forgotten man) in the backfield, then leaking him out into the pattern against a linebacker for the conversion.

Scott Spratt: Now both teams have attempted and converted a fourth-and-short. Good to see that teams weren't discouraged by the Ravens' lack of success last week.

Andrew Potter: The Titans surely had to know that the jet sweep was coming on that Tyreek Hill touchdown. Their defense was so narrow, you could see it coming from a mile away.

Bryan Knowles: Someone strap Bill O'Brien to a TV and make him watch this game. Two fourth-down conversions lead to a pair of touchdowns.

That Patrick Mahomes-to-Hill bomb on the third play of the drive was something else, with Mahomes running out of trouble and firing a precision pass to a lunging Hill. He couldn't have done that in midseason, coming off of his knee injury. It's still fairly amazing that he's back at all this season.

Scott Spratt: Why would you grab a receiver's jersey on a third-and-22 when his route is taking him 10-plus yards short of the first down? Penalties are killing the Chiefs right now.

Carl Yedor: Bad situational awareness from Kansas City's Rashad Fenton gifts the Titans four points. On third-and-22, Corey Davis is running a route nowhere near the first-down marker and Fenton commits DPI, grabbing a hold of his jersey early in the route and not letting go. Instead of being forced into another field goal attempt, Tennessee gets an automatic first down and eventually punches it in with a pass to eligible offensive lineman Dennis Kelly. 17-7 now, though Tennessee is certainly not resting easy just yet.

Scott Spratt: Haha, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly with a touchdown grab. The Titans actually threw a touchdown to lineman David Quessenberry back in Week 2. I have to assume they are the league leader in linemen touchdowns this season.

Bryan Knowles: They sure are, Scott. They have three now on the season; the rest of the league has two offensive lineman touchdowns. Add in the defensive linemen, and it's Titans 3, Rest of the League 5, so the Titans have a little more work to do.

Aaron Schatz: The official play-by-play has switched the DPI over to Breeland rather than Fenton.

Bryan Knowles: Offsides, pass interference ... it hasn't been THAT many penalties on Kansas City so far (just four for 26 yards), but they've all been killers.

And now Arthur Smith dials up the Big Man Touchdown, finding Dennis Kelly wide open for his second touchdown of the year. Good play calling, but man, the Chiefs really let them off the hook there. The Titans are too good to keep doing that!

Vince Verhei: A lot to unpack on that Tennessee touchdown drive that ended in the big-man touchdown. Let's not forget that early on, Tannehill had Anthony Firkser open for a deep pass on play-action but overthrew him. Those were the shot plays that Tannehill was hitting to get the Titans to this point. When he missed it, I mentally wrote that drive off for Tennessee. But they overcame, thanks in no small part to the giant DPI on third-and-forever.

Bryan Knowles: And, of course, after a long, methodical, well-built touchdown drive from Tennessee, Kansas City shoots right down the field, hitting Demarcus Robinson, Sammy Watkins, and Hill on 10-plus-yard receptions to score in 2:30. Two more diametrically opposed (good) offenses you will not find.

Aaron Schatz: The Titans defense has done a good job of forcing Mahomes off his first read. He's constantly looking, then rolling right and trying to make something happen. On the touchdown, they finally didn't make this happen -- they rushed only three and Mahomes could sit in the pocket, find his receiver, and deliver to Hill for the score.

Derrik Klassen: Still amazes me that Pat Mahomes somehow makes the seam ball look like the easiest throw there is. Not easy to put enough juice on it while also getting it to arc over the defender, but it feels like that throw is automatic for him. If you told me I had to bet on him hitting that throw versus any other decent quarterback hitting a slant, I'd take Mahomes.

Scott Spratt: I feel like the Titans should go for this fourth-and-short in their own territory. Feels like the Chiefs will score wherever they get this ball back on offense.

Scott Spratt: And to that point, EdjSports' Game-Winning Chance model believes the Titans should have gone for it as well. In a fourth-and-3 even on their own side of the field, Titans are 46.9% GWC with a pass, 46.3% with a run, and just 43.4% with a punt.

Scott Spratt: I also hate when coaches save their timeouts after in-bounds completions in the final minute of a half. You know time is going to tick off then. You don't know you will complete subsequent passes in bounds. Take it when you know it will help. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes scores in a crazy scramble, so it didn't matter at all.

Dave Bernreuther: After the bad snap and desperation dump to Tyreek Hill, who took a huge risk (for anyone but him) by reversing field, I was reminded of something I thought of last week too: one of these days coaches are going to teach ball carriers to throw a pass when they're cornered behind the line of scrimmage in a two- or four-minute drill. I forgot what play it was last week, but in this case, Hill could have thrown one out of bounds very easily and saved himself a few yards -- and more importantly several seconds.

Oh wait. Actually, no, because he caught a forward pass. Duh. But the play last week that made me think of that was a pitch. And while it carries some risk, such as a non-QB trying to throw while in the grasp, if coached well it could be a big clock-saver in some cases.

Oh man. What an effort from Mahomes. I can't believe they didn't get to him to at least knock him out of bounds. Wow. Chiefs now lead going into the half.


Bryan Knowles: We know the Chiefs have a long history of taking 49ers quarterbacks and making them their own -- Joe Montana, Alex Smith, Elvis Grbac, Steve DeBerg, Steve Bono, and so on. Are we sure they didn't take Steve Young and put him under center there? Because that Mahomes scramble and run and spin and bounce and WHAT have you was Young-esque.

Vince Verhei: I'm gonna need the dots on the failed Tyreek Hill screen on second-and-2. I've never seen an offensive player start to run backwards, then have to throw on the breaks because there was a defensive player standing between him and his own goal-line, forcing him to cut back and run the right way. It turned into a 2-yard loss, but fortunately for Kansas City they converted the ensuing third-and-4. Even more fortunately for Kansas City, Mahomes scrambled, tiptoed out of a sack, somehow stayed in bounds, and spun away from a couple of tackles into the end zone. And just like that, Kansas City has once again rallied to take the lead going into the half, just like last week.

Aaron Schatz: My thought going into halftime: the Titans need to really go to the pass in the second half. Even more play-action than they've already run. The Chiefs are clearly trying to stop Henry; despite their bad run defense, they're stacking the box, you've got to cross them up and do something they won't expect. Put the game in Tannehill's hands. I don't know if that would even be enough to keep up with the Chiefs offense.

Bryan Knowles: Since the Chiefs are getting the ball to start the second half, and the Chiefs seem capable of scoring from any point on the field, and since the Titans have shown a willingness to run crazy, goofy plays from time to time -- do you call the surprise onside kick here? I mean, probably not, but...

Vince Verhei: The Mahomes touchdown, the best play of the day so far:

Scott Spratt: If Vrabel were willing to try a surprise onside kick, then he would have presumably gone for a fourth-and-3 from his own 32-yard line.

Vince Verhei: The funny thing, Aaron, is that they have been passing a lot, by their standards -- Tannehill already has more passing yards at the half today then he had in either of the wins over New England or Baltimore.

Which is why I kind of think what Tennessee does on offense is irrelevant. Mahomes is murdering them, and they need to find a way to stop that murdering before they can even worry about a counter-murder.

Tom Gower: Halftime, Chiefs lead 21-17.

It would be hard to script a better first 28 minutes for the Titans offense. They played with the Chiefs linebackers early and often, starting with a 37-yard catch-and-run to A.J. Brown off play-action to start the game and also getting them out of position late in the down on Corey Davis for their next first down. They got some good fortune on their next drive when Bashaud Breeland could not hold on to a potential interception, then followed that up by getting Jonnu Smith open against zone. The next drive, the biggest of a number of penalties on the Chiefs' defense gave them a third-and-22 conversion on pass interference (which is why you should try to get some yards, rather than just running a give-up draw or quick screen), and they finished that with a tackle-eligible touchdown pass to make it 17-7. And then they had one bad drive, so they go into halftime down four points, looking at the Chiefs getting the second-half kickoff.

Whereas in the regular season meeting between the two teams it was a ton of Tyreek Hill, it has been everybody today. Five different players have at least 20 yards receiving, and nobody has more than 52. The biggest difference from the first matchup might be Mahomes' work with his legs, highlighted by the scramble that put them up 21-17. The Chiefs were without Eric Fisher and Mahomes was just coming back from his injury and not very mobile, so he didn't scramble and the same sort of second-reaction plays you've seen today weren't there. They still had 32 points with a number of field goals on fourth-and-shorts that day, so it's no surprise they've been even better today.

Scott Spratt: Tyreek Hill just dropped an on-target third-and-10 pass that would have converted a new Chiefs first down. I'm not sure the Titans defense can stop the Chiefs, but maybe Chiefs drops can?

Aaron Schatz: Just want to note that the Chiefs just stuffed Derrick Henry on both second-and-1 and third-and-1 ... and when they got a holding penalty on third-and-1, they accepted the penalty because they must have thought the Titans would go for it on fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field. They force a punt when Tannehill scrambles for 7 on the third-and-11, but I think it's interesting that they expected a fourth-down go. The NFL really has changed over the last couple years.

Vince Verhei: Was just going to point that out, Aaron. And honestly, it's still a tough call. It's dangerous giving an offense that has thrived on big plays a chance to convert on third-and-long. Tannehill almost pulled it off, scrambling for 7 yards -- though he took a monster hit at the end of it that seems unnecessary. You'd think an eighth-year pro would have slid or gotten out of bounds before that.

Dave Bernreuther: CBS just caught Ryan Tannehill swiping his tablet using his nose because of the cold and his gloves, which is one of the best sideline visuals I've seen in a long time.

Bryan Knowles: With the Chiefs beginning to run more and more here in the second half, they now have more rushing first downs than the Titans have, five to four. That's not something I would have expected coming in!

Dave Bernreuther: Mahomes is getting easy first-down conversions now on broken plays, and this offense is really starting to look unstoppable. Much like last week, their opponent did everything necessary early (although in Houston's case, it was a lot of luck), only to see the Chiefs get warmed up eventually and have their way with them. Is it possible that this offense is only hitting its stride just now, due to Mahomes' injury?

At least I'm this case the game is still close. We head to the fourth in a one-score game ... for now.

Scott Spratt: One likely factor in the Chiefs' offense hitting its stride, Dave, is that they've happened to landed two bad pass defenses so far in the playoffs in the Texans (No. 26 DVOA pass defense) and Titans (No. 21). If they advance, then they'll face a much tougher one in the Super Bowl in the 49ers (No. 2) or Packers (No. 10).

Bryan Knowles: Dave, I'm not sure I'd say "just now" hitting their stride, but they're definitely better now than they were in the weeks and weeks post-Mahomes injury. That was a throat-stomping drive from the Chiefs; one long shot to Hill in the red zone, but the rest of it just plowing their way forward. I'm not sure I like the heavy focus on Damien Williams running, after they went the first half with almost no running back plays to speak of, but hey -- don't knock it if it works.

Chiefs now have a 28-17 lead, and I think the Titans have to respond on this drive; they're not really explosive enough to overcome a two-score deficit in, say, five minutes. Have to get something now.

Vince Verhei: Titans tried to play coverage on that last drive, using a lot of three- and four-man rushes. I think once they even tried a two-man rush. I honestly wasn't paying attention earlier -- is that a change throughout the game? We're they blitzing more earlier, or have they been passive all day?

Bryan Knowles: Oh, that third-down sack is killer. Tannehill loses 8 when Tanoh Kpassagnon gets him from the inside, and that make it fourth-and-15. That's too long to go for it on fourth, so they really have no choice but to punt ... but that's a killer.

Bryan Knowles: Well, if the sack wasn't ballgame, the 60-yard Sammy Watkins touchdown presumably is. Calling the "defender falls down" route works every time.

Derrik Klassen: Tennessee's offense is like an extreme version of Minnesota's in that they need their script, run game, and play-action to be working properly in order to function. Whether you chalk that up to run game, offensive line play, quarterback struggles, whatever -- that's their offensive identity. Playing standard dropback out of shotgun isn't how they want to win games, even if they've been able to do it in flashes. Don't think it's shocking they've struggled to come back in this one since going down just before the half.

Vince Verhei: Among the many, many things Patrick Mahomes does well is throwing with anticipation. Second-and-9, he knows he's got Sammy Watkins on the curl, and he throws a perfect lob to the back shoulder before Watkins has even gotten to the point where he's going to make his cut. The ball is released and then Watkins takes two more steps and cuts back. He almost looked surprised to see the ball, but it was still an easy catch because it was perfectly delivered in the precise location. It's like Mahomes is delivering passes into the future.

And then there's the spectacular play, as Watkins burns Logan Ryan for a 60-yard touchdown on third-and-6, and the Chiefs are on their way to the Super Bowl.

Scott Spratt: Given the Titans' limitations that Derrik explained, and given that this game is over at 35-17 with 7:27 left, what does everything think the team should do with Ryan Tannehill? Franchise, long-term deal, or let walk in free agency?

Aaron Schatz: I was about to say that there's no point in throwing a 5-yard slant pattern on third-and-16 when you absolutely have to convert to keep the game alive, but the Titans run a fake punt on fourth-and-8 and convert to keep their hopes alive.

Bryan Knowles: Franchise 'im. Get a full season of data before giving him the long-term deal, but be prepared to give it to 'im if he continues to play well.

Aaron Schatz: I think I'm also on "team franchise tag" when it comes to Tannehill. You need a bigger sample size to make a long-term commitment. You don't want this to be Case Keenum's 2017 all over again. But if you let Tannehill go elsewhere, you're stuck with the same question as a lot of the teams with free-agent quarterbacks this offseason, which is: who exactly do you replace him with?

Vince Verhei: How on earth are you caught off guard by a fake punt when you're up by 18 points with less than six minutes to go?

I think you franchise Tannehill right away. He's had the best season of any Titans quarterback since peak Steve McNair. He's got his limitations, but you give him a year to show he can develop in a full-time, non-Adam Gase situation. If he does, you sign him big-money, long-term. If not, you cut bait and move on. It seems like a no-lose situation to me.

In the time it took me to type this, Tennessee scored to make it 35-24. Still four-plus minutes to go. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

Tom Gower: Tennessee has been playing coverage all day. It has been their strategy, hope to confuse Mahomes or something.

I'm also "team franchise tag" for Tannehill, and unless there's a new CBA by March they would also be able to transition tag Henry. But those are topics for another point.

Scott Spratt: I do think it would be fun if the Titans had a healthy Cam Newton to even further embrace a physical, run-oriented offense. But why give away assets and increase your risk profile when you can have team control of Tannehill for one season?

Bryan Knowles: Also, I don't think anyone can count on a "healthy Cam Newton" existing in 2020.

Tom Gower: After taking a 17-7 lead, the Titans had six first downs the rest of the game. That included two first downs between their touchdown to make it 17-7 with 6:39 to go in the first half and their possession that began with 7:33 to go in the fourth quarter. When you combine that with a defense that allowed five touchdowns in seven possessions and only forced a punt when an open Chiefs receiver dropped a pass on third down, that makes it extremely difficult to win ball games. I may have more extended thoughts later, but that's mostly that.

Vince Verhei: I do think Tennessee's future is bright. If they just maintain status quo, they look like the AFC South favorites at this point. And in a thin AFC with question marks all over the place, there's nothing obvious standing between them and a rematch with Kansas City in next year's playoffs.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Scott Spratt: I'm not sure that Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson knows how math works. In the pregame, he said that since the 49ers are the superior team, they shouldn't take risks like going for any fourth downs. I guess he doesn't recognize that not going for fourth downs is a risk. Being aggressive when the odds are in your favor is how you avoid being upset.

Bryan Knowles: And, in a contrast to the Titans-Chiefs game, the 49ers opt to punt on fourth-and-1, albeit back in their own territory. Le sigh.

Tom Gower: After the 49ers punt on fourth-and-1, the Packers punt on fourth-and-1 at midfield. As a significant underdog, that feels like a bigger error than San Francisco's punt.

Vince Verhei: Well this is interesting. For one drive, at least, Richard Sherman is shadowing Davante Adams all over the field. San Francisco already breaking type on the first drive.

Third-and-4, Aaron Rodgers has Jimmy Graham open for an easy first down, but doesn't see him, dumping off instead to a well-covered running back who is tackled short of the sticks. Packers then punt on the ensuing fourth-and-1 from midfield. ARRRRRRGGGH.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers' first drive featured only the second run-run-run three-and-out in Kyle Shanahan's tenure as head coach, so they come out passing on drive No. 2. And Deebo Samuel, who has come into his own in the second half of the season, plays a huge role -- a 16-yard gain on a little quick out; a 30-yard gain where he runs right over Darnell Savage. Savage makes up for that with a great play, getting around Laken Tomlinson to sniff out a screen pass before it can get anywhere. On third-and-8 at the 35, it looks like the 49ers call a little draw to set up either a long field goal or a short fourth-down attempt ... but Raheem Mostert just bursts through everyone and runs into the end zone instead. That will work. 7-0 49ers in the middle of the first.

Vince Verhei: 49ers only need six plays to score a touchdown after the Green Bay punt. Kyle Shanahan sniffs out a blitz and calls a perfectly timed draw on third-and-8, and Raheem Mostert goes for a 36-yard score.

Good thing the Packers didn't go for it on fourth down and fail. 49ers might have scored in three plays then.

Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers has been really good against the blitz this season, but the 49ers don't need to blitz to get pressure. Nick Bosa just outright beat David Bakhtiari to force the Packers punt on fourth-and-20.

Garoppolo, however, has his share of issues as well. He nearly threw an interception to Kevin King, and then gets sacked to put the 49ers in a real tough situation on fourth down -- fourth-and-14, so going for it sucks, from the Green Bay 36, which is a really long field goal -- and both kickers were reportedly struggling at 50-plus-yard field goals during warmups. No man's land; had to throw it away there.

Bryan Knowles: Another sack forces another long punt for the Packers, but this time, JK Scott shanks it. The 49ers get the ball on the Packers 37 to start their next drive -- just 3 yards further than their long field goal attempt. Green Bay needs to stiffen up here, or they're in trouble.

Derrik Klassen: Think most of us expected San Francisco to win today, but man, what a commanding start. Up 10-0 early in the second with the ball already in Green Bay territory following an awful Green Bay punt.

Given that Green Bay's offense has typically been better early and on schedule, it's going to require some vintage Aaron Rodgers heroics to get them back into this one if San Francisco score here. Even if they don't, they are in no position to feel comfortable about the way the game is going.

Vince Verhei: Green Bay's next drive ends when Rodgers is sacked by K'Waun Williams and fumbles, though the Packers recover. JK Scott punts for the third time in three drives. Rodgers has completed all six of his throws so far ... for a total of 24 yards. Meanwhile, he has lost 28 yards on two sacks. That's bad.

Carl Yedor: Speaking of pressure, San Francisco brings K'Waun Williams on a blitz and he shoots into the backfield, knocking the ball away from Rodgers and causing a massive loss. Looked like he wasn't in Rodgers' field of vision. Green Bay punts from deep in its own end, but JK Scott shanks it, setting San Francisco up in prime field position.

Bryan Knowles: Tevin Coleman goes down after a 5-yard run, coming down hard on his arm. They have to bring on the cart to take him off, he's in that much pain -- that's almost surely a broken arm or something similar. That sucks; you never want to see anyone get hurt, and Coleman has been running well the last month and a half.

The 49ers just hand the ball right back to Mostert, who's up to 78 yards already, for his second touchdown of the day. 17-0 midway through the second. The Packers need to do something quickly -- a response on this drive -- or they're going to get blown out of the building.

Vince Verhei: 49ers reach the red zone, where play is stopped so Tevin Coleman can be carted off with an arm injury. Don't think I've ever seen that before. I'm no doctor, but I'd assume that's a break, if they don't even want him to walk with it.

Next play, Mostert scores on a jet sweep to make it 17-0, and it doesn't feel like it has been that close.

Scott Spratt: Wow, that Packers botched snap under center gets recovered by the 49ers. The Packers looked like they might score in the waning minutes of the first half. Now this game feels over.

Bryan Knowles: I had just, JUST tweeted out that this drive had been a nice recovery drive -- moving the ball down the field quickly, lots of Aaron Jones to keep the 49ers' pass rush from attacking, and so on.

And then the center snaps the ball into his own butt and the 49ers recover. I am a jinx.

Andrew Potter: Honestly, the only thing even keeping the game this close has been shoestring tackles by the Packers defensive backs. Green Bay's front seven has been dominated both schematically and physically. There are running lanes all over the place.

Scott Spratt: That's the No. 8 team in adjusted line yards on offense (San Francisco, 4.53) versus the No. 31 team in adjusted line yards on defense (Green Bay, 4.96). This was not a good matchup for the Packers at all.

Bryan Knowles: I will say, Shanahan's reluctance to go for fourth-and-1s is a problem, as the 49ers kick a 27-yard field goal to take a 20-0 lead. I still think he's gun-shy after 28-3, which is understandable, but no. Maybe he'll be more aggressive in a more competitive game.

Vince Verhei: San Francisco drives for a field goal after the fumble, mostly thanks to yet another big Mostert run.

They're up 20-0. Jimmy Garropolo has completed four passes. One of them lost yards, and another was the failed third-down play that set up the field goal.

Scott Spratt: I don't have as much of a problem with going for a field goal instead of a fourth-and-short when it's in the final minutes of the first half. One of the reasons the math typically works out for the aggressive play is that the bad result still pins the opponent back in their territory, which frequently leads to new opportunities for the original team to score. With so little time left, that is unlikely to come back around.

Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers throws a terrible interception. Three Mostert runs later, it's 27-0.

We lost 49ers-Seahawks III (or 49ers-Saints II) for this?

Vince Verhei: Emmanuel Mosley intercepts Rodgers. Mostert scores again. 49ers up 27-0 and may not throw another pass all day.

Scott Spratt: I like that the 49ers aren't just blindly running into the line every play with their big lead. That fake and end-around to Deebo Samuel gained them 32 yards. The creativity is helping them extend a drive, and that's helping them kill even more clock.

Bryan Knowles: FOX comes back from commercial talking about the 49ers' great legacy of quarterbacks, showing highlights of Joe Montana and Steve Young (and not, perhaps unsurprisingly, Colin Kaepernick and his domination of the Packers in the playoffs in 2012).

Jimmy Garoppolo is 4-of-6 for 48 yards.

And the 49ers just scored ANOTHER touchdown. Mostert's 196 yards are the ninth-most in postseason history, and we're at 4:49 in the third. That will help Aaron's fantasy team!

Bryan Knowles: Only five teams have ever won a championship game while throwing 10 or fewer passes -- the '71 and '73 Dolphins in the Super Bowl era, and then the '52 Lions, the '49 Eagles, and the '40 Bears in the NFL Championship.

Garoppolo, again, is at six pass attempts.

Vincent Verhei: After the Packers opened the second half with their first touchdown of the day. I thought the 49ers might look to answer with a home-run ball, but no. That's not needed. Seven plays, seven runs, zero passes, and yet another Mostert touchdown. They're the Barry Switzer Sooners right now.

San Francisco wide receivers so far: two runs for 43 yards; three catches for 52 yards.

Vincent Verhei: And here's the other benefit of being able to run with a big lead: the third quarter just ended, and Green Bay is still in the middle of their second drive this half. They could get a touchdown every drive from here on out and it might not matter.

Scott Spratt: 43-yard touchdown passes would probably help with that effort, Vince.

Vincent Verhei: Or rather, 42-yard passes that set up 1-yard touchdown runs, but yes, point taken.

Scott Spratt: Comeback attempts were more fun when onside kicks were remotely possible.

Aaron Schatz: Now that the Packers have drawn within 14 at 34-20, I wonder if the 49ers' offensive strategy will change a little bit and they'll have Jimmy G throw the ball if they reach third down.

Bryan Knowles: Note to Kyle Shanahan: it's OK to go for it on fourth-and-1. It's legal and everything.

Packers have made it 34-20, so there's a little, tiny spark of life. With just 8:13 left, this is still a comfortable lead for the 49ers, but a decently long drive to ice everything wouldn't go amiss in the bay area.

Aaron Schatz: Answer: Yes, strategy will change, because on first down Garoppolo threw his first pass in an hour and a half and the first pass of the game to George Kittle.

Vincent Verhei: Robbie Gould's field goal puts San Francisco up 37-20 with 3:31, and that's it. The ref stops the fight, 49ers win via fourth-quarter TKO.

What an odd team these Green Bay Packers turned out to be. The worst NFL team to ever win 14 games, I'd assume. They had a horrible defense but were blessed to face a team with zero healthy running backs in the playoffs -- and they still nearly lost. Then they went on the road and got throttled by a team running the wishbone. They'll be an intriguing historical footnote if nothing else.

Bryan Knowles: Raheem Mostert finishes with 220 rushing yards, second-most in a playoff game all-time (he couldn't quite catch Eric Dickerson). And, for the first time, 49ers fans are quite pleased to see Richard Sherman end a game with an interception.

Now, for two weeks of Patrick Mahomes nightmares.


153 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2020, 12:37pm

1 "I'm not sure that Hall of…

"I'm not sure that Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson knows how math works. In the pregame, he said that since the 49ers are the superior team, they shouldn't take risks like going for any fourth downs. I guess he doesn't recognize that not going for fourth downs is a risk. Being aggressive when the odds are in your favor is how you avoid being upset."

Does not compute. I very much agree with Jimmy Johnson here. Maybe not if he said to literally never go for any fourth down ever, okay yes that is quite a stupid statement. However, if you are a much better team, avoiding high variance plays is absolutely a legitimate strategy. Considering that the 9ers won by 17 points, in a game where it felt like they won by even more, I think it's quite obvious that they were a much better team.

Any legitimate "win probability calculator" would need to factor in the winning percentage before and after any given decision, with the specific strengths of the Packers and 9ers in addition to the actual specific game situation. I think per DVOA that the 9ers had a greater than 70% win probability going into this game, so this is very much a situation where the assumption of equal strength teams is very much wrong.

One of the only things that could have kept the Packers in this game would be a few 9ers 4th and 2's not converted at midfield.

29 "However, if you are a much…

"However, if you are a much better team, avoiding high variance plays is absolutely a legitimate strategy."

Not necessarily.  Avoiding high variance is only the right strategy if doing so does not decrease the mean win expectation by more than the benefit of the decreased variance.  

This comes up a lot in Fantasy Football... if you're fantasy team is better (or already winning), and you have to choose between starting two players with similar means but different variances, you should absolutely play the lower variance, lower upside player.  But you should almost never play a player with a lower mean just to get a lower variance.

Similarly, if punting decreases you MEAN win probability by a lot, you should probably go for it, variance arguments notwithstanding.

I think of it as a margin versus uncertainty argument.  Consider modeling the two teams output on a given day as normally distributed.  As the game commences, each distribution gets narrower and shifts up or down.  The difference between the "better" and "worse" teams' outputs is given by a normal distribution with a mean equal to the difference of the two means, and a variance equal to the sum of the variances of each.  The probability that the "better" team wins is the probability that random variable ends up greater than zero.  Depending on where you are on that curve, shifts in mean (from making a less optimal strategic decision) can hurt you more than taking a higher variance strategy.

32 There's not really a real …

There's not really a real "mean win probability." You don't have enough high leverage plays for small advantages to add up. Imagine saying "I know we lost because of that 4th and 5, but if we played this game 100 times, we'd win one more of them this way!" That's what a 1% increase means, after all.

For me it's simple. Punt vs going for it has 3 outcomes: 1: go and make it, 2: go and fail, 3: punt. Early on, it's a pure expected points decision: if 1 and 3 put you in neutral EP situations (+/- 1 expected point) and 2 puts you in minus situations, punt, it's a bad bet. But if failing *still* puts you in a neutral situation, then you think about it. Later on it's more win probability than expected points.

But it's all about keeping your options open. Risking a situation where you have to take risks to avoid points when you could've stayed neutral is just silly.

58 There's also weighing in the…

There's also weighing in the probability of getting it back via the other team punting. One underplayed benefit of going for it deep in the opponents territory is that they get the ball pinned back in their territory and have to march all the way down.

80 2nded

2nded - Anytime you have 4th & goal inside the 5 failure still sets you up in scoring position for a safety (especially if it's from <2). The probability dynamics in play on this possibility intuitively very dependent on the dynamics of the LOS play.

In this particular case I don't think it's correct to weight this into the discussion as they were at the 9 yard line, and "pinned deep" mechanics (risk of safety, reduced room to punt, etc...) really don't kick off until your a couple yards closer to the goal line.

85 Ok your last point is more…

In reply to by sbond101

Ok your last point is more anecdotal for me. I think playcalling gets affected to some degree between the 15 and 1 yard line

86 This is an analytics site afterall

Point taken; I must point out that "I think playcalling gets affected to some degree between the 15 and 1 yard line" is equally anecdotal. I would postulate that it's an order of magnatude more difficult to move the ball inside the 3 than 3-7ish, after which it's pretty much open field - but the correct action is to actually look at this analytically.

93 Just to further clarify. The…

Just to further clarify. The anecdotal comment was in reference to me. I made the claim that play-calling was affected but I admit I have not looked at the evidence really at all. It's mostly coming off of memory and a sense.

139 The "pinned deep" benefits…

In reply to by sbond101

The "pinned deep" benefits aren't just safety risk, playcalling changes, etc. It's also just flat out yardage. If you kick the field goal at the 15, your opponent is likely going to start on the 25, which means yes, you got a field goal, but you also just handed them about 10 yards of field position.

92 That's what I meant by an…

That's what I meant by an expected points basis: turning the ball over on downs inside your opponent's 10, for instance, still leaves you in a plus situation, where *you're* still more likely to score than they are.

This is especially true if you're the favorite, in my opinion, because you remain in a situation where your opponents options are limited and yours aren't.


Well that's the third time I've watched a Shanahan offense run all over the Packers to end their season, after the 2016 championship game and super bowl 32. It's getting to be a bit of a habit.

Not much to say about this NFCCG is there? The 49ers outplayed and outschemed the Packers on both sides of the ball; Green Bay had some sloppy penalties and turnovers and a shanked punt to boot. Just a non-event.

It's clear that Rodgers is not going to be the centerpiece of another Packers superbowl run. I had a feeling he might retire after this game; I can't really see a future for him in Green Bay. Maybe the Packers will go all in for 2020 and build a Shanahan-y run-centered offense around him. Otherwise I wonder which teams would make a trade for him – I don't think the Packers top brass would let him go to the Bears.

3 I would be utterly shocked…

In reply to by ammek

I would be utterly shocked if Aaron Rodgers is not under center Week 1 in Green Bay.  After the game, he said that this season had become fun again for him.  He'll be back.

12 They passed all over GB in…

In reply to by ammek

Are you the anti-oaktoon? Unless you think you have a Brett Favre or an Aaron Rodgers wasting away on your bench (you don't), you don't cut bait on a HoF QB. Hell, it's dicey even if you do (Manning/Warner, Rivers/Brees, Young/Montana, Garoppolo/Brady)

They passed all over GB in 2016.

4x yards, 2x TDs, 4:3 plays.

15 Rodgers is going to be on…

In reply to by ammek

Rodgers is going to be on the team at least two more years thanks to his contract, and probably three because they've already started pushing money back. And for his part, the signing bonus money gives him an incentive to keep playing until he feels like he's lost it.

And for whatever he's lost in ability, this postseason has shown that he still has plenty of arm and can still throw accurately downfield, which was maybe starting to come into question in December. His superhero days are over though. They don't have to take the ball out of his hands, but I think he's going to have to adjust his playing style to be sharper and more decisive if he wants to raise his production out of this 10th-15th place rut he's in. Of course, I thought he/they might have approached things that way with a new coaching staff coming in last offseason, so... we'll see.

17 What if?

And if the obvious suitor for Rodgers – the Patriots – came calling with a pick and, say, Shaq Mason, would Green Bay consider it? It would leave the Packers with a very good offensive line, and in the McVey-Shanahan system you could win a conference championship by throwing eight passes.

21 I can't imagine any scenario…

In reply to by ammek

I can't imagine any scenario where it makes sense to trade Rodgers for anything other than a guarantee that they'll be able to select or acquire their next franchise QB. I think his contract is actually just about untradeable anyway.

You can win a conference championship game throwing eight passes, but you're not gonna get there that way...

30 I mean, I get the joke, but…

In reply to by Aaron Brooks G…

I mean, I get the joke, but Tannehill threw for 260 yards a game at 9.6 per attempt in his 10 regular season starts. Derrick Henry's YPC magically increased by over 2 full yards over that span too.

46 I understood the original…

I understood the original poster to mean "in the playoffs", and that's how the FO crew interpreted it in Quick Reads.

Even in his pass-happy last game, Tannehill had nearly the same C-A-Yds as Lamar Jackson did in this year's playoffs.

4 Attended the game

And that stadium is legit loud. Team played rattled in the first half.

Cannot give a team like SF short fields repeatedly. Special teams were horrendous. Plus the turnovers. And all were unforced errors.

5 After the bad snap and…

After the bad snap and desperation dump to Tyreek Hill, who took a huge risk (for anyone but him) by reversing field, I was reminded of something I thought of last week too: one of these days coaches are going to teach ball carriers to throw a pass when they're cornered behind the line of scrimmage in a two- or four-minute drill. I forgot what play it was last week, but in this case, Hill could have thrown one out of bounds very easily and saved himself a few yards -- and more importantly several seconds.

If the NFL rule is anything like the college rule, it's grounding when anyone but the player who received the snap throws the ball away like that.

14 The NFL has no rule like the…

The NFL has no rule like the college rule. Any passer who is outside the tackles can throw it away, even after a fumble.

That said, throwing it backwards out of bounds comes with a runoff penalty. There is a cover-all for intentional fouls. If an ineligible downfield were to occur, a throwaway by a runner could be treated as an intentional foul to stop the clock and thus incur the runoff.

6 Good grief, it was if the…

Good grief, it was if the Chiefs' defense took their stupid pills, as part of an all-out effort to keep the Titans in the game. Then the Chiefs' punt return unit collectively
shouted "WE CAN BE MORE STUPID!!" before the fake, to keep the game going. Mahomes may be the wizard who can defeat The Power of Stupid, however.

I was really surprised by how poorly Rodgers played. That fumbled snap seemed to be on him, but maybe I'm wrong. The int was truly awful. The Niners play the way Zimmer wants the Vikings to play, and the Vikings are only missing, between offense and defense, 5-7 linemen they need to do it.

22 Totally agree on not…

Totally agree on not covering that fake better.  Should not even have had a returner back.  Two things could kept the game alive:  a successful fake and a fumbled return.  Needed to defend the one and not even risk the other.  If the ball rolls all the way to the one on the punt, still better than a fumble.

I'd said in a number of places before the game that a key difference between this game and the first one vs. TEN would be Mahomes' mobility this time.  Glad to be right once in a while.  Of note:  in 1st TEN game o-line was missing Fisher AND Luvernay-Tardif. 

Overall, I thought the Titans played better football with fewer mental mistakes.  The Chiefs just had a better QB and better skill players - not that the Titans have bad ones but other than Henry>Damien Wms, at TE/WR the are all in favor of the Chiefs.  And the Chiefs D was good enough.  Having Jones back was important.  I think the better team one, but not the one that played better.

I do think the Chiefs offense has hit its stride the last few games.  Of course it was good all year, but not as good as last year, and a lot of it is injury luck.  Mahomes has gotten healthy:  his ankle got hurt in week 1 and the injury lingered thru the knee injury.  He also hurt his hand in the NE game.  Not only is he healthy now, but his line is close to full health, with the exception of Wylie, who's the worst of the starting 5 and not hugely better than Wisniewski.  Hill missed all but part of the first game thru Week 6.  Watkins missed Weeks 5-7 (including 2 of the Chiefs' losses).  Williams missed Weeks 3-4 and 13-15.  All are now at full strength.

Also, the team has gotten much better in the red zone in the last few games.

Obviously, the 49ers D is going to be a much bigger challenge.

25 I think the better team one,…

I think the better team one, but not the one that played better.

Between 17-7 and garbage time, the Chiefs scored 4 TDs on 6 drives, versus the Titans 2 first downs.

I think that counts as "playing better."

26 No doubt, but if the Chiefs…

No doubt, but if the Chiefs defense engages in the same nitwittery against the Niners as it did against the Titans, Mahomes is never going to have the ball. I had flashbacks to the moron who lined up offsides last year, allowing The Dark Lord to hoist yet another golden football.

34 Yes, the Chiefs did play…

Yes, the Chiefs did play well in the span you mention.  My point is a lot of that was their better talent (for example, the TD pass to Hill, Mahomes' TD run, the TD pass to Watkins when Mahomes was running 11 mph to his right per NextGen while throwing deep across his body).

It's a bit of selective endpoints analysis to just focus on that period, though.  Before that, the Chiefs kept both Titans' TD drives alive with offsides penalties and an unnecessary DPI.  Both sides took DPI/contact/holding penalties when beaten, but Breeland's DPI was more of a mental than physical error in my opinion.  Without those plays, TEN may not have a 10 point lead (twice).

TEN did have a few mental errors including a couple of false starts and a 12-man penalty; Chiefs had one of those too.  Chiefs got lucky when a blocker ran into Hardman on the TEN punt at the end of the 1st half but then covered the loose ball, that was another mistake. 

And the "garbage" time period was very poorly done. The fake punt was already covered.  Willliams went out of bounds to stop the clock just before the 4 minute mark, that was a mental error.  Mahomes should have taken the sack at the end of that drive rather than throw the ball away and stop the clock (the Chiefs then took a delay penalty to move the ball back to - unsuccessfully - help the punter).  As a Chiefs fan who remembered the end of the 1st Titans game, that didn't feel like garbage time to me.  Maybe it was to a more neutral observer.

IMO, the Chiefs need to play a cleaner game to beat the 49ers.

47 The end points aren't…

The end points aren't selective. KC demonstrated nitwittery at similar rates during their dominant period, too. They stopped TEN on a 1st-5 scenario created by nitwittery.

I'm amused that some posters call KC a one-man band, and others argue they are stacked compared to their competition. Ah subjectivity, you fickle muse.

53 Swap Garoppolo and Mahomes,…

Swap Garoppolo and Mahomes, and the Chiefs are about 9-7, or 10-6, at best, and might not get to the Divisional round. You give Kyle Shanahan Mahomes, and the rest of the Niners roster, and we may have the strongest NFL champion since the early to mid 90s.

54 I'd have to agree. …

I'd have to agree.  Garoppolo certainly can pass, and the 49ers can win when he does so (see, for example, the New Orleans game) -- but Mahomes lives on a different planet to the rest of us.

65 Shanahan, with Mahomes, and…

Shanahan, with Mahomes, and the rest of the Niner's roster, when healthy, would likely be choking out every opponent like they did the Packers yesterday, with Mahomes throwing when necessary, and just reducing opposing d-coordinators to neurotic, shivering, basket cases. You wouldn't dare load the box against them, until they were making you look absolutely stupid by running the ball, and then Mahomes would just toy with you, while the Niners defense would just loose the hounds on your qb for 4 quarters. Be like watching a 30 foot python eat a rabbit once a week  for 5 months. 

107 It would almost certainly be…

In reply to by RickD

It would almost certainly be the best Championship team since the '96 Packers, and might give the '91 D.C. team a battle for the DVOA crown.

113 I think it is fair to say…

I think it is fair to say that Mahomes (with Reid) already reduces opposing coordinators to neurosis. Whilst he has been healthy, KC has had more or less the best offense in NFL history the past two seasons. It's hard to project a Shanahan-Mahomes offense being better than that. 

116 I didn't mean to imply…

I didn't mean to imply Shanahan was superior to Reid. The point was I trying to make is that the Niners roster and coach, with Mahomes instead of Garoppolo, might be the best champion in 30 years or more.

67 I am not so sure of that.

Chiefs' opponents's scored more than 24 points, which is about NFL average, six times. Just statistically if you go 80% on the others (8 wins) and 50% on the games where opponents scored 24 or more (given the talent and coach Chiefs has) a regularly good QB would have won 11 games. They would not necessarily be as dominant as the wins with Mahomes but wins nevertheless.

In my opinion Garappolo is better than an average QB. He played quite well anytime run game or defense did not work. 

70 Yeah I'm inclined to think…

Yeah I'm inclined to think Garropollo is better than Alex Smith.  

Reid's teams with Smith went something like 11-5, 9-7, 11-5, 12-4, 10-6 in a division with Manning and the Broncos for the first three years.

And then 12-4 this year with 3 fill in games by Matt Moore which were wins against Broncos and Vikings and a loss to Green Bay.

So I'm not sure the Chiefs would be only 9 or 10 wins with Grop

72 I think we need a much, much…

I think we need a much, much, bigger sample, with significantly worse teammates and coaching, to have some inkling that Garoppolo is as good as Alex Smith. You stick The G into the situation Smith had to deal with, before Harbaugh was hired, and G might be making movies in the San Fernando Valley.

130 Sure

But he's been fortunate enough to avoid those things. Jimmy G, if he had to carry a team, would probably win 2-3 more games where he "put the team on his back" than Alex would, and lose 1-2 more where his "didn't see a LB dropping into coverage" pick kills them. He's a net positive in comparison (imo) but not a ton different. If you really want the ultimate game manager who can hit 2-3 big throws a game, you could certainly do worse than Alex, but if you have a team that NEEDS it's QB to carry it more, then You'd want Jimmy G in a heartbeat. Its the same risk as Harbaugh saw with switching to Kaep - the potential loss you'd have due to his inexperience or getting tricked by the defense did not outweigh the potential wins he could add to the team. 

131 I would add. Against a team…

In reply to by sportzboytjw

I would add. Against a team like GB, you might prefer Alex Smith. Against a team like KC, you would absolutely rather have Jimmy G.


133 Where did you get the data…

In reply to by sportzboytjw

Where did you get the data to support the assertion you make in the 2nd sentence? Garappolo at this  point is still largely a mystery, with one season in which he has made more than 5 starts, and that was on a team which has a terrific roster, including a great running game. His back is pretty much unburdened.

100 I think we watched different…

I think we watched different games, I thought Rodgers straight-up shredded the Niners. 31/39 for 326 yards and 2 TDs, and they never really struggled to complete passes downfield, especially after the first couple of drives. That first INT was bad, but the other gaffes either weren't really on him (unless you want to blame him for the failure of blocking assignments that got him stripped on that CB blitz, not sure who made that call), or were necessary gambles that failed (i.e. that last pick). That was against, I cannot emphasize this enough, the second-best pass defense in the entire NFL (and frankly, I don't buy NE's #1 rating; opponent adjustments fail when 40% of your games are against the 2019 Dolphins, Jets, and Bills offenses). And was with, and I really cannot emphasize this enough, one of the crappiest groups of pass-catchers in the entire NFL. Their second-best receiver is their running back, their third-best is an undrafted Jaguars castoff, their fourth-best is whoever is Weekend-At-Bernie's-ing Jimmy Graham's corpse these days. Their fifth best is either a guy they benched for the playoffs, or a starting member of the All-KCW team. And it's not like their best guy is Julio Jones or anything. 31/39 for 326 against probably the best pass defense in the League with that bunch; yeah, he did pretty well.

102 Please don't tell me what a…

Please don't tell me what a good game a qb had, after his poor play in good measure led to a 27-0 halftime deficit. The fumbles are on Rodgers, the int was hideous. He sucked like a plutonium powered vacuum in the first half, and his protection was something Kirk Cousins envied. 

Then, down 27, the Packers td drive to start the third took nearly half the quarter. You know what a smart team with a 27 point lead does? Let you take 6 minutes to score a td. The lead was back to 27 at the start of the 4th, making the 4th quarter "shredding" trivia.

109 I feel the truth probably…

I feel the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Rodgers' mistakes in the first half were crippling, in a game where the Packers had no margin for error. But he was accurate overall, and made some really good throws, albeit mostly in the second half against a defense probably not playing at max aggression. 

To a wider point, I imagine Rodgers is already fast-headed for the territory where every game he now plays will be scrutinized and subsequently over-reacted to, such that there is no middle ground - he is either back to his best or completely shot. The idea that he is now probably just a slightly above average starter is difficult to compute - I'll likely be as guilty as anybody else. 

112 For all I know he'll have…

For all I know he'll have great season next year. As to the game two days ago, the worst thing a qb can do is turn the ball over. Rodgers was largely, nearly wholly, responsible for 3 turnovers in the first half of the game, and thus hugely contributed to a 27-0 deficit that mostly rendered the 2nd half superfluous. He really sucked.

114 Oh yeah the mistakes were…

Oh yeah the mistakes were bad no doubt. But I would give him a little credit for the rest of his play, even if all it did was add a little respectability to the scoreline. It might be predictive for future games where his defense isn't also horribly over-matched, and the game isn't totally out of hand by half time.  

132 Biggest flaw

The biggest issue I have with Rodgers (and I see him as the GOAT) is his stubbornness on a few things - playing HIS way and (seemingly) refusing to listen to his coaches/teammates sometimes, and his near-refusal to play with talented-but-green rookies at times. I think that may have been part of the lack of a hurry-up in the third quarter, which is on him (although he might say "look, we scored, and IF THE DEFENSE HAD TOUGHENED UP AND HELD SF IN THE SECOND HALF I had plenty of time to score 2-3 more times").

105 nah, it'll go away

It makes the NFL look bad.  The fact that Belichick discovered it makes it even more likely that it'll vanish, even though Vrabel used it against his former coach.  

118 I do, too, but the reality…

I do, too, but the reality is that holding a receiver 5 or 6 yards past the line of scrimmage is a very good way to prevent a 23 yard gain.

I do think the game would better with a strictly enforced 10 yard legal contact zone, as long as there was no holding, and the ball not in the air yet.

152 Sure. But it happens on…

Sure. But it happens on third down, the defense has already stopped them on first and second down. Better yet, moved them back 12 yards. That has to mean something. But with the current rule it doesn't matter what you do on 1st and 2nd, because on 3rd a holding penalty is enough to move you up 22 yards.

If holding a receiver is _that_ severe, make it a spot foul, a 15 yarder, a 10 yarder; not a 5 yarder. Because making it a 5 yarder implies that it's not that big of a penalty. 


120 No, no, no.  At the risk of…

No, no, no.  At the risk of violating the prime directive, this country is dying from the "do whatever you can get away with" ethic.  If we can't restore principles of honor and fair play to SPORTS, then there's zero chance for industry and government.  Manipulating loopholes to extract advantages never intended by the rules is dishonorable conduct and its practitioners should be shunned not praised.  

122 If you are adhering to the…

If you are adhering to the rules, then you aren't "getting away" with anything. Using your synapses to understand how the rules can be best used to your advantage is not the least bit unethical. The two parties here understand that they are in a hypercompetitive setting, and they have equal access to what the rules of the competition are. Other than deliberately stepping outside of what those rules allow, anything goes, ethically speaking.

123 I understand this position…

I understand this position and recognize that it is held by people of goodwill (including you!), but respectfully I think it is wrong and, writ large, pernicious.  No rules are perfect, and in fact they cannot be.  Systems and institutions can only function as intended by commitments to norms and principles that transcend specific rules.  This is a much larger debate that will not be resolved here.  But I'm confident I'm right and that the contrary view is a fairly modern development.  I'm happy to voice my dissent to the modern development, Cato-style, and leave it there for now.    

124 In China they've framed a…

In China they've framed a debate for millenia this way:  Rule by Law, or Rule by Wise Men? 

After spending a couple years living in China, I came down pretty heavily on the Rule by Law side.  Rule by Wise Men seems to mean a few smug assholes who think they know everything, or in other words, there are no Men who are that Wise. 

126 I would offer the Hayekian…

I would offer the Hayekian view. Even if the game was setup so that wisemen could run things, its never the wisemen who win the game of thrones, its always the evil men. Its not an accident that the worst always get on top of a winner take all fight for the throne. 

128 I'm all for Rule by Law, but…

I'm all for Rule by Law, but that has to mean more than just technical compliance with the rules.  Consider who enforces the rules.  If you stack the highest court with judges who interpret the rules to serve the ruling party, all the technical substantive and procedural rules have been honored and what do you have?  At some point, the rules end and you need a commitment to fairness and justice.  [EDIT:  To be clear, what I mean by "fairness" is honoring the intent and principle behind a validly enacted rule even if you disagree with it -- procedural fairness.]   Without it, rules are just another tool for the powerful.  But this goes way beyond football!  I don't want to side track the thread with an off topic subject, although it's one I've obsessed over for awhile.  

125 I think you are mistaken, in…

I think you are mistaken, in that this is a very specific context, with parties that have mutually agreed to meet in hypercompetitive, cutthroat competition, where the worst that happens, if somebody uses timekeeping rules to their advantage, is somebody loses a game. This isn't an interaction in normal society where one party has significant information that is concealed from the other party, or one party has inhrerently large advantage over the other. It's not even an interaction in a highly abnormal context, say, combat, where strict adherance to the rules may allow a hideous outcome to be inflicted on innocent or even semi-innocent third parties.

In any case, we will agree to disagree, thankfully in a civil manner.

8 Oh wait. Actually, no,…

Oh wait. Actually, no, because he caught a forward pass. Duh. But the play last week that made me think of that was a pitch. And while it carries some risk, such as a non-QB trying to throw while in the grasp, if coached well it could be a big clock-saver in some cases.  

Does ineligible man downfield come with a run-off penalty in 2-minute situations?

9 I'm gonna need the dots on…

I'm gonna need the dots on the failed Tyreek Hill screen on second-and-2. I've never seen an offensive player start to run backwards, then have to throw on the breaks because there was a defensive player standing between him and his own goal-line, forcing him to cut back and run the right way.

Along those lines.

God I miss Barry. Watching his reels again, what stands out is how many HOF defenders he just punked. John Lynch and Bruce Smith are in these, just tackling air as Sanders run past them for a score. First clip ends with 2x All-Pro Ken Norton, Jr., falling down with a non-contact injury after getting juked out his shoes. He sprained his knee.

10 I'm not sure that Hall of…

I'm not sure that Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson knows how math works. In the pregame, he said that since the 49ers are the superior team, they shouldn't take risks like going for any fourth downs. I guess he doesn't recognize that not going for fourth downs is a risk. Being aggressive when the odds are in your favor is how you avoid being upset.

Favorites should play low-variance strategies.

There's a counter-argument if your identity revolves around really high-performance David Strategies, but even the Rockets/Warriors model of long-range bombing more reflects consequences of NBA rule changes (it has become the Goliath Strategy) than it does a true high-variance tactic.

63 For me it's easier if you…

For me it's easier if you say "favorites should not take unnecessary bets," or better, favorites should favorable situations.

Going for it on 4th and goal, for instance, isn't really a risky bet. You stay in a plus situation either way. You're risking very little to gain a lot.

Going for it on 4th and short on your own 30 is a risky bet. Making it doesn't improve your situation much relative to punting - it's still neutral - and missing it puts you in a minus situation.

11 The worst NFL team to ever…

The worst NFL team to ever win 14 games, I'd assume.

Probably not. Worse teams by DVOA include:

2003 Carolina Panthers
2007 NY Giants

Comparable teams:

1993 Buffalo Bills
2012 Baltimore Ravens

Point differential also disliked the 1999 Titans, the 2015 Broncos, the 1986 Redskins, the 2006 Colts.

Point differential also disliked the 1985 Pats, which will be interesting to watch when that season comes out. They look to have played a solid schedule, though, so they could be solid in DVOA terms.

91 1985 Patriots

1985 Patriots finished seventh in overall DVOA during the regular season at 18.0%, when they were 11-5. The playoffs move them up to 19.1% because of three good games before they played so badly against Chicago.

Full 1985 DVOA and commentary coming in February, I promise!

106 2007 Giants

Does that DVOA include the playoffs?

They had a middling regular season, but they certainly deserved their Super Bowl win.  The eyeball test puts them well ahead of this year's Packers.

I just didn't see anything from them on Sunday.  Admittedly I gave up at halftime, but that did not look like a team that the 49ers had to worry about at all.  

115 It is easily forgotten how…

It is easily forgotten how late in the year the Giants defensive linemen regained their health, nearly toolate to even make the playoffs, and then became the monsters that won the championship. Even then, if Neal doesn't get hurt in the Super Bowl, we likely would be talking today about what a historically great champion the '07 Patriots were. 

18 I've always argued that…

I've always argued that tanking in the NFL is a really bad strategy, but the Niners may be a really good counterpoint. It still seems to me that it excessively depends on drafting luck, however.

27 Oh, I know, but it is such a…

Oh, I know, but it is such a stark example of a team losing, losing, losing, for years, then converting all those high draft picks into dominant players, thus creating a championship roster. I could see a team deliberately taking that path. I won't work without a really good coach, and some pronounced good luck in drafting.

76 They traded 2nd pick

And got Solomon Thomas, Fred Warner, Dante Pettis, Adrian Colbert and a DJ reed out of that.

One of the best middle LBs, a rotational Dline, and some productive backups.

Bears got Trubisky.

95 The implications of this…

The implications of this post always bother me. Mostly because they're made with the benefit of hindsight. If the Bears have drafted Mahomes instead( let's assume for the sake of argument he would have been just the same player in Chicago),  then the niners look like fools who passed on Mahomes.

I know there is a vocal contingent reading this that will claim they knew with perfect forsight that trubisky was destined to be a bust, but he was still universally regarded as a better prospect than Patrick Mahomes. 

As I like to tell people all the time, sometimes you draft Peyton Manning sometimes you draft Ryan leaf. 

96 Had the bears drafted Mahomes

He probably would not be the Mahomes we know. 
having said that regardless of who the bears would have drafted they did not need to trade up. Even if we assume Trubisky would have been better under different circumstances and it was not a bad choice by itself or every choice is luck (Manning or Leaf) then either way they should not have traded up. They would have their choice of the two of Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes. 

98 "He probably would not be…

"He probably would not be the Mahomes we know."


Do most people believe this? I am genuinely curious...if Rodgers, Brady, Brees etc were sent to random teams do we think they wouldn't be great players?

101 Brady was a 6th round pick…

Brady was a 6th round pick who spent 5 years where his job was functionally to be Derek Carr (or more accurately, to be Not Drew Bledsoe). Brees was an undersized QB with shoulder problems. He was going to be Flutie'd by Rivers in San Diego and was passed over by teams until New Orleans took a flyer on him -- they had nothing to lose.

Rodgers was good enough that GB let their HOF franchise legend QB walk away. I think he was going to succeed anywhere, but ending up with McCarthy in GB was probably fortuitous. 

I don't think Reid made Mahomes. But I don't think Mahomes reaches the level he's at without Reid, and vice-versa. Reid gives Mahomes more leash and a level of trust that he's never given a QB before.

119 This is a good take

Reid has never had a QB with this kind of combo of arm, calm during the storm and smarts. He's basically Peyton Manning with a bazooka on his shoulder. I believe he has a photographic memory of the plays and knows where everyone is supposed to be and then has the arm talent to put the ball where it needs to go most of the time. Witness he threw a ton this year and only have 5 interceptions, and couple of those were probably not his fault. It's unreal how that guy always seems to be in control of what's going on. As a Chiefs fan, I will never take for granted what we're watching right now. Unbelievable player, and he's only 24 years old!

121 In thinking about it,…

In thinking about it, Mahomes is a lot like Deshawn Watson in that both hold onto the ball and drift in the pocket. There are 3 major differences

1) Mahomes has the athleticism to rifle passes down the field without needing his feet planted, his body positioned correctly, or even needing much of a wind up. He's also completely fearless in rifling such passes - the anti Alex Smith.

2) Andy Reid's schemes cause at least 5 coverage breakdowns a game. And Mahomes is smart enough to find that matchup when its there

3) He has three all pro quality players besides him on that offense: Hill, Schwartz, and Kelce.


In all honesty, I don't see a lot of Peyton Manning in him stylistically. At least not yet. He's more Favre or Rodgers. 

150 The Manning comparison...

The kid remembers everything, it's not about his playing style. That's what made me mention Manning, because he could remember plays from when he was in high school and tell you what was going on. Mahomes can do that too. He breaks a lot of things down in the after game press conferences and it's interesting to hear him describe what he sees. Mahomes is the perfect Andy Reid QB, you're absolutely right. And then, when the schemes don't work, he goes off book and does things you just don't see very much. It's pretty great being a Chiefs fan right now. 

144 The problem with mock drafts…

The problem with mock drafts/draft projections is they usually mix two objectives:  ranking the players and predicting when they'll get picked.  Without knowing which a particular writer is trying to do, it's hard to say how good their evaluations are.  Of course, either way, Mayock missed badly on Mahomes:  he was neither the 32nd best player in that draft nor the 32nd player taken.

40 It's kind of interesting…

It's kind of interesting trying to figure out what's happened with the Niners.

They were a powerhouse under Harbaugh then that got blown up. 

Bunch of players retired followed by two hapless seasons of Tomsula and Chip.

Then they hire a TV analyst to be GM and give him and his HC seven year contracts.

They trade for Grop - the team hardly wins when he's not playing - yet when he does they need 8 passes to win the NFCCG.


108 well....when the QB is injured, that's different from "tanking"

Last year's 49ers remind me of the San Antonio Spurs of 1996-1997.  They were a talented team, but after David Robinson went down, they slid into the lottery.  

And then they won the lottery, drafted Tim Duncan, added him to a team that was already pretty talented, and the rest is history.

Most NBA lottery teams a) don't have as much talent as the 1997 Spurs, and b) won't have the chance to pick Tim Duncan.

And most 4-12 NFL teams don't have as much talent as the 2018 49ers did.  As for Nick Bosa, I won't  quite say he's a Tim Duncan-level talent, but certainly they were lucky to have him available.  

Segue into a consideration of #2 overall picks...looking at the website below

It's incredible how much the #2 position is high variance. Yes, you get Von Miller, Julius Peppers, Calvin Johnson, and Marshall Faulk (presumably all Hall of Famers), but there's also RG3, Robert Gallery, and the pair of massive disappointments at QB: Ryan Leaf and Rick Mirer. 

Going even further back, we see Eric Dickerson and Laurence Taylor, but also Tony Mandarich!   



127 There was a large contingent…

There was a large contingent of pundits and 49ers fans who thought drafting Quinnen Williams would be the best thing that could happen to the 49ers.  They supposed he was a much bigger talent than Bosa, who was supposed to have a pretty hard ceiling.  Hard to imagine now, but true.

You only have to go back to the 2017 draft to see how variable the available talent can be.  The 49ers would have drafted Solomon Thomas at #2, were able to get him at #3, and he's lucky to see 20 snaps a game these days.  It's not like there was a lot of DE talent after him, either. 

136 I've been thinking about the…

I've been thinking about the 2017 draft, and I'd love to get your (and other SF fans') opinion. If you look at the top 15 of the draft as the consensus viable top picks, and specifically exclude Mahomes and Watson because at the time no one considered them top-five-overall qbs, who would be the best pick for SF?

Weirdly, I think it's McCaffrey. Can you imagine a run/pass threat like him in this offense, with a deep enough rotation such that he's always fresh? Of course, there's no way that first-year head coach Shanahan could pick him, given his ties to the McCaffrey family and the fairly-valid nepotism narrative that was already around him.

But overall, if you ignore Mahomes as an alien from outer space that we couldn't understand or appreciate until later, 2017 was a pretty weak draft class. 

142 By AV, McCaffrey is the best…

By AV, McCaffrey is the best non-QB in the top half of the first round by a big margin.  Jamal Adams to the Jets at 6 is second, and then another big gap to Lenoard Fournette at 4 and Marshon Lattimore at 11.  

But yeah, other that Watson and Mahomes, it seems like a weak top end of the draft.  There's irony in that the 49ers might have ended up with the best non-QB drafted that year, but with the 146th pick rather than the 2nd.

147 Of the top 15, non-QB…

Of the top 15, non-QB edition, McCaffrey would probably be the best choice, aye.  Marshon Lattimore might be a bigger upgrade considering the 49ers' (relative) struggles with their second cornerback, but he's coming off of something of an off year.

151 Lattimore

According to some, both 2018 and 2019 have been down years for Lattimore (I have no good way to independently evaluate this). He came on super strong in his rookie year, and I'm sure he'll turn it around, but that's why I kinda skipped over his name. 

My main point is that Lynch gets a ton of grief over 2017 1st round busts, but it was (again, Mahomes/Watson aside) maybe not the best draft in which to have the #2 pick.

20 Though a bunch of teams in…

Though a bunch of teams in theory run the same style of rushing offense (including the Packers), no one executes it like the 49ers. Yeah, the Packers were playing light boxes and getting pushed around all night, but the 49ers knew exactly where they wanted to attack the defense and were changing their looks up enough that the Packers never got a read on what they were running. GB linebackers and safeties were running past the play, late coming up to fill gaps and taking horrible angles all night. When the Packers finally started loading up front, the 49ers were already ahead of them with end around sweeps for 30+ yards. Ridiculous. That SF is able to do all of this with a backup center is also pretty wild, just speaks to an incredible coaching job in teaching, preparation and strategy.

Of course, the Packers could not have looked less prepared to face that running game. Common theme in playoff losses in San Francisco this decade...

28 I was amused by the chatter…

I was amused by the chatter of how a guy who was cut 5 times was actually a great player that only Shanahan had the vision to see. That guy was running untouched like a 1995 Nebraska running back against a Division III college. Just a shockingly bad performance by the Packers defense.

35 All hail the coronation of…

All hail the coronation of King Mahomes. 2014 was the last year there were 4 legit elite QBs in Manning Brady Brees and Rodgers. The last time there was only one was probably 2004 or 2005. Until now.

Good to be the King.

37 I might quibble with…

I might quibble with excluding Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson from this "elite right now" list, and maybe Drew Brees (though age makes inclusion more debatable), but that he occupies a tier of his own is probably beyond dispute. His collective abilities are unmatched. If he can put up 35 points against SF's defense, then I might even say he's on the verge of breaking the game, akin to the truly dominant athletes in other sports and eras (MJ, Tiger, and on). That's problematic to say in a small-sample-size team sport like football I realize (and people were saying similar things about Lamar before the playoff loss), but if anyone can lay such a claim right now, it must be Mahomes. 

This doesn't necessarily mean I think the Chiefs will win the SB. But, thanks to Mahomes, it does mean the team's margin for error is greater than it should be. This, to me, is the most interesting Super Bowl since at least 2013.       

42 Lamar I want to see another…

Lamar I want to see another year from. I said the same about Mahomes after last year. Brees has aged too much.

Wilson is more of a debate but I don't think Wilson has ever been the kind of qb that breathes fire every snap the way vintage Manning, Brady, Rodgers, or Brees and now Mahomes are doing.

57 Unlike Lazy Jay, I think…

Unlike Lazy Jay, I think Mahomes really loves playing football, so I don't think it would have been quite that, but I firmly believe that almost any QB not named Tarkenton can be hugely stunted by never getting paired with a good coach.

62 I can see a Mahomes who has…

I can see a Mahomes who has been scape-goated by two different franchises going into full-bore "No more shits to give" mode and lazing his way through a season, with small bits of "I'll show them!" sprinkled throughout.

50 "Wilson is more of a debate…

"Wilson is more of a debate but I don't think Wilson has ever been the kind of qb that breathes fire every snap the way vintage Manning, Brady, Rodgers, or Brees and now Mahomes are doing."

I completely understand what you're saying. If you look only at each of their respective peaks, Wilson's numbers trail those five. Personally, I'm uncomfortable slotting Rodgers in with Manning and Brady; to me, he's clearly a step down, looking at total career value. His twin peaks of 2011 and 2014 can sit shoulder to shoulder with anyone's, it's true, but I also think something has been lacking in his game, whether you want to term it caution or extreme risk aversion. I've never really feared him dominating a single game or overcoming astronomical odds the same way I do/did with Manning and Brady. (A  few years back, Scott Kascmar ran a research article terming Rodgers a front-runner, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but seems close to an apt description.) I see Wilson as a competitive force, similar to Manning and Brady, in that he can never be discounted, no lead is safe, etc. His efficiency stats measure up with those others, too, from what I can tell. It's a fun debate.

FWIW, here is a PFR comp between Wilson, Rodgers, and Brees:    

44 Swapping Mahomes and Wilson…

Swapping Mahomes and Wilson is an interesting thought experiment. There is no doubt that Wilson's metrics, if he had been paired with Andy Reid for his career, would be very, very, different.

55 Sure, and a Reid type qb…

Sure, and a Reid type qb would really flourish with Andy Reid. Look, Wilson has nothing to gripe about, in the grand scheme of things. You could do a helluva lot worse than Pete Carroll and a dominant defense for the vast majority of your career. I just think it would be a lot more obvious that Wilson's been great, if he had been with a Reid, a Shanahan, etc.

61 Well, who knows with…

Well, who knows with Belichick?  He might have won 6 championships with Wilson, while only averaging 20 passes a game, as Wilson maintained possession with his legs for 40 minutes. I do think Wilson would have been extremely prolific if paired with Andy Reid for his career.

74 As a 49ers fan I watch Wilson quite often

He is as good as any QB. He would have easily won MVP award if he had the talent Mahomes has around him. What Seahawks are doing with him is smart. They found out that they have a great QB who can make a lot out of very little. So they decided to spend money on defense instead of incremental improvements on offense. Wilson suffers from that in terms of his statistics but his teams win a lot as a result.

82 They are different players for sure

But Wilson is also quite a good at long passes, a better runner than Mahomes, and have about the same pocket presence as Mahomes. Wilson with Reid, or even better with Shanahan, would have been in the MVP conversation every year. That does not mean he is better than Mahomes but he is in that tier.

84 My line of thinking might be…

My line of thinking might be flawed, but I'd like to see him operate a highly efficient pass-first scheme that puts up numbers the way the others have. I agree it's possible that he could, but we are extrapolating at that point. 

68 Agree; I meant to include…

In reply to by Ambientdonkey

Agree; I meant to include him in my initial reply of the arguable elites. I fear he's stuck with an organization/coach not inclined to make things easy for him, to put it politely.  

73 I'd put him fifth after the…

I'd put him fifth after the four I folded into my reply above (Mahomes, Wilson, Jackson, Brees), but I can't think of anyone else I'd put in front of him. Maybe Dak? Possibly Rodgers? I'd take Watson over both right now. He's very hard to defend, between his elusiveness and an exceptional vertical game. Out of all these names, I would surmise that he has the worst pass-blocking offensive line, and like Wilson, is tasked with overcoming a predictable scheme predicated on longer-developing routes (save rare exceptions, like the NE game or the first KC contest), which exacerbates the poor blocking. Put Kirk Cousins on HOU, and he likely doesn't make it to the playoffs. Who else would you put above him?  

78 I believe Watson and Wilson…

I believe Watson and Wilson both make their lines look worse than they are. Watson in particular has a tendency to really drift in the pocket. sometimes it ends up in a big play and sometimes it ends up in a horrible huge sack. He's also not a very efficient quarterback relative to his reputation.


The clear no-brainers are Mahomes Jackson and Wilson. I also put current Aaron Rodgers ahead of him as well.  The 5th quarter back to me is a toss-up between Dak, Wentz, and Watson. In any case my original point holds he's far from elite

81 Thanks for your response. I…

Thanks for your response. I agree that those three are the no-brainers, and the rest are arguable, hence not quite at that level. I sometimes conflate "fun to watch" with greatness; on that measure, enjoyment, Watson scores highly. Plus, as a football enthusiast whose local team happens to be the Bears, I am allowed some leeway, for obvious reasons... 

36 Is oaktoon going to comment…

Is oaktoon going to comment this week? I wonder if he had his DVOA be damned part II post already typed before the game started.

71 Here is a question

Why do folks engage that poster?  This is not a poster who is interested in having a discussion. The poster just wants to write broadsides at something where he does not agree with output but doesn't want to understand how the output is generated. 


And then when he does post you have others who hold this poster up as being representative of Packer fans. Which I personally most unfortunate.


Anyway, wish folks would just ignore the poster. Waste of energy trying to have any type of reasonable exchange

79 Instead we have the anti…

In reply to by big10freak

Instead we have the anti-oaktoon a few comments above arguing that the Packers should trade Rodgers for a draft pick and a guard. 

83 To answer your question…

To answer your question indirectly, my post isn't aimed at oaktoon, but the fans who read his posts and think like him but don't want to sign their name to it. More broadly, it's aimed at the fans who still believe that wins are the ultimate metric. unfortunately I believe football fans are born with this line of thinking and require sites like this one to get rid of it. Or maybe I'm being too fatalistic and it's the broader sports media that's to blame.


What makes it worse is Oaktoon reads like a smart fan so his posts are even more inexplicable.

129 It's fun to engage him.  FO…

It's fun to engage him.  FO used to swarm with posters who argued against the value of advanced stats, and the arguments pro and con gave the site a lot of its fire. 

The nerds have won that argument by and large.  Football Outsiders have become ESPN Insiders.  DVOA is casually quoted in mainstream media at The Ringer or The Athletic despite the awkwardness of its acronym--but now that most of the posters agree with the site's very premise, it's a lot more tame here.  A good Oaktoon post kicks off a lot of nostalgia hormones. 

60 I watched both games w a…

I watched both games w a friend just getting into football. After finishing the last game, I had to explain to him that Rodgers was the original Mahomes. He stared in disbelief when I said Rodgers at his best might have been even better than Mahomes at his best so far. That Falcons playoff game was one of the finest displays of qb play I had ever witnessed. I couldnt believe the guy I saw yesterday was the same guy I saw then.

77 Happy with results; Mahomes alternative worlds

As a resident of the suburb next to Santa Clara and a 49ers fan, I'm very pleased of course!

For Kansas City, I'm pleased to see new blood in the Super Bowl, and for their fans, and for Andy Reid.

For the Chiefs, I'm also happy to see a smart sports organization rewarded for its good work and daring. While I agree that Patrick Mahomes' statistics and career would look different had he been drafted by the Bears or other teams, it's not a coincidence that he ended up on the Chiefs and has achieved what he's achieved (including for my fantasy football teams, he's been my QB both years :). Luck is the residue of design.

As Football Outsiders wrote in its 2017 and 2108 annual guides, the Chiefs organization recognized that despite years of good records (11-5, 9-7, 11-5, 12-4), reaching the next level required trying to upgrade from a competent QB (Alex Smith, a personal favorite of mine) to a more dynamic QB. This surely was a gamble many if not most organizations would have eschewed. It included moving on from a QB good enough to reach the playoffs and accepting the risk of growing pains and interceptions.

From the 2017 FO annual:

Either ultimate success comes early, or the situation deteriorates and someone has to go. With the Chiefs entering Year 5
of Reid/Smith, it is really on Smith to deliver this season ... Clearly, there have been limitations within this offense that start at the quarterback position. The Chiefs jumped on the opportunity to trade up with Buffalo for Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes, moving from 27th to 10th by giving up a third-round pick (91st overall) and a first-round pick in 2018. Going from Smith to an Air Raid quarterback sounds like a huge change, but it’s likely not one we will see until 2018 at the earliest ...

Next year we can probably write about all of the great things Reid may get out of Mahomes, but it’s just not expected to be the story for the 2017 Chiefs ...

There are some big changes going on in the AFC West, yet the Chiefs have kept the status quo at head coach, defensive
coordinator, and quarterback since 2013. That formula has been good enough for four winning seasons, but when your
main tweaks are a swap of nose tackles and the addition of a quarterback-in-waiting, things might start to turn stale. When
your brand of football is designed to be less quarterback-dependent than your competitors, but you lack the funds to build
up the roster, then sustaining that success is going to be a lot more difficult.


And from the 2018 FO annual:

Smith’s entire 2017 season came with a countdown clock, because he already had an heir apparent waiting in the wings:
Patrick Mahomes Jr., the gunslinging Air Raid prodigy for whom the Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL draft. Mahomes
is as different from Smith as any two quarterbacks can be. Whereas Smith is reserved and by the books, Mahomes is daring and free-flowing. Mahomes is willing to test the limits of his mesmerizing arm strength and dare defenses to run him
down as he scrambles around.


Starting a new, young quarterback is enough of a signal of a paradigm shift on its own. Considering the context of Smith
vs. Mahomes, as well as the Chiefs’ draft history, that signal is amplified.


Looking ahead is a more exciting approach for Kansas City than prepping for immediate success with a new quarterback
and a rebuilding defense. With a slew of explosive skill players and a daring signal-caller in Mahomes, the offense will
be fun to experience, but it is rare that a first-year starting quarterback finds great success ... A first-round quarterback is the beacon of hope any team and fanbase can rally behind, and Mahomes is a fantastic candidate to deliver on that hope. Bringing Mahomes along and seeing him deliver on his potential would be as important as anything else the Chiefs could realistically accomplish this season. Though the record may not reflect it right away, the Chiefs are bringing on a better, more exciting identity.

Spending capital to move up in the 2017 draft to select perceived gunslinger, wild-college-offense Patrick Mahomes II was the logical result of the Chief's "seems like huge change" plan. Mahomes surely was a conscious choice over Deshaun Watson, who was drafted later (a person I've respected immensely ever since learning that he graduated Clemson in three years); and I don't think Mitchell Trubisky would have fit the Chiefs' selection criteria.

Likewise, I don't think the Bears were considering Mahomes, although Bears fans with more knowledge of the team be able to show I'm mistaken here. To quote another passage from the 2018 FO annual: "Mahomes’ origin as an Air Raid quarterback from the Big 12 concerned the masses during the draft process." I'd include the Bears here. Also, the Bears haven't exactly unleashed Trubisky after having drafted him. The Chiefs, in contrast, recognized (again citing the annual) that while "the concern with Air Raid quarterbacks is that the Air Raid produces exaggerated numbers but does not challenge and prepare young passers for the NFL the way other offenses would. That is not the case with Mahomes."

As the Football Outsider excerpts also show, the Chiefs' plan included not starting Mahomes in his first year, which surely was a wise decision. The Chiefs further executed well on their plan by trading Smith for a decent return after one more successful year for the team and for Smith (it was his best year)--a move that also was kind to Smith in that it allowed him to continue as a starter (albeit on a difficult franchise).

I applaud the Chiefs for not settling for good enough, grooming Mahomes well, and then unleashing him on the NFL to the terror of defensive coordinators and the delight of fans everywhere. I also applaud Football Outsiders for cluing us onto the plan as it unfolded.

87 Maybe I'm just the ultimate…

Maybe I'm just the ultimate cynic, but I don't know how much credit I want to give Reed for Mahomes turning out the way he has. and by the way that's not the same thing as saying I don't want to give Reid credit for Mahomes and the offense being awesome... Just how much did Reid know Mahomes might turn into somebody like this? And if he did why did he keep him on the bench his whole rookie year? I suspect Reid saw a profile of a quarterback he really liked... But much like the Ravens with Lamar Jackson they got way more than they expected.

88 I think Mahomes is better…

I think Mahomes is better than Reid anticipated. But I think Reid recognized the tools could be sculpted into skill much more readily than his peers. Reid has QB whispered more different QBs into success and at a much higher rate than chance alone would predict.

He was drafted to be an improvement from Alex Smith. That was a 700 DYAR/10% DVOA player the year Mahomes was drafted and a 1000 DYAR/20% DVOA guy the year Mahomes replaced him. And he was right. Mahomes is a 1500-2000/30-40% guy.

Even before he got to Philly, he was part of the coaching team that made a QB out of Brett Favre.

90 The long Chicago Tribune…

The long Chicago Tribune article from this year about the '17 QB draft class quoted one of KC's front office execs saying (paraphrasing) "we didn't want to throw Favre's name around in the media in relation to Mahomes after we had just drafted him, but that's who we envisioned as a comp for him." Several members of that FO had been in Green Bay too.

99 Bingo, that’s a point I forgot to add above

You nailed it!  The 2018 FO annual, to my recollection (probably right because I fantasy-drafted Mahomes that year after research), speculated that the Chiefs would take the risk that Pat would throw 30 TDs but 20 INTs.

I agree that no one expected this, the truly transcendent Mahomes.  That being said, the Chiefs organization (I did not mean only Reid, I also meant John Dorsey) was banking on something wonderful happening with the very player they chose and for the very reasons they chose him.

Having helped hit a home run on Pat III, I was surprised that Dorsey did not do better in Cleveland.

110 I read last year from local…

I read last year from local sources (KC Star or a KC-based outlet) - and this could be pure speculation and completely untrue - that Reid and Veach went over Dorsey's head to draft Mahomes, leading to Dorsey's resignation/firing. 

Dorsey was in favor of staying put or trading down to draft a defensive player and sticking with Alex Smith.

Again, this could have been a blatantly false or purely speculative report.

134 I think Veach was the first…

I think Veach was the first guy in the organization to get really excited about Mahomes, but all indications were that Dorsey liked him a lot too. Note these articles were written after Dorsey was fired but all still speak positively to his role in bringing Mahomes to KC:

As I recall Dorsey was fired because he was perceived to be doing a poor job managing the roster and salary cap, prioritizing extensions, etc.