Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes are football-throwing aliens sent here to mystify us all
Justin Herbert and Patrick Mahomes are football-throwing aliens put on Earth to amuse and mystify us all.
Sure, that statement is likely incorrect, but one cannot help but marvel at what Herbert and Mahomes — along with other quarterback in the NFL today — can do playing the position. With how well quarterbacks today can break down defenses with their arms, their feet and their mind, you almost cannot help but wonder if there are greater forces at work each NFL weekend.
Both Mahomes and Herbert were back this weekend, putting on a display for NFL fans as the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers won their season-opening games. After a summer spent wondering how the Chiefs would create offense with Tyreek Hill down in Miami, Mahomes reminded the NFL world just how explosive the Kansas City offense can be in his hands, throwing for five touchdowns in a win over the Arizona Cardinals. For his part, Herbert played a clean and efficient game in the Chargers’ win over the Las Vegas Raiders, completing 26 of 34 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns of his own.
Now? Now we get to watch them square off on Thursday Night Football.
Before that game kicks off, let’s take a look at what both quarterbacks did in Week 1 of the 2022 season.
Sunday against Arizona, Mahomes turned in even more moments that cause you to question everything you know about playing the quarterback position. We can start with this completion to tight end Travis Kelce from early in the third quarter:
Prior to the snap, the Cardinals show four deep defenders, but spin into single-high coverage as the play unfolds. Mahomes starts under center, and carries out a run fake which requires him to turn his back to the defense. As he does so, Arizona is rotating their safeties, changing the picture in the secondary. That gives Mahomes even less time, once he snaps his eyes around, to diagnose the coverage.
From there, Mahomes has to navigate pressure from both edges, which he does by climbing and then sliding to his left, before dropping in a perfect throw to Kelce that tracks just over the arms of the defender in coverage. The balancing act that Mahomes performs, from reading the defense, to evading pressure, and then layering in a perfect throw, is phenomenal.
A few plays later, Mahomes added another clip to his growing resume of jaw-dropping moments:
Starting from an empty backfield, Mahomes wants to work the two-receiver concept on the left, which has running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire running a vertical route and Kelce running a quick out pattern. With the Cardinals in zone, and cornerback Marco Wilson giving Edwards-Helaire a huge cushion, the vertical route is not an option. Mahomes brings his eyes to Kelce, but just as he starts to throw, a flash of pressure off the edge combined with the defender jumping the route forces Mahomes to pull the ball down, and look for Plan C.
He finds that in the form of rookie Skyy Moore, racing across the field on a crossing route. As Mahomes flushes to his left he manages to contort his upper body back towards the middle of the field, dropping the arm angle as well to connect with Moore, who turns the play into a huge gain.
And finishes off another snap that forces one to question everything they know about quarterback play.
As Mahomes was putting on a display in the desert, Herbert was doing the same against the Raiders. Early in the game, Herbert connected with tight end Gerald Everett on a dig route working from right-to-left, offering a textbook example of torque from a quarterback’s mechanics:
Velocity as a passer starts with the lead hip, and is a matter of torque. Think of peak Tiger Woods on the tee, with a driver in his hands, and the violence with which he would snap his upper body as he sent another tee shot rocketing into the sky.
That is what you see here from Herbert. He has a problem to solve from the pocket: the protection is breaking down, and the coverage in the secondary is making things difficult. The only way he can solve that problem is through velocity, which he dials up by generating that torque in his upper body.
In the second quarter, it was a matter of “whatever you can do, I can do better” from Herbert. That play from Mahomes to Kelce from a few moments ago? Here is Herbert’s submission in the “absurd throw of the week” category:
As with the Mahomes example, this is a play that begins with Herbert under center, and carrying out a run fake before snapping his eyes into the secondary to spot Keenan Allen working across the field. Herbert also has to navigate dual points of pressure, as the edges start to collapse around him, so he slides up in the pocket while keeping his eyes trained on Allen. Then there is the throw, which has to carry over the two underneath defenders while leading Allen to safety away from the dangers of the defender in the deep middle of the field.
And he makes this throw look easy.
Watching these two every week, along with some of the other passers in the NFL today, makes me question a lifetime around this game. It makes me question 12 years playing the position, culminating in a collegiate career I once described as “the worst quarterback in all of college football.” It makes me question over a decade of watching, studying and coaching the position.
And at times, it makes me question if they are indeed human.
I might be wrong on that final point, but I am not wrong about this. You are going to want to watch this game tonight.