That’s why the two-time MVP’s herculean 2018 campaign led to a massive change in how defenses operate at the highest level.
After all, football is widely described by coaches and historians as a decades-long game of chess for a reason. Offenses come up with the best way to blow defenses out of the water and defenses cook up a recipe to take it away. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes, it’s an innovative scheme and sometimes it’s a player doing things we’d never seen before.
In Mahomes’ first season as a starter, a little bit of both was enough to “break football,” as coach Cody Alexander put it on Twitter.
Patrick Mahomes’ MVP season preceded the rise of quarters
While different coaches will give you different definitions, think mostly about Cover 4 and Cover 2 varieties where opponents attempt to take the opponents’ deep passing game away.
Lately, most NFL defenses have used a heavy dose of quarters coverage. This forces offenses to be patient. Instead of going over the top of the defense, teams have to find a way to attack underneath and pound the rock.
How has Qtrs usage changed league-wide?
Using PFF’s coverage data, I went back to 2014 & looked at the past 9 years.
— Cody Alexander (@The_Coach_A) June 20, 2023
Coach Cody Alexander, the author of several insightful books and the Match Quarters substack, put together a chart showing how often NFL teams have run quarters since 2014. In it, he claims “2018 is the year that ‘broke’ football.”
In 2018, only four teams ran quarters coverage in over 10% of the plays. One year later in 2019, that number had jumped to 16 teams in the league. In 2022, that number sat at 23 NFL teams.
The massive shift was partly a result of Mahomes’ otherworldly 50-touchdown season with the Chiefs. After all, Andy Reid’s offense was a historic one even beyond the scoring plays.
According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, the 2018 Chiefs finished with the fifth-best offense in NFL history.
The Chiefs stand out among the best offenses of all-time for their balance, first in passing and fourth in rushing. Note also that the Chiefs put up those incredible offensive numbers against a harder-than-average schedule of opposing defenses, including two top-ten defenses in their division. – Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders (2018)
After seeing what Mahomes was capable of and foreseeing how teams around the league would prioritize early-down passing, it’s fair to assume NFL defensive coordinators figured out they needed to run much more quarters coverage if they wanted to survive the rise of explosive offenses.