Patrick Mahomes and the art of avoiding sacks

2RT0TKB Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes runs the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Avoiding sacks has long been an underrated aspect of quarterback play. Sacks are not solely an offensive line stat. The quarterback has some control over how pressures play out, whether that be a sack or pressure avoided altogether.

There are different ways to avoid sacks. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady used their football IQ — usually not their legs — to work from within a pocket and find throwing lanes. Then you have the freak athletes. Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson use their athleticism to simply avoid being taken to the ground.

Patrick Mahomes is in a unique category. He uses a combination of all of the above to avoid sacks. It’s why, at times, it looks like he is playing a version of backyard football. But within that playmaking acumen is a clear ability to avoid sacks. He has done it at an elite rate in every single year of his career while not having a quick time-to-throw average.

Year Pressure to Sack % (rank) Time to Throw (rank)
2018 13.3% (4th) 2.85s (26th)
2019 11.6% (4th) 2.87s (31st)
2020 9.6% (2nd) 2.91s (32nd)
2021 13.4% (3rd) 2.84s (T-23rd)
2022 10.1% (1st) 2.80s (28th)

Click here to view Patrick Mahomes' entire career in PFF Premium Stats

Mahomes consistently ranks near the top half of quarterbacks in average time to throw yet is one of the best at avoiding sacks. Those two stats don’t usually go hand in hand.

His career pressure-to-sack percentage of 11.4% is on par with Peyton Manning’s 11.3% career rate. While Mahomes certainly has come a long way from his college days in his understanding of defenses, he is able to blend that with the new-age “hero ball” we see from so many quarterbacks in today’s game.

His Week 1 performance on Thursday Night Football was a great showcase of his sack-avoidance ability. Mahomes was pressured on 20 dropbacks for a 44.4% pressure rate. Not once was he sacked.

Mahomes has always had an uncanny ability to find an open lane from a collapsing pocket. We’ve seen him do this time and time again.

Another reason he’s able to avoid sacks at a high rate is his ability to make accurate off-platform throws — and at multiple different arm angles.

It gives him the ability to wait until the last possible second to release the ball. That is what separates him from so many others. He doesn’t need any room to release the ball accurately, and it makes trying to sack him so frustrating for opposing defenses.

Combine his growing football IQ with his ability to release the ball whenever he wants, and you have your answer as to how someone who is constantly running around in the pocket rarely goes to ground.

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