When writing a script for how their first preseason game would go, the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t have written things up much better.
Alex Smith and the first team offense made quick work of a porous San Francisco defense, the Chiefs’ run defense looked much improved, the team showed solid depth at key positions and the highly anticipated debut of quarterback Patrick Mahomes did not disappoint.
Smith was in midseason form Friday night, showcasing his legs and accuracy with 10 yards rushing and 48 yards passing on four of six attempts. Smith’s lone drive under center resulted in a touchdown by running back Spencer Ware.
The veteran quarterback started things off with a bang, hitting a wide receiver Tyreek Hill for 32 yards on the game’s opening play. With Mahomes coming for Smith’s spot, there’s a chance Smith could take more chances with the deep ball in the regular season. Two of Smith’s four completions found the hands of Ware, not known for his catching abilities, but one did result in 3rd down conversion in the red zone.
Tyler Bray took over for Smith five minutes into the first quarter. His first pass skied through the air for an 83-yard touchdown to Chris Conley, only to be called back. Unfortunately for Bray, that would be his only real highlight of the night.
An interception would cut Bray’s first drive short, as the former Tennessee quarterback attempted a pass under pressure, off his right foot, that sailed a foot deep of his target leading to the pick. Bray took chances in this one, and the arm speed flashed on a nice slant to Conley, but he also flashed some inaccurate passes and a lackluster pocket presence.
Just as the first two quarterbacks, Mahomes’ first pass as a Chief sailed deep in the air, finding wide receiver Demarcus Robinson 41 yards down the field. Like Bray, Mahomes’ pass was called back due to penalty. There were 28 total penalties called in the game.
Mahomes showcased all the superstar assets in his four drives, zipping passes to the side lines, keeping his eyes down the field both in and outside the pocket, evading pressure and finding an open wide out in the end zone after the play breaks down. He was not perfect by any stretch, and did not give Smith any reason to sweat his job in the very near future, but the rookie did show he belonged on the NFL stage.
Ware was the only running back to impress to leave a favorable impression, hauling in three catches for 20 yards and rushing one touchdown in from two yards out. Receiving is a key area to watch for with Ware, with rookie Kareem Hunt breathing down his neck after a noteworthy few weeks in training camp.
Hunt’s camp success did not transition to the Arrowhead field this week, hauling in just one catch for nine yards and one carry for zero yards. Charcandrick West did not capitalize on the opportunity either, taking five carries for only six yards. In his defense, the backup offensive linemen left a lot to be desired, but it’s still not a good sign for someone on the bubble.
C.J. Spiller took two carries for nine yards and returned one kick 24 yards. The running back workload still remains up in the air after a lackluster week one, with all four backs having the opportunity to make an impression in the coming weeks.
Hill, Conley and Robinson were the main standouts, as even though two completions were negated by penalty, it’s clear that those three will have important roles on the offense. Conley flashed his impressive combine speed on the 83-yard pass, along with his size and strength on two completions of 29 and 17 yards each.
With Jeremy Maclin gone, Conley must produce like this in the regular season to at least garner attention away from Hill and Travis Kelce. Robinson also has a tough battle of his own, competing with Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas for the 3rd wide out spot. His negated deep ball and 7-yard out route were two more catches than he had all of last season.
Escobar and Demetrius Harris totaled five targets on the night in Kelce’s absence, three of which coming in the red zone, a reminder that this team will utilize their tight ends in goal line situations. Kelce was the only real threat last season, and Reid will need more consistency out of the group in 2017 if the Chiefs’ red zone offense is to improve.
The most encouraging takeaway for the defensive side of the ball, even if it is against the 49ers, is that the run defense looks much improved. Defensive linemen Allen Bailey and Rakeem Nunez Roches each had run stuffs for a loss, a good sign for a unit without projected starters Chris Jones and Benny Logan.
The Chiefs’ red zone defense was one of the best in the NFL last year, and adding an improved run defense as showcased Friday night will only help. Cornerbacks Steven Nelson and De’Vante Bausby were the standouts in the secondary, with Nelson vying for the starting spot opposite Marcus Peters and Bausby looking to make the team.
The biggest competition for the preseason is inside linebacker, and the unit did not disappoint in their first tryout. Run defense will be the key area for whoever starts next to Derrick Johnson, as on obvious passing downs safety Daniel Sorenson replaces them as a faster option in the box to guard tight ends. Ramik Wilson, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Marcus Rush were the early standouts Friday night.
Pierre-Louis, coming from Seattle in a trade for D.J. Alexander, showed why he’s almost a lock for a roster spot with a punt block in the 3rd quarter. Pierre-Louis has above-average speed for an inside-linebacker, and even if he doesn’t win the starting job, can make an impact on special teams.
Wilson impressed most in the front seven, with multiple stops where he anticipated correctly and beat his man to reach the point of attack. Justin March and Josh Mauga failed to make an impact, so even though Wilson was cut early on in the 2016 season, he looks to be the favorite to start at inside linebacker entering the 2017 season.
The Chiefs’ preseason game number two from Cincinnati is set for Saturday, August 19 at 6 p.m. on KCTV5.
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