We made it! Kansas City Chiefs football is back!
Throughout the offseason, fans and media have claimed the hometown team to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The excitement led to record-breaking training camp crowds and impressive attendance numbers at the home preseason games.
On paper, there’s no reason to think that the expectations set for them are too high — but before they can make a playoff run, they need to take care of business during their regular season schedule. That starts on Sunday with a road game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are five things to watch as you enjoy the Chiefs season opener:
1. Chiefs receivers vs. Jaguars secondary
One of the most talented receiving corps in the NFL will start the 2019 season facing a very tough defensive secondary.
Last week, Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Walsh revealed that All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey “will travel with” star wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Ramsey held Hill to two catches in last season’s Week 5 matchup at Arrowhead, but both were for first downs — including a 36-yard gain that displayed how dangerous Hill can be when he avoids contact at the line of scrimmage.
When Ramsey has got hands on Hill, he's been able to take him out of the play.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) October 7, 2018
When he hasn't... pic.twitter.com/GYcGm8aIKX
The other matchup to watch will be Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye lining up against the wideout on the opposite side. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins will probably see him the most, but the diversity of the Chiefs offense should put multiple players on Bouye’s side.
Tight end Travis Kelce will probably face safeties in coverage — with help from linebackers like Myles Jack.
The Jacksonville defense is capable of limiting the main Chiefs receiving trio. If they do, it will be up to complementary receivers like Demarcus Robinson and rookie Mecole Hardman to step up and win their individual matchups.
2. New-look Chiefs defense
The preseason gave us a glimpse of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, but Week 1 will be the first opportunity to see the true nature of his strategy.
There are plenty of personnel questions that still need to be answered. Will rookie Juan Thornhill or veteran Daniel Sorensen get more snaps at free safety? Will linebacker Damien Wilson stay on the field in nickel formations like we saw in the preseason? How often will Spagnuolo unleash his special NASCAR pass rush package? Who will be the fourth player alongside pass rushers Frank Clark, Chris Jones, and Alex Okafor?
It is the first game, but the defense needs to show improvement in the areas they struggled the most in last season. Run defense will be important against Jacksonville’s solid offensive line and powerful running back Leonard Fournette. If they can limit chunk plays on the ground and force long distances to convert on third down, it will make life easier on the worrisome Chiefs secondary. It will also allow Spagnuolo to feel comfortable unleashing aggressive blitz schemes on those obvious passing downs.
3. Chiefs offensive line vs. Jaguars defensive front
While Jacksonville’s secondary is very good, their line may be deeper and better equipped to disrupt the Kansas City offense. Veteran defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue are studs that can make life hell for the Chiefs offensive line; they combined for 20 sacks in 2018.
The starters are already a good group, but the Jaguars have built depth as well. They used their seventh overall selection in the 2019 draft to pick Kentucky edge rusher Josh Allen — and he has already shown signs of being able to contribute.
But there is reason for confidence in the Chiefs offensive line. The continuity they have established is a great advantage to have — but they will have their work cut out for them in the season opener.
Offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz should be trusted to limit the edge rush, but the Jaguars will also be creating pressure from the inside with All-Pro Marcell Dareus — who was a limited participant in this week’s practices — and 2018 first-round pick Taven Bryan. Young interior linemen Austin Reiter and Andrew Wylie have a great challenge ahead of them.
4. Week 1 Andy Reid
As tough as the opposing defense is, the Chiefs offense has one factor that most teams cannot claim: head coach and play-caller Andy Reid.
Reid has been labeled an offensive mastermind for a reason — and giving him a full offseason to prepare for one game has been a problem for the Chiefs’ recent Week 1 opponents.
Last season, the Chiefs started on the road against a talented Los Angeles Chargers defense. In quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ second career start, the offense had 31 points on the board before the third quarter ended. In 2017, Reid orchestrated an embarrassment of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots by putting up 42 points — the most ever given up by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick — on the night they hung their championship banner.
Another impressive stat from that opening night:
From 2013-16, the Patriots allowed 0 90-yard TD drives at home ...— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 8, 2017
The Chiefs had 2 90-yard TD drives in the 1st half tonight.
With his presumed confidence in Mahomes, it’s hard to imagine Reid being shy about letting it loose. You can be confident that Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have devised a great game plan to counter the strengths of the Jacksonville defense.
5. Running back rotation
When Andy Reid spoke about using a “running-back-by-committee deal” in a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview during training camp, fans took it with a grain of salt. The coaching staff had labeled Damien Williams as the starting running back earlier in the summer and had reiterated it multiple times since then. But the recent signing of veteran running back LeSean McCoy has all but confirmed Reid’s comment on the backfield situation.
Reid even labeled both Williams and McCoy as starters in his press conference earlier this week. It will be intriguing to see how much each is used in Sunday’s game. McCoy will have less than a week to absorb the playbook — but it’s not like he was signed off the street. Physically, he should be ready to go — and he should be able to contribute in a limited capacity.
In my opinion, the talk about McCoy being washed-up is overstated. He may not be prime Shady McCoy, but his burst and ability to make tacklers miss in the open field still seems to be there.