On Friday night, the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 in both teams’ second preseason game of 2021. Here are five things we learned inside State Farm Stadium in Glendale.
1. Every opening script tells a story
Just as in the preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Chiefs opened their first offensive series with an inside run by second-year running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. It gained seven yards. That was followed by a bullet to wide receiver Mecole Hardman for a 13-yard gain and a first down.
Then they called a short pass in the right flat that Edwards-Helaire turned into a 10-yard gain. Next, he caught an outlet pass (it went in the books as a lateral) when the pocket collapsed around quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Then on second-and-14 (a false start by Demarcus Robinson had moved the team back five yards), they again sent Edwards-Helaire inside for a 5-yard gain.
Bear in mind: head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy likely scripted these play-calls ahead of time. This script tells us that the Chiefs intend to depend on Edwards-Helaire to be a workhorse — both as a runner and a receiver — in their 2021 offense. And with the offensive line they've assembled, it looks like he could be a productive workhorse.
2. Chris Jones is looking like a monster
A week ago, the Chiefs’ hybrid defensive end/tackle played just 10 snaps against the 49ers. Much was made of the fact that Jones didn’t look his best on the defense’s opening plays — when he was lined up as an edge rusher. But he did notch a sack (from the interior) during those ten snaps.
Then against the Cardinals on Friday night, Jones got another sack — this time as an EDGE — on the defense’s eighth snap of the game.
18 snaps. Two sacks. You want to do the math on that?
Moving Jones into his new role in the Kansas City defense has looked a little like a move of sheer desperation to many fans. In their view, the team made the change because it lacks edge rushers. But I’m not sure I’m buying that explanation — because according to Pro Football Focus statistics, Jones lined up on the edge on 32% of his 2020 snaps. Essentially, he’s doing something that he’s already been doing — just more often than before.
It’s all possible because the Chiefs acquired veteran defensive tackle Jarran Reed, have Khalen Saunders all the way back from his injury — and appear to have hit a home run with last season’s undrafted free agent Tershawn Wharton. Without them, they might not have been able to move Jones around so much. But with them, opposing offenses will have literally no idea where Jones is going to line up on a given play.
I wouldn't want to game plan against that. Would you?
3. Fullback Michael Burton is here to stay
In this space after the 49ers game, I pointed out that after seeing him used in the offense’s first-team drives, we might have to rethink the assumptions we’ve been making about what the Chiefs might do with fullback Michael Burton. We had thought that with so many other positions where the team might need to keep more players than usual, they might not be able to replace the retired Anthony Sherman.
But after another week of the preseason, it seems even more clear that Burton is here to stay. It wasn’t a big stat line against the Cardinals with one reception for six yards on two targets. But after being on the field for a third of last week’s special-teams plays, he made a big stop in kick coverage against Arizona.
Reid has a well-earned reputation as an innovator. But this is probably one place where he’s inclined to stick to his traditional roots. He will have a fullback on the Kansas City roster in 2021 — and Burton will be the guy.
Now, all we need is a nickname. Nominations are now open.
4. Even the game’s greatest player can have an off-night
Patrick Mahomes just didn't look like himself on Friday night. He wasn’t making connections with his receivers. He threw balls into the ground. He stayed on the field into the second quarter, leading his teammates through three Kansas City drives — and left the game after completing 10 of 18 passes for 78 yards, no touchdowns and a very ill-advised interception. His passer rating on the night was a measly 43.3.
But you shouldn’t worry — and here’s why: had this been a regular-season game, Mahomes would have been in for the entire game. And as we have seen over and over again, Mahomes always finds a way to fight his way back from a slow start. This is the specific reason that until he was running for his life in Super Bowl LV, Mahomes had never started a game the Chiefs ended up losing by more than one possession; Mahomes always finds a way to at least make it close.
He’ll be back to form.
5. Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle will likely be a toss-up
Unfortunately, the star quarterback’s play will cloud the evaluation of two other Chiefs players: Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle — both of whom are vying to be the second wideout behind Tyreek Hill. While he was dressed for the game, Hill spent it on the sidelines after a hamstring tightened up during pregame warmups. That gave Hardman and Pringle an excellent opportunity to slug it out.
Both caught four passes — but Pringle did it on five targets, while Hardman needed eight. Most of Hardman’s misses came while Mahomes was on the field, while most of Pringle’s targets came from the rest of the team’s quarterbacks. So it’s just not quite fair to blame all of Hardman’s misses on him alone.
Besides... both also made spectacular plays during the game. Hardman made a fingertip catch for a touchdown from Henne — a play set up by Pringle's triple-covered 41-yard catch just one play before.
It seems like the team should just decide to make one of these guys the second wide receiver and be done with it. But as Reid would say... that’s not how he rolls. Instead, Hardman and Pringle are likely to share the role as the receiver behind Hill — and for one simple reason: they each bring a different set of skills to the table. Reid loves that kind of approach.