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Chiefs-Vikings Instabreakdown: Offense is ready, red-zone defense passes first test

In the preseason finale, each side of the ball produced handfuls of highlghts.

Minnesota Vikings v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs defeat Minnesota Vikings 28-25

In the preseason finale, the Chiefs’ starting offense exploded out of the gate for two touchdowns on the only two possessions they were in the game for. While the defense wasn’t perfect, there were many highlight plays made by the starters and the reserves. Overall, it was more exciting than the typical exhibition.


Offense


While quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked uncomfortable in preseason Week 2 against the Arizona Cardinals, it was the exact opposite this week; he made that clear on his first two throws of the game. The first was a beautiful, side-arm spiral on the move to tight end Travis Kelce, followed by a perfectly accurate go-route to Tyreek Hill for a score. The ball traveled nearly 45 yards in the air down the right sideline and couldn’t have been put in a better location.

He continued to show that he was in midseason form on his second — and last — possession. He drove the offense down towards the end zone with two intermediate completions to Demarcus Robinson; one was his second read in the progression, while the other came from a free play because of Mahomes’ hard count. Eventually, the Chiefs signal-caller capped off the drive with a vintage “Mahomes” play: rolling out right, he threw back across his body to tight end Blake Bell at the goal-line for a touchdown.

One of the best plays of the drive was Mahomes’ only incompletion of the game: when he couldn’t find anyone open as he climbed the pocket, he threw it away out of the back of the end zone instead of scrambling and putting himself in position to take a hit. Unlike last week, Mahomes had control of the game and made everything look easy.

A notable part of Bell’s touchdown was that it came out of a 14 personnel formation — meaning they had four tight ends and one running back on the field. Kelce, Bell, Noah Gray, and Jody Fortson all shared the field for this one snap. The use of the formation could signal that the team wants to keep all four of those players on the 53-man roster.

The first-team offensive line only played those two scoring possessions; they opened up multiple run lanes and prevented Mahomes from being sacked for the third-straight exhibition. One of the only flaws came on the first drive: right guard Trey Smith got blown off the ball on an outside run — and it disrupted the running back’s path. On the second drive, Orlando Brown Jr.’s edge rusher won quickly because Brown’s hand placement was way too high. He had a direct path to Mahomes, but the ball was thrown before any contact could be made.

After the starters, quarterback Shane Buechele took the rest of the game’s snaps — and he wasn’t afraid to let it fly. Especially in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half: he led the team on an 88-yard drive, highlighted by downfield completions to tight end Noah Gray, wide receiver Daurice Fountain, then Marcus Kemp — who caught a 23-yard touchdown pass in traffic over the middle right before halftime. For the game, Kemp led the wide receiver group in receptions and yards.

Offensive Player of the Game: Running back Derrick Gore

All three running backs that played in the game made plays, but none were as big as Derrick Gore’s 56-yard touchdown on a screen pass. It looked like it would be stopped immediately, but Gore impressively read his offensive linemen’s blocks and got to the second level. Great blocking effort by receivers downfield helped spring Gore into the end zone.

He finished with 106 total yards on 11 touches. It’s hard to see the undrafted rookie running back making the team, but he absolutely deserves a practice squad spot.


Defense


One of the Chiefs defense’s main focuses this offseason was improving the red-zone defense, which ranked 32nd last year. The starting defense hadn’t even allowed an opposing offense into the red zone yet this preseason, but it got its first challenge in that phase on Friday night’s first possession.

After allowing Minnesota to drive the field's length with chunk runs and effective gains through the air, the defense clamped up inside the 10-yard line. Defensive tackle Khalen Saunders made a run stop on first down, and linebacker Willie Gay Jr. broke up a pass with a big hit on the target on second down. Then cornerback L’Jarius Sneed made a great pass breakup on third down — coming from behind the receiver to make a clean play on the ball. The Vikings had to settle for a field goal.

The starters didn’t get another chance to showcase their red-zone defense because they forced the Vikings into a quick three-and-out on their second drive. The first-down blitz by linebacker Anthony Hitchens resulted in a sack, and the Vikings couldn’t make up the ground lost.

After the first-team defense went out, the backups held the Vikings scoreless for the remainder of the first half. Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton popped with multiple run stops and good pursuit towards a scrambling Kirk Cousins on a third-and-short to prevent the conversion. Conversely, cornerback Deandre Baker allowed a 32-yard completion that set up Minnesota to attempt a field goal right before the half. They went on to miss the kick.

In the second half, the reserve defensive line rotated which player would make a play each snap. On top of the 10 combined tackles between them, defensive tackles Tyler Clark and Austin Edwards both made big-time stops in goal-to-go situations that aided an outstanding goal-line hold. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh recovered a fumble forced by defensive end Tim Ward, who had a great jump off the snap and swiped at the ball as it was being thrown.

Defensive Player of the Game: Defensive end Tim Ward

Ward had the sack-fumble that resulted in a turnover late in the game, but that wasn’t the only highlight he had. He made three other tackles, including a few against the run that resulted in short gains. What stood out about Ward was how well he’s able to time the snap and how impressive his bend around the edge is with his height and physique.

More and more, Ward is looking the part of a situational edge rusher that the team can throw out when they need fresh legs and a player that has the chance to disrupt a pass play. He should be on the 53-man roster and could have earned himself more consideration for playing time with his performance tonight.