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Chiefs vs. Bears Instabreakdown: Starters come out hot in Chi-Town

Early in the preseason, Kansas City’s depth looks to be an issue.

Kansas City Chiefs v Chicago Bears Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 14, Chicago Bears 19

The Kansas City Chiefs embarked on their 2022 preseason with a loss in Chicago. Still, early in the contest, the starters had their way. The top end of the defensive depth chart forced five first-half punts, while the offensive starters kept matriculating the ball down the field. At halftime, the Chiefs led 14-0.

Offense (Talon Graff)

The offensive starters came out sharp — and even though we didn’t see a lot from them, we saw enough to feel good about them. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes orchestrated an 11-play drive that covered 72 yards. On the first play from scrimmage, fullback Mike Burton made his presence known with an 11-yard catch. The Chiefs lined up in the I-formation multiple times, going to Burton on a key third-and-short that he converted for a new set of downs. Mahomes was pulled after the initial drive, finishing with six of seven for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Rookie running back Isiah Pacheco became involved as the Chiefs approached the red zone, catching a 5-yard pass that preceded tight end Blake Bell’s touchdown catch. 2020 first-rounder Clyde Edwards-Helaire received only two carries for a total of six yards on the day. Pacheco’s early usage (and in pivotal situations within the red zone) could be an indicator that the hype surrounding the former Rutgers Scarlet Knight is real. Special-teams coordinator Dave Toub also utilized him as a kick and punt returner.

The first glimpse of the receiving corps without Tyreek Hill was a pleasant one. New addition Marquez Valdes-Scantling connected with Mahomes on a scramble play that showed the two have built a nice rhythm during camp — while rookie Skyy Moore hauled in a trio of passes, including an impressive toe-dragging sideline snag.

Justin Watson is the receiver who made the biggest impact with his opportunities. The former fifth-rounder brought in five of his six targets; the lone miss was an errant throw from quarterback Shane Buechele. Watson displayed a great catch radius and capped his day with a 22-yard touchdown catch.

The first-team offensive line had moments where they looked vulnerable in pass protection — primarily on the right side with Trey Smith and Andrew Wylie; Mahomes was forced to scramble (or step up in the pocket) to avoid some pressure. The running game was pretty nonexistent, but it still looks like there will be more downhill running schemes involving Burton. For now, the offensive line depth may be a weak spot — but line coach Dave Heck still has time to work with his guys.

Bell — along with Travis Kelce and Noah Gray — all made positive contributions to the offensive production. At tight end, it looks like it could be the most deepest and most talented group in head coach Andy Reid’s Kansas City tenure. But among the running backs, no one besides Pacheco stood out. It seems like the pecking order is really up in the air.

Offensive Player of the Game: WR Justin Watson

The fifth-year receiver from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a huge step toward solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster. He looked athletic and explosive while showing off his elevation skills and tracking ability. This group of pass catchers is deep — and Watson created a lot of buzz for himself. He led all receivers with five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown.

Defense (Bryan Stewart)

Take it with a grain of salt. It’s the Bears. TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT!

But regardless of Saturday’s opponent, one thing is undeniable: the Kansas City defense was aggressively flying around the field in a way that hasn’t always been the case since defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo arrived in 2019 (and in prior seasons, too).

The defensive line and linebacker groups were especially impressive. Chris Jones looked like his normal self, collapsing the pocket on the opening third-down play for a sack. In his limited snaps, rookie first-round defensive end George Karlaftis was a standout player; his first step and effort on every play was tremendous to see. He also recorded a sack while steadily providing pressure on the quarterback. New Chiefs defensive line coach Joe Cullen has to be thrilled with much of what he saw from his primary players.

In the secondary, it was less positive. The defensive backs surrendered numerous explosive pass plays. Early on, veteran cornerback L’Jarius Sneed and rookie Joshua Williams each gave up chunk plays. The Chiefs have a very youthful secondary — and it appears they’ll be relying on the defensive front to be impactful as the season begins. But as they begin to accumulate steady repetitions together, the hope is to see solid improvement from the unit.

Veteran cornerback Rashad Fenton — an expected starter for the regular season — did not suit up on Saturday. Bryan Cook — a 2022 second-round draft choice — showed that he is more than willing to fly around, putting his body in harm’s way. So we’ll have to look at a lot of film to decipher the secondary’s struggles.

Third-year linebacker Willie Gay Jr. deserves mention. Early on, he was very active against the Chicago running attack. Health willing, Gay has a career year ahead of him. Fellow linebacker Nick Bolton should improve, too. Overall, the Chiefs have to be expecting the best second-level play since Derrick Johnson was on the roster. Ultimately, the starting unit played for two drives, giving up just 28 yards and 0 points. Hard to complain.

When the backups came in, things changed — especially with much of the third-team defense. In the third quarter alone, the Chiefs’ surrendered 16 points. Things looked far too easy for the Bears’ veteran backup quarterback Nathan Peterman.

There was certainly some good and bad to pull away from Saturday’s defensive performance — but here’s the bottom line: among the players who are likely to make the final roster, there is much to be encouraged about regarding their effort, physicality and speed.

Defensive Player of the Game: DE George Karlaftis

The Purdue product showed everything Chiefs fans could have hoped to see in his debut appearance. Furthermore, the way in which he found success is repeatable. It’s evident that it can consistently be expected against NFL competition.

Saturday marked the first of many sacks Karlaftis will record in a Chiefs uniform. If he can impact regular-season games the same way he did in Chicago on Saturday, it will go a long way toward helping the team meet its championship aspirations. The line is the most important defensive position group — and right now, the arrow for Kansas City’s big fellas is pointing up.

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