We’re inching closer to the NFL regular season; the next step is Preseason Week 2, when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Washington Commanders at Arrowhead Stadium for a 3 p.m. Arrowhead Time kickoff on Saturday.
The team wrapped up training camp on Thursday, leaving Missouri Western State University’s campus in St. Joseph, Missouri, to begin acclimating to a weekly schedule more like what they’ll experience in the regular season.
They may play without some of the players that suffered minor injuries this week in camp: wide receiver Mecole Hardman (groin) and Chris Jones (back) are not guaranteed to take the field, while head coach Andy Reid shared Thursday that wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster (knee) won’t play.
There’s plenty to look for either way; here are five things to watch:
1. An extended look at the starters
It’s only the second preseason with three games rather than four, so we only have one year to evaluate how coach Reid will handle playing time.
In Week 2 of the 2021 preseason, the Chiefs’ starting offense stayed on the field for the first three possessions of the game, 32 plays. It took them until midway through the second quarter. The starting offensive line played until halftime with 41 snaps. The first-team defense had a similarly long leash.
This will be the exhibition game with the most volume for the first-team players, pushing them physically and mentally after going through three weeks of (nearly) daily padded practices. After this contest, they’ll get the break they need — and are used to getting after a game — instead of going right back to constant, full-contact work.
As much as we could take away from last week, there should be a lot more to learn about the team this game.
2. Pass rush building on last week
One of Chiefs fans’ biggest concerns all offseason has been the pass rush. The unit did its best to make an excellent first impression in Preseason Week 1.
Rookie defensive end George Karlaftis led the team in pressures with four on 14 pass-rush attempts, per Pro Football Focus. One turned into a sack, and another registered as a quarterback hit. Defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton was the only other player with multiple pressures, earning three, with one of them being a quarterback hit.
In the fourth quarter, defensive end Malik Herring and defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth combined to take down the quarterback by collapsing the pocket in on him.
The best part is all of those players are either locks or contenders for the 53-man roster. It will be important to see that continue into Week 2 against a more formidable offensive line unit in Washington.
3. Skyy Moore and Isiah Pacheco
We saw rookie running back Isiah Pacheco get two touches on last week’s opening drive, plus another possession behind the starting offensive line. We didn’t see Skyy Moore and quarterback Patrick Mahomes on the field together, but that should change with the potential absences of both Smith-Schuster (knee) and Hardman (groin).
With Mahomes likely getting an extended look anyways, this should give us more opportunity to see each of these exciting rookies in action with the starting offense.
Watch to see if Pacheco can get loose on a run. His ball-carrying strengths come once he’s past the line of scrimmage and into the second and third levels, but he wasn’t able to make it past the first level on either of his carries last game.
Moore impressed with tough catches over the middle and sideline toe-dragging skills amid his production of three catches for 27 yards on three targets. It’d be good to see those same highlights with the passes coming from Mahomes.
4. The battle of depth at defensive tackle
Most of the 53-man roster is coming into focus, but I believe the most intriguing position battle left is for depth at defensive tackle.
You can lock in the fact that the interior defensive line will feature Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, and Tershawn Wharton — but there are three other strong contenders for a roster spot at the position: Khalen Saunders, Taylor Stallworth, and recently-signed Danny Shelton.
The team definitely won’t keep all six. They could keep five, but there’s a chance they only keep four too. With Jones as a defensive end last season, they only kept four interior players. The year before, they kept only four with Jones included; in 2019, they did keep five.
Each snap for those contending players will be vital. Saunders and Stallworth made plays last week, while Shelton is getting his first chance to prove that his gap-plugging, overpowering presence is worth a spot in the regular rotation.
Look for them once the starters begin to dwindle out.
5. A tougher test for the pass defense
You may laugh when you see the words “tougher test” accompanied by a picture of quarterback Carson Wentz, but it’s not just about him.
Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke has started plenty of games over the last few years, and both have the gunslinger mentality to test defensive backs at the intermediate and deep levels of the field.
Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on Thursday that he’d ideally want the starters to play the entire first half — but he mentioned injuries may play a factor in that plan. The Athletic’s Ben Standig has suggested that it’s the banged up offensive line that could bring Wentz out early, but Heinicke would relieve him.
Even with a quarterback switch-up, Washington’s starting receivers — featuring Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, rookie Jahan Dotson, and Dyami Brown — should be a much harder challenge than the Chiefs’ defensive backfield faced last week.