On Thursday evening, the Kansas City Chiefs will play their final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead Stadium. Before the stadium clock reads 3 p.m. on the following Tuesday, Kansas City must have its roster down to 53 players.
So for Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, it’s the time of year when the “Hiring All Applicants” sign is posted in the window.
“We’re evaluating what you do in the meeting room,” he told reporters before the team’s practice on Monday, “[along with] what you’re doing in the walk-throughs — and on the field. At the end of the day, we want our players to make [deciding on the final 53] as tough a decision as we have to make.
“They also need to understand — and I reminded them — it’s not about being out there playing your particular position. It’s all about, ‘What are you doing on scout team? What are you doing when being given an opportunity to align on special teams?’”
But it’s not just the players who are being evaluated. After a whole offseason where both fans and pundits were expecting more emphasis on the running game from the team’s new-look offense, the Chiefs collected only 115 yards rushing in its first two preseason games.
“It could be a lot better,” Bieniemy admitted. “And at the end of the day, we’ve just got to make sure that we’re calling enough runs.”
So far, there hasn’t been much evidence of a change. In the 19-14 loss to the Chicago Bears a week ago Saturday, just 30% of the team’s plays were on the ground. In Saturday’s 24-14 victory over the Washington Commanders, running plays accounted for 38%. But Bieniemy noted that it wasn’t just about the play-calling, the running backs or the offensive line. Instead, it was about everyone involved in the offense taking care of all the details.
“It’s a team effort,” he said. “There are a lot of things that we need to improve upon. We’re going to continue striving, so we can reach the perfection that we want to reach.”
But in the first two preseason matchups, one thing has gone just about as well as it could have: the Kansas City passing game, which targeted 15 players against Chicago and 14 against Washington. (In those games, Mahomes targeted five receivers on seven attempts and eight on 19 attempts). To be sure, a lot of players are targeted in any preseason game. But in the Windy City, just one receiver had more than three targets — and at Arrowhead on Saturday, there were only two who did.
And according to Bienimeny, that’s exactly what the Chiefs want.
“Obviously, we know what took place this offseason: we lost a great player who’s going to continue to be great,” he said. “But we’ve added some pieces — and these guys are doing a heck of a job. I think we have a lot of depth at many positions — not just at the running back position, [but] we’ve got depth as far as the receiver position and the tight end room. Pat’s just doing a great job of distributing the football.”
Bieniemy said that the process is continuing on the practice field.
“He finds all those guys and keeps them all involved. So everybody’s working to get open — and that’s the chemistry that’s being formed: you see guys just working to improve upon it.”
Bieniemy said that he has noticed that Mahomes is not just spreading the ball around. He’s also sharing his ideas; the quarterback’s leadership and communication skills continue to be put to good use.
“Those guys right now have a great chemistry being formed,” he observed. “When you have basically an entire new bunch down there at the receiver position, that’s been impressive to me.”
Bieniemy added that the team’s pass-catchers are also learning to return the favor.
“Those guys, too, are interacting,” he said. ”And it’s helping all of us to be better.”
Jody Fortson, World. World, Jody Fortson. pic.twitter.com/mNYz7ZJ4hM— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) August 20, 2022
Bieniemy offered some concrete evidence of how well it’s working. He said that one of Saturday’s highlight-reel plays — the second touchdown catch made by tight end Jody Fortson — was actually a busted play that was made right precisely because of the relationships the offensive players are building with Mahomes.
“There were a lot of things that went wrong [on that touchdown],” he disclosed. “But you know what made it right? Those two played fast. That’s what made it right. That’s the chemistry that we’re talking about.”