On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs opened their 2022 regular season campaign with a resounding 44-21 road victory over the Arizona Cardinals. Here are five things we learned from the game:
1. This offense is better than ever
Sunday’s performance in Arizona was a clinic on how to run the West Coast offense, which places an emphasis on short to intermediate horizontal passing concepts. And while the Chiefs did run the ball effectively (gaining 128 yards on 27 attempts), it was Mahomes’ arm that was the star of the show. The Chiefs made a statement on Sunday afternoon: aside from Mahomes, no player is more important than the system.
This is the West Coast offense... short horizontal passing routes in lieu of running the ball. Watch the trips right clear out the defense while also creating too much traffic for the defender to get across. Easy score. https://t.co/8UBryQOtca— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) September 12, 2022
Mahomes spread the ball around effectively, completing passes to nine different receivers, including five touchdowns to four different players (tight ends Travis Kelce and Jody Fortson, wide receiver Mecole Hardman and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.)
With only Monday night’s matchup between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks remaining on the Week 1 slate, Mahomes currently leads the NFL in passing yards (360), passing touchdowns (5), and passer rating (144.2).
At one point, the Chiefs lined up trips right — except all three receivers were tight ends. It was a wild concept that you just don’t see from other NFL teams — and an example not only of head coach Andy Reid’s wild and beautiful mind, but also the depth and talent on the Kanas City offense.
Tyreek Hill is a heck of a football player. He had an excellent debut performance for the Miami Dolphins. But on Sunday, the Chiefs put to rest any debate about whether he was the reason for their success over the last few years.
The NFL’s defenses are officially on notice: the Chiefs are not taking a step back. Instead, they are going to systematically dissect you, leaving your shredded units in their wake as they charge ahead.
2. The Chiefs’ pass rush is not fool’s gold
Arizona’s Kyler Murray is one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the NFL. But during Sunday’s contest, Kansas City pass rushers managed to sack him twice. It was a welcome sight for a unit that was one of the team’s biggest weaknesses in 2021.
What’s interesting is that aside from defensive end Carlos Dunlap’s sack, the other one (by cornerback L’Jarius Sneed) did not come from where you might have expected.
That doesn’t mean the usual suspects were not effective. On the contrary, defensive ends Frank Clark and George Karlaftis and defensive tackle Chris Jones made their presence known on a consistent basis. Jones and Karlaftis each batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage.
Instead of pinning their ears back and rushing Murray as fast as they could, the Chiefs deployed a containment approach. This backed Murray into a corner on numerous occasions, leaving him with no choice but to simply throw the ball away — and limited him to just 29 yards rushing.
3. Justin Reid is the backup placekicker
In the blink of an eye, Kansas City starting safety Justin Reid’s ability to drill field goals went from being a fun preseason story to a dead-serious real-game situation. Early in the first quarter, Chiefs placekicker Harrison Butker left the game after rolling his ankle on a kickoff.
This led special-teams coordinator Dave Toub to call on the 25-year-old safety to handle extra-point duties on the next two touchdowns, along with kickoffs for the remainder of the game. Considering he was thrown into the fire without warning, Reid performed admirably, converting one of his extra-point attempts and tallying multiple touchbacks throughout the game.
Chiefs safety Justin Reid just DRILLED this extra point.— NFL (@NFL) September 11, 2022
: #KCvsAZ on CBS
: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/SO6ObDqAc2 pic.twitter.com/Mxx5uNboWr
Still, Butker was able to come back and drill a gutty 54-yard field goal on a sprained ankle.
#Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker took just one step in his wind up before he made the 54-yard field goal. Incredible. #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/gmRj99stgF— Devon Clements (@DevclemNFL) September 11, 2022
These Chiefs are a tough bunch.
4. The Chiefs have depth on their roster
This one is a double-edged sword. Unfortunately, the only way really know that you have a lot of depth on your roster is when your front-line players go down with injuries — and on Sunday, the Chiefs suffered a rash of them on both sides of the ball.
Along with Butker, starting right guard Trey Smith also injured his ankle. Rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie left the game with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Justin Watson exited with a chest injury. And Mahomes hurt his (non-throwing) wrist.
The impressive thing is that you didn’t really notice their absences or limitations.
Mahomes still played superbly after being injured on his first touchdown pass.
Reid’s extra point almost seemed Butker-esque.
Reserve offensive lineman Nick Allegretti performed admirably in Smith’s place, keeping Mahomes clean (for the most part) and opening lanes for Kansas City running backs.
Multiple Chiefs filled in for McDuffie, including fellow rookie Jaylen Watson. To his credit, the moment did not look too big for him as he registered two tackles and one pass defended.
Still... for the Chiefs to have long-term success, they need Smith and McDuffie back sooner rather than later.
5. This Chiefs defense is up to the challenge
If I had told you that Kansas City would hold Murray to under 230 total yards, averaging just 5.7 yards per passing attempt — and that Arizona’s starting running back James Conner would gain just 26 yards on 10 rushing attempts — you likely would have said that the Chiefs were going to blow the Cardinals out of the water. And you would have been right.
If you take away the two garbage-time touchdowns given up late in the second half, the Kansas City defense blew the doors off Arizona’s offense. It wasn’t even close.
The Chiefs’ defensive backs frustrated Murray, recording seven passes defended. On more than one occasion, they nearly picked him off — including a highlight-reel diving pass breakup in which Juan Thornhill flew like Superman.
Meanwhile, Chiefs linebackers led by Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. played cohesively, moving in sync while shifting, picking up and passing off assignments in a near-flawless rhythm. We’ve known for some time that Bolton and Gay can make plays on their own — but against the Cardinals, they played as if they shared one mind.