In their first preseason game of 2023, the Kansas City Chiefs went on the road to face the New Orleans Saints, doing their best to knock off the rust. They came up short, losing 26-24. But who cares? It’s only preseason, right? Still, there are insights we can glean from the contest.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. The Chiefs need Chris Jones
Sunday’s game might not have had a bigger winner than the Kansas City defensive tackle — and his agent. Sure... the Chiefs rolled out the most vanilla defense they could — and seemed more concerned with escaping with their starters healthy than actually stopping the Saints. But the team’s starting pass rushers were wholly ineffective against former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who systematically dissected the Kansas City defense to the tune of six completions on eight attempts for 70 yards and a touchdown.
Chris Jones watching the Chiefs defense get shredded: pic.twitter.com/v4ef1xIj5F— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) August 13, 2023
This highlighted a real fear: that without Chris Jones, the team’s pass rush just isn’t the same. Defensive ends George Karlaftis and Charles Omenihu are nice pieces — and rookie Felix Anudike-Uzomah looked good — but there is only one superstar on the Kansas City defense. He wasn’t with his teammates on Sunday.
The defense has one colossal question mark. It’s bigger than all the other ones combined.
2. The Chiefs are good at scouting defensive backs
There are very few certainties in life. They include death and taxes — and Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach consistently finding quality defensive backs.
First, he traded for Charvarius Ward in 2018. Then he found L’Jarius Sneed in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A year ago, Veach had what looked like his crowning achievement: selecting the ‘fab five’ in last season’s draft.
But during this offseason, Veach may have found even more — including fourth-round pick Chamarri Conner and undrafted free agents Kalef Haillasie and Ekow Boye-Doe.
Conner had a sack on a nice blitz in the first half — and then halfway through the third quarter, Hailassie came up with a highlight-reel interception.
3. The Chiefs have some interesting options at wide receiver
On Sunday, Richie James was impressive not only for catching two of his three targets (and scoring a touchdown) but also for consistently creating separation and staying a step ahead of the Saints’ defenders at every turn. Then when you add in a really nice 31-yard kick return, you can’t help but think that James will be getting some serious snaps when the Chiefs open the season against the Detroit Lions next month.
Fans also got the chance to see cult hero Justyn Ross score his first touchdown in a Kansas City uniform — and also saw exciting second-round rookie Rashee Rice in action.
But Sunday’s real surprise was undrafted free agent Nikko Remigio, who appears to be the first Filipino-American to score a touchdown for the Chiefs. He caught four out of his six targets for 71 yards — including this nice grab in the second half.
Nikko Remigio is going to make the team. pic.twitter.com/NTaVX2QmIH— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) August 14, 2023
This young group of wide receivers is not making the coaching staff's job very easy. As it stands right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chiefs keep seven wideouts.
4. Not all camp crushes had good days
During training camp, there has been a lot of hype surrounding tight end Matt Bushman and running back Deneric Prince — and while both got into Sunday’s game, neither did much to separate themselves from the pack.
Prince had a lackluster 14 yards on four carries. He looked pretty good on kick returns — but so did James and Remigio. Both of the other players had better offensive production.
Bushman had an even more forgettable day. He was a non-factor on offense, failing to bring in either of his two targets.
It’s going to be hard for the Chiefs to keep everyone. There are going to be good football players who do not make the team. If I was a betting man, I would say Bushman has an uphill climb to make the roster.
5. There should be a battle for the backup quarterback job
Both Blaine Gabbert and Shane Buechele played well against the Saints. But if I had to choose between them, I would give the nod to Buechele. He showed the ability to extend plays with his legs — as he did on his touchdown pass to Kekoa Crawford.
We all know that head coach Andy Reid likes to have a seasoned veteran as his backup quarterback. He wants a player who can keep the ship afloat in the event Patrick Mahomes goes down with an injury — a la Chad Henne in last season’s Divisional round game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. So it seems like a slam-dunk that Reid would prefer Gabbert — with 48 NFL starts — as Mahomes' backup. Buechele hasn’t yet played in a real NFL game — much less start one.
But Gabbert hasn’t had a start since 2018. This is also Buechele’s third year with Kansas City — so he knows Reid’s offense inside and out. Should the Chiefs cut him, there is no guarantee that he clears waivers and makes it to the practice squad.
In all likelihood, Gabbert wins the backup job. But if Buechele keeps playing like this, there’s going to be a conversation about who will be standing behind Mahomes during the regular season.