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What Andy Reid’s recent history says about Chiefs’ starters playing time for second preseason game

On Thursday, Kansas City’s head coach said the starters will play the first half on Saturday— but how much should we believe him?

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Kansas City Chiefs will return to preseason action against the Arizona Cardinals, hoping to erase the sting of Sunday's bizarre 26-24 exhibition loss to the New Orleans Saints.

When the Chiefs return to Glendale — where they won Super Bowl LVII six months ago — fans will naturally be wondering how much we will see quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and the rest of the starters. The starting offense played only a single drive against New Orleans, lasting all of five plays.

Speaking after Thursday's final practice from the team's training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, head coach Andy Reid revealed his playing time plan for Saturday — with the caveat that his mind could change anytime.

"As far as the play time goes for this coming game," Reid declared, "ones will go for a half, and then we'll mix in the twos and threes in the third and fourth quarters. Obviously, there's things that happen during the game. Don't hold me completely accountable for all that if we pull people out whenever."

Reid wants his starters to go against their peers from other squads. Now entering his 25th season as an NFL head coach, he believes he will know when it's time to take the best talent off the field.

"You try to get balance that equal player against player," Reid stated. "You try to have ones vs. ones when you're in game. I just kind of mind as I go. Then, I just take my gut feeling after that. If I pull guys early, it's just something I feel at that time."

2023 marks the third campaign with only three preseason games — after the addition of a 17th regular season game in 2021. Based on how Reid approached the second exhibition in 2021 and 2022, observers should be skeptical of seeing Mahomes and Kelce for the entire first half.

Washington Commanders v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Last season, facing the Washington Commanders in the home comfort of Arrowhead Stadium, Mahomes took the offense 87 yards on Kansas City's first drive, capping the 12-play series with a 5-yard touchdown throw to tight end Jody Fortson. Later in the first quarter, the league's best quarterback took the field for a second possession, this time starting the drive at the Chiefs' 18. Mirroring the first series, the Chiefs marched the field a dozen plays — and deja vu might have set in early in the second quarter as Mahomes found Fortson for a second touchdown.

Backup Chad Henne did not appear in the game, and third-string passer Shane Buechele came in for the Chiefs' third drive and would stay behind center until late in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs have fond recent memories of State Farm Stadium in Arizona, but they also traveled there for the second preseason game in 2021. It was a frustrating performance. Starting their first drive at their own 37, the Chiefs marched the field all the way to the Arizona 6-yard line — only to settle for a Harrison Butker field goal after the 14-play effort stalled.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Later in the first quarter, the league's best offense received the ball on their own 15-yard line — but quickly went three-and-out, forcing a Tommy Townsend punt. Mahomes returned to the field at the end of the first quarter for a third drive. This time the Chiefs' offense would advance to the Cardinals' 5-yard line, but Mahomes' night would end with a pass to Demarcus Robinson being intercepted in the end zone.

Against the Commanders last season, the entire starting offense came off the field after two successful drives. While facing the Cardinals in 2021, however, the starting offensive line finished the first half, even after the main backs and receivers were pulled.

The point at which Reid pulls starters in the second exhibition game appears to apply to both offense and defense. The starting defense also played only a pair of series against Washington last season. Against Arizona, the starting defense came on for a fourth drive after Mahomes' interception, and their night ended after an ensuing Cardinals three-and-out.

Based on the past two seasons, we should expect to see the Chiefs' starters dip into the second quarter on Saturday, but they will likely leave the game well before halftime. While the Chiefs are one of a dwindling number of teams exposing their stars to any preseason injury risk, Reid insists the games are important for preparation.

"It's all part of the game," he reiterated. "They've got to get ready for the game. At the same time, I think it's tough going into the first game. It's going to be fast — much faster than what you can present in practice, the regular season game. This at least is another step up from that — gives you just a little kick up speed-wise of the game."

The venue for Saturday's contest has particular concerns for player health. Long before a memorable conclusion to last season in Arizona, the Chiefs played the Cardinals in the desert in Week 1. In their opener, the Chiefs lost both Butker and cornerback Trent McDuffie for much of the season after suffering leg injuries on a sloppy field.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Per some players on (and many fans of) the losing side, the field conditions also negatively affected the Philadelphia Eagles' Super Bowl performance. Reid acknowledged previous concerns about the turf in Arizona but echoed special teams coordinator Dave Toub's assertion that they feel confident about its condition this weekend.

"We know what the field has been," Reid confirmed. "We've checked on it — which we do every week, everywhere. It's actually in pretty good playing shape. It might not look the best when you're looking at it on tape, but they say it's gripping well. That's what you want — you want the sturdiness of the turf there."

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