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5 things to watch in Chiefs’ preseason matchup with Arizona Cardinals

Increased playing time for Kansas City’s starters will lead to more interest in this week’s exhibition.

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NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs’ second preseason game will be this Saturday night. The world champions will be facing the Arizona Cardinals, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Arrowhead Time at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

That’s a familiar setting for the Chiefs. It’s where they raised the Lombardi trophy at midfield last February, celebrating their 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. While Kansas City is striving for the same result in 2023, reminiscing about 2022 won’t help them do that.

Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes knows that — but it will still be hard to ignore all the emotions when he enters the venue. Will he reflect on the championship to which he willed his team six months ago?

“Maybe for like a second,” Mahomes admitted during his last training camp press appearance at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph on Thursday. “I said it after the ring ceremony: ‘That’s it.’ We’re trying to go back and get another one.

“I’m sure when I first step on the field, there will be a little looking around and saying, ‘That was a great time the last time we were here.’

“But we have a job to do — and that’s to get better against a Cardinals team that played well in their first preseason game.”

Sir! Yes, sir!

I have five things to watch in Saturday’s exhibition game — starting with the field itself:

1. Extra precaution

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

Over the first two years of the NFL’s three-game preseason schedule, Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid has played his starters the most during Week 2. Mahomes has played 57 total snaps in Week 2 games, but just 30 snaps in Week 1 and Week 3 games.

More playing time for the starters means more opportunity for something bad to happen — and the field on which they’ll be playing doesn’t exactly have a good reputation. Even before Philadelphia fans started their Super Bowl gripes, Kansas City placekicker Harrison Butker and cornerback Trent McDuffie suffered significant injuries during the team’s Week 1 game in Arizona.

On Thursday, Reid assured reporters that the field has been checked out — but don’t be surprised if starting players (and others with strong cases for the roster) are limited in their playing time. In 2021’s preseason, Reid showed a willingness to use the starters in the third game — in which Mahomes played 15 snaps and led two touchdowns drives against the Minnesota Vikings.

If they don’t like the conditions in which they’re playing, the true dress rehearsal could wait for the home crowd in Week 3.

2. A pep in the secondary’s step

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

It’s may just be the preseason, but it was still a discouraging debut for the Chiefs’ back end in preseason Week 1.

The defensive front is dealing with the absence of star defensive tackle Chris Jones — which doesn’t help the secondary — but in Week 1, the starting off-ball defenders looked sluggish on their own.

Early on, safety Justin Reid was easily beaten by a tight end in man coverage — and then inexplicably abandoned his zone to allow the opening-drive score. Linebacker Nick Bolton allowed himself to be blocked out of several gash runs. Cornerback Trent McDuffie gave up multiple deep completions in man coverage — including a touchdown where he was out-jumped for the ball.

In the second or third season for many of these defenders, expectations are high. It could have simply been an energy issue in New Orleans — but a repeat in Arizona could raise further questions about these players.

3. The battle for swing tackle

NFL: AFC Championship-Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In training camp, it appeared the Chiefs were preparing rookie offensive lineman Wanya Morris to be the swing tackle — that is, immediate backup to the left and right tackles. But the first preseason game showed that he may not be as ready to contribute as the guys who have been here.

Right tackle Lucas Niang and left tackle Prince Tega Wanogho looked more comfortable, each playing only on the side where they typically practice. Morris had time on both sides, looking drastically less comfortable on the left.

Right now, Wanogho looks like this team’s best option at backup left tackle — but this preseason, he has not been considered a lock for the opening 53-man roster.

It will be worth watching to see if Morris’ snaps on the left look any better. If he continues looking uncomfortable, the team should keep Wanogho around — and that may cause a shake up at the fringes of the roster.

4. Who is the third cornerback?

NFL: JUL 23 Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When healthy, Kansas City’s top two cornerbacks are L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie. In nickel packages, they bring in a third cornerback — and last year, that responsibility rotated between rookies Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson.

While that back-and-forth continues, defensive backs coach Dave Merritt told reporters that he’d like for it to end; the team wants one of them to earn the spot. Right now, I see signs pointing to Williams taking over the role — but on Saturday, it’ll be worth keeping an eye on both players.

5. Who is the fifth cornerback?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With either player as the third corner, the team should feel good about the room’s four-man core. Bu who could be the fifth cornerback? Rookie sixth-round pick Nic Jones suffered fractured fingers on Sunday — and on Tuesday, Reid wasn’t sure if Jones needed surgery.

That leaves undrafted rookie Kahlef Hailassie — who made his case with an incredible interception in Week 1 — and another undrafted rookie: Ekow Boye-Doe. Behind them, second-year DiCaprio Bootle knows the system — but had a rough game on Sunday.

Lamar Jackson (the other Lamar Jackson) stood out for his tackling and ball skills in New Orleans, so watch for the third-year player to make a late push to fill out the cornerback group. He has the size and length that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo usually covets in outside cornerbacks.

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