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Chiefs-Cardinals Instabreakdown: Passing game highlighted in big win

Let’s analyze what we saw as Kansas City defeated Arizona on Saturday night.

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 38, Arizona Cardinals 10

Offense (Caleb James)

After another slow start, the Chiefs’ starting offense finally came alive on the third drive of the game. A 10-play, 92-yard drive was capped with Patrick Mahomes’ touchdown pass to wide receiver Justin Watson. That ended Mahomes’ night. He finished with 10 completions for 105 yards and the touchdown. He connected with nine different targets.

Then there was a surprise: Shane Buechele came out, continuing to take snaps with what was primarily the first-team offense. In the performance of his career, Buechele completed 10 of 10 passes for 105 yards — and capped his first drive by scrambling into the end zone for a touchdown. On his second drive, he led the offense down the field for a Harrison Butker field goal.

Out of the half, Blaine Gabbert assumed control of the offense — and he picked up where Buechelle left off. On his first possession, he led the team down the field — ending by hooking up with Ihmir Smith-Marsette for a touchdown. On his second drive, Gabbert connected with Cornell Powell in the end zone. He finished with seven completions for 120 yards and two touchdowns — and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.

These sharp performances from both quarterbacks might be creating a backup quarterback controversy in Kansas City.

Chris Olakandun finished out the game — and he did so with yet another high-level performance. He finished with four completions on five attempts — and showed his ability to scramble, finding both Smith-Marsette and Ty Fryfogle on receptions of over 20 yards.

That drive finished with a rushing touchdown from Deneric Prince.

Offensive Player of the Game: Ihmir Smith-Marsette

While there has been a lot of hype around Kansas City’s wide receiver room this offseason, Smith-Marsette’s name has rarely been mentioned. His four-reception, 92-yard performance should change that.

To remain in consideration for the roster, he needed a big performance — and he delivered. He seemed comfortable, catching passes from three different quarterbacks and showing off his ability in the open field.

He will still have work to do, but this was a good showing that will keep him in the conversation for the back half of the roster.

Defense (Ron Kopp Jr.)

The Chiefs’ starting defense had a much better outing than they did in the preseason opener. It forced a three-and-out right out of the gate, getting the stop with schemed-up pressure that had defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah looping into the front of the pocket to force a quick throw. It was completed short of the sticks, where cornerback Trent McDuffie tracked it well before securing the tackle.

That third-down pass-rushing package included four defensive ends: Charles Omenihu and Felix Anudike-Uzomah came from the edge, while George Karlaftis and Mike Danna rushed from the inside.

One other rookie showed up in a first-team lineup: defensive tackle Keondre Coburn. On the second drive, Coburn played alongside Derrick Nnadi on the interior — penetrating the pocket on one play-action pass and otherwise showing stout play against the run.

His time with Nnadi may signal that the coaching staff is feeling more comfortable about trusting Coburn to do more than play as a nose tackle. Even at 332 pounds, his movement skills may allow him to be a penetrator on top of his run-stuffing skills.

Danna returned to the field after dealing with a knee injury through most of training camp, bringing his valuable versatility back into the mix. Reserve defensive tackle Matt Dickerson got the nod over Daniel Wise, who had been filling the starting spot left by Chris Jones’ holdout.

When the reserve defense was on the field, Anudike-Uzomah continued to shine as an edge rusher. His ability to turn the corner and come up into the pocket on the tail end of a speed rush is a unique skill among the team’s defensive ends.

Although he did not see time with the first team, defensive tackle Danny Shelton continued to make a case for a roster spot. He clogged the interior of the line, but also showed great pursuit on outside runs. The big boy continues to move well this preseason.

Linebacker Jack Cochrane impressed me with his gap-filling ability against the run while playing with the second team. He led the way on at least two tackles for loss.

Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle has not had a impressive preseason. Last week, he was flagged for defensive pass interference. Then on Saturday, the second-year cornerback was penalized twice for defensive holding. Both happened on one drive, helping the Cardinals extend their possession.

Defensive Player of the Game: Safety Chamarri Conner

On the second drive, the coaching staff slid the rookie safety into the first-team nickel defense as the slot defender. That kept cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Joshua Williams on the outside — like they would be in the base defense. On the first two plays with this lineup, Conner blitzed.

Conner has been compared to Chiefs’ cornerback L’Jarius Sneed for that reason: his ability to be a playmaker from the slot. While that includes blitzing, it also means making strong tackles. Conner recorded four total tackles (two of them solo), which led the team before the starters went to the bench. One tackle especially showed off his range in the open field as he fired like a missile at a ball carrier in space.

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