clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Shane Buechele and Blaine Gabbert shine as the backup quarterback battle heats up

Kansas City’s backup quarterbacks were hitting on all cylinders on Saturday. Who will come out on top?

Kansas City Chiefs v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

During the Kansas City Chiefs training camp that wrapped up last Thursday, a quiet competition was brewing — but during the team's 38-10 preseason victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday night, it was suddenly right in front of everyone.

While Patrick Mahomes is the league’s best quarterback, he still needs a backup. While it had appeared that veteran Blaine Gabbert was the leading candidate to back up the MVP, Saturday night’s game showed that Shane Buechele is defintiely worthy of consideration for the job.

Buechele impresses

After the offense scored on the game’s third drive, it was Buechele — not Gabbert — who led the first-team offense back onto the field. It was the first time this season that Buechele played with the starting offensive line and a mix of first-team and second-team pass-catchers.

He wasted little time going to a familiar target.

When two cornerbacks are playing off the ball and there is one deep safety, there are plenty of chances for wide receivers to create separation — and that is exactly what Buechele’s former SMU teammate Rashee Rice does on this play.

As Skyy Moore continues to take his route deep, Rice takes a hard jab step to the inside, freezing the corner in his tracks. Buechele reads the cut and starts to deliver the ball as Rice heads for the sideline where he has found the void in coverage. Buechele delivers a good ball — and with the other defensive backs deep downfield, Rice has room to pick up some yards after the catch.

This 38-yard play set the Chiefs up in the red zone — where Buechele would cap the drive by showing off his athletic ability.

All evening, the Chiefs’ offensive line was solid in pass protection. Since it could consistently block four rushers, this led to good opportunities for Kansas City quarterbacks to maneuver.

On this play, Buechele doesn't like his downfield reads — but when the EDGE on the left uses an inside move, it opens up a large void on that side of the field. Left tackle Donovan Smith walls off the pass rusher — and Buechele has room to run. A hesitation move near the sticks helps him avoid contact and put six points on the board, capping a well-executed seven-play, 88-yard drive.

But Buechele wasn’t done yet. On his second drive, he and Rice would again rekindle the SMU connection.

The Arizona defensive backs continue to play off the ball, which helps open up this RPO. Buechele first shows the handoff to running back La’Mical Perine but quickly pulls the ball.

Tight end Matt Bushman and Rice are working a flat-and-slant combination on the back side of the play. The safety who walked down near the slot as the play began follows Bushman into the flat — but he does so by going between his teammate and Rice. Recognizing this, Buechele slings the ball on a rope to Rice — who makes the catch in stride and picks up even more with some good open-field running.

While the Chiefs would finish the drive with a field goal, Buechele turned in his best performance since joining the team, finishing with a perfect 10-for-10 for 105 yards passing and one rushing touchdown.

Saturday’s game showcased Buechele’s improved decision-making. Playing with superior players gave us a glimpse of the kind of production he could manage in a real-world situation — his athletic ability in the pocket was a real highlight.

Gabbert answers

While Buechele’s performance was a hard one to follow, Gabbert answered to the best of his ability. As he started the third quarter, he came out firing — showing that even in his 13th season, he can still throw the long balls that have enamored him to front offices ever since he played for the University of Missouri.

Here, the Cardinals are in man coverage. dropping one deep safety from the opposite side of the field. Wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette is lined up in the middle of the trips formation. As he runs the vertical route, he blows right by the cornerback assigned to him.

He flashes a jab step inside before continuing toward the sideline. With the corner beaten — and the safety too late with his reaction — Gabbert launches a beautiful deep ball that Smith-Marsette hauls in for a 44-yard completion.

The drive would conclude with Gabbert throwing a touchdown underneath — also to Smith- Marsette — to expand Kansas City’s lead.

Gabbert would finish his second drive with another touchdown pass.

Even at 33 years old, Gabbert still has some juice left in his tank.

On this play, he uses some of it on his rollout to find Cornell Powell in the end zone. While he did not finish with a perfect completion percentage like Buechele did, he went 7-for-8 for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The touchdown passes gave him a perfect passer rating of 158.3, compared to Buechele’s excellent 110.4 rating.

The bottom line

While it may have seemed like Gabbert had the backup quarterback spot sewn up, Buechele turned heads on Saturday — and in doing so, heated up the competition to play behind Mahomes.

The Chiefs seemed eager to reward Buechele for his efforts as the team’s scout quarterback in the last couple of seasons. Given his first opportunity to work with the first-team, Buechele did not disappoint. He elevated his game to match the players around him. His previous connection with Rice was certainly a factor in his success — but he also looked comfortable and poised in the pocket, where he showed off an ability for improvisation that would make him an ideal backup to Mahomes.

Gabbert also turned in a very good performance, showing confidence in the pocket that can only be gained with years of experience. While he doesn't share Buechele’s athletic ability or mobility, he is still the more prototypical backup quarterback — and in the event of an emergency, is likely to be the safer option.

Andy Reid said it: the competition is close. Saturday afternoon’s final preseason game will be very interesting to watch.

NEW: Join Arrowhead Pride Premier

If you love Arrowhead Pride, you won’t want to miss Pete Sweeney in your inbox each week as he delivers deep analysis and insights on the Chiefs' path to the Super Bowl.