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Preseason or not, Cardinals not in same league as Chiefs

Howard Balzer Avatar
August 20, 2023

Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City has one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, but it would be understandable if the Chiefs are beginning to feel as if State Farm Stadium is like a second home.

In the last 12 months, the Chiefs have played three games in the home of the Cardinals and won them all while scoring 120 total points.

It began in September, 2022, with a Week 1 44-21 win over the Cardinals, continued with a 38-35 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII and then concluded Saturday night with a 38-10 demolishing of the Cardinals in the second preseason game for both teams.

Forgive coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis if they don’t look forward to playing the Chiefs again. At least until the building phase of this team is much further along.

Both were with the Eagles last season, Gannon as defensive coordinator and Rallis as linebackers coach, and they were virtually helpless as Kansas City came back from a 24-14 deficit at halftime and outscored the Eagles 24-11 in the second half.

In the last six quarters, they were part of teams that were outscored by Patrick Mahomes and Co., 62-21.

As for the Cardinals, the ugly count is 82-31 in the two games and it would have been worse had the Cardinals not outscored the Chiefs, 14-7 in the fourth quarter of the 2022 loss after trailing 37-7.

Saturday night, after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter, the Cardinals fought back to pull within one score at 17-10 in the third quarter. However, even with Mahomes out of the game, the Chiefs reeled off touchdown drives of 85, 71 and 91 yards, and gained 242 yards on 24 plays in the process.

The Cardinals had no answer in their final three possessions, totaling 114 yards on 25 plays.

Said Gannon, “I thought we did a good job of getting back into the game there before the half, just couldn’t sustain it. All three phases, we have got to get cleaned up or that is what’s going to happen against a good football team; you’re going to get beat pretty good. It will be very black-and-white to our guys what we need to improve in a hurry. We have to improve that going into Minnesota for those practices and the game so we can be a little more competitive.”

Of course, there is a reason the Chiefs are the defending NFL champions and have appeared in five consecutive AFC Championship Games. In 10 seasons with Andy Reid as coach, their record including postseason games in 129-52. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have lost almost as many games in five seasons as the Chiefs have lost in 10. The Cardinals are 31-51-1 since 2018.

In 2022, the Chiefs won six games by 10 or more points of which two were of 20 or more.

For Kansas City Saturday night, it didn’t matter who was at quarterback, although the Cardinals came out and made things difficult for Mahomes on the first two possessions. The Chiefs had 37 yards on eight plays, were penalized 10 yards on each and punted twice.

Mahomes was 3-for-7 for 37 yards and added another incompletion on his first pass of the third possession. After that, he and his three successors missed only twice.

He completed five consecutive passes, including a 21-yard pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that had 14 yards added on when safety Isaiah Simmons was penalized for unnecessary roughness. That play appeared to affect Simmons throughout the game.

Two plays later, he got beat by wide receiver Justin Watson for an 18-yard touchdown. On Kansas City’s next possession, rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice had a 38-yard play against him, but it seems Simmons shouldn’t be tasked with defending smaller and quicker receivers.

Three plays later, Simmons wasn’t able to stop quarterback Shane Buechele from scoring on a 15-yard scramble. Buechele was nearing the sideline inside the 5-yard line as Simmons raced over, but either out-ran Buechele, who cut inside for the touchdown, or he was wary of lighting him up after the previous penalty.

Asked about Simmons’ play, Gannon said, “I’ve got to watch the tape on that. I know he had the one penalty and it was a bang-bang (play). It was a good physical play and a couple times in coverage, he may have lost leverage, but we will go back to the tape and get him cleaned up.”

Simmons said, “I feel like I obviously need to play better. I feel that each and every game. Explosives definitely are something that we need to tone down because explosives are what leads to you losing the game. So definitely cutting the explosives down just everywhere around. And I also feel like I can play better.”

He did remind everyone that there are numerous new coaches and players learning the system.

Asked about patience being important, he said, “I think it’s really critical, just understanding the whole system is new; new coaches, just a whole new regime. People are playing in different spots defensive-wise, but we’re still learning the ins and outs of different positions and small little techniques and small little things that go within positions.

“Because if you think that playing a position is just learning what you’ve got to do in the playbook, you’re wrong. So just a couple of small things that we’ve got to jump on going forward.”

Gannon referenced the explosives when asked what most disappointed him.

“I think that, whatever it was, they had over 300 yards in explosives,” he said. “I think they had eight or nine explosives. You’re not going to beat anybody like that. That is one of our core principles of defense. So truthfully, that is what I am most displeased about.”

It wasn’t quite 300 yards, but it was high. The Chiefs had eight pass plays of 20 yards or more that totaled 227 yards, an average of 28.4 per play. Those accounted for 57.8 percent of their 393 passing yards. Their other 23 completions gained 166 yards (7.2 average). And all of the quarterbacks contributed.

Mahomes had the play to Valdez-Scantling and a 20-yarder to tight end Travis Kelce. Buechele had the play to Rice and another to him for 25 yards. Blaine Gabbert had completions of 44 yards to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette and 25 to tight end Matt Bushman. Finally, Chris Oladokun had a 28-yard play to wide receiver Ty Fryfogle and 26 yards to Smith-Marsette.

All four Kansas City quarterbacks had passer ratings over 100 and seemed to be playing an easy game of pitch-and-catch.

After his 3-for-8 start, Mahomes was 7-for-7 for 68 yards and a rating of 109.0. Buechele was 10-for-10 for 105 yards and a 110.4 rating. Gabbert was 7-for-8 for 120 yards and a 158.3 rating (the highest possible). Oladokun was 4-for-5 for 63 yards and a 118.8 rating. The aggregate rating for all four was 136.1.

After Mahomes’ shaky beginning, he and the three that followed him were a ridiculous 28-for-30 for 356 yards. Oh, did I mention that in Week 1 last season, Mahomes was 30-for-39 for 360 yards and a 144.2 rating? He had six explosive plays for 154 yards (25.7 average). The Chiefs had 488 yards in that game and 504 Saturday night while averaging 8.7 yards per play.

As Buechele said, “This is the first time that I’ve ever been in the same offense for three years in a row. I feel confident in my ability and my preparation and knowing this offense in and out. Obviously, we can keep getting smarter, but just the confidence I have and the preparation in knowing this offense has really helped me be successful on the field. The coaches call great plays, and we have really good players on our side. Whenever we go out there and we execute, we’re hard to stop.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinals offense totaled only 286 yards at 4.4 per play. Quarterback Clayton Tune was 12-for-24 for 133 yards (66.8 rating), Colt McCoy 5-for-8 for 25 yards (67.2) and David Blough 3-for-4 for 31 yards (96.9). The team’s overall rating was 70.3.

The Saturday spanking was humbling as it illustrated clearly how much work there is to be done, but that shouldn’t be surprising. There won’t be many teams on the Cardinals schedule as good as the Chiefs.

But Gannon realizes what he is up against.

“It’s a good football team,” he said. “But every team in the NFL is a good football team and if you don’t play the type of ball that you need to play in all three phases versus anybody, you will get beat. We have to make sure that we give ourselves a chance to win.”

It remains to be seen how often that happens beginning in three weeks against Washington.

Tune, take two

While the fifth-round pick has done good things, there’s little to suggest he’s ready to start games against regular-season NFL defenses.

In his first two preseason games, Tune has completed 25 of 47 passes for 268 yards with passer ratings of 70.0 and 66.8. He played 62 percent of the snaps against Denver and 68 percent against Kansas City.

“I think he needs the reps,” Gannon said when asked why Tune played so much Saturday night. “For being a rookie quarterback, he needs the reps. To be able to see different things and Spags [Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] is one of the best defensive coordinators there is. He gave us a lot of looks and that’s good because that’s what real ball is.

“I thought he handled it well, he changed a couple of protections, changed some points in the run game, missed a couple too, got us out of bad plays, but it was good. I wanted to see him play.”

Tune showed a knack and poise while avoiding the rush and gained 35 yards on six scrambles against the Chiefs.

Gannon said, “He’s a mobile guy and I think some of that too is the timing of the play. He got a little bit off, so when he’s expecting guys to be where they are at and they’re not, that’s what is going to happen. Maybe one or two bust protections, or whatever. (There are) things we need to clean up, but I did think that he did a good job of getting us out of trouble a couple times and extending some plays. I thought he operated well in the two-minute, which is good to see. He will have some things, like everybody after a win or loss, that we have to look at and get cleaned up, but I think he did a good job on that.”

Tune said, “I think it’s a part of my game that I’m willing to use, but it’s not the main part of my game. I want to get the ball out and distribute it to the playmakers. I have to do a better job of finding my hots and getting those guys the ball, but if need be, I’ll run and scramble.”

Similar to his first game, there were several high throws or getting the ball out on time, especially for sideline throws.

Tune said it’s about “just quieting my feet down and focusing in on being accurate and working those throws with people at my feet. Just work on it.”

Gannon agreed, saying, “I think he has to step into his throws and make sure his hands are over the ball. A couple of times he’s sailed a couple and we are working on that. But a lot of times that’s not delivery; it’s footwork. At times, it can be hard when that rush is barreling down on you. We’ll get that cleaned up.”

Tune was pleased overall with the progress made from the first game.

“It felt more comfortable,” he said. “More comfortability with the guys in the huddle, with the atmosphere and everything. Doing it for the second time was a little bit easier than the first time, so it felt good.”

The coaches will need to be comfortable in having Tune be McCoy’s backup when the season begins in 21 days.

Who are those guys?

It would be an oversight not to emphasize that preseason football is mostly about figuring out what the roster will look like in just over a week.

Many of the players on the field, especially in the second half, either won’t be around after Aug. 29 or, at best, will be on practice squads.

As the Chiefs were increasing their lead late in the third quarter and into the fourth, players on the field for the Cardinals included defensive linemen Eric Banks, Ben Stille, Dante Stills (rookie) and Jacob Slade (rookie free agent); linebackers Ezekiel Turner, Owen Pappoe (rookie), Kyle Soelle (rookie free agent) and David Anenih; and defensive backs Bobby Price, JuJu Hughes, Kyler McMichael and Sean Chandler.

On a Cardinals 15-play possession late in the fourth quarter with Tune at quarterback, defensive players on the field for the Chiefs at various times included defensive linemen Joshua Kaindoh, Keondre Coburn, Chris Williams, Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Malik Herring and Phil Hoskins; linebackers Cam Jones, Cole Christiansen and Jack Cochrane; and defensive backs Dicaprio Bootle, Deon Bush, Kahlef Hailassie, Anthony Cook and Ekow Boye-Doe.

Those yellow flags

After being penalized four times for 52 yards against Denver, the flags doubled Saturday with eight for 82 yards and 6-for-53 in the first half.

There were four on offense, two on defense and two on special teams. One defensive penalty, linebacker Zaven Collins for illegal use of hands, was declined.

Offense: Wide receivers Kaden Davis, illegal crackback block (14) and Michael Wilson, holding (10), guard Dennis Daley, ineligible downfield (5) and guard Marquis Hayes, false start (4).

Defense: Safety Sean Chandler, facemask (15) and safety Isaiah Simmons, unnecessary roughness (14).

Special teams: Cornerback Christian Matthew and tight end Bernhard Seikovits, holding (10).

Asked if they were the result of lack of discipline or focus, Gannon said neither.

“I think it is a lack of technique,” he said. “When you play with bad technique, you get penalized, and that is what happened. You obviously have to get that corrected. They kind of go in waves a little bit and sometimes that is how the crews (are) calling it and we have to play within the rules. Typically, when you get penalized, it is for bad technique.”

It is also often true that good teams are able to overcome penalties. The Chiefs had eight penalties for 94 yards Saturday night.

Ingram impressed

Running back Keaontay Ingram has the ability to be James Conner’s backup, but he missed practice time early in training with an undisclosed injury and didn’t play against Denver. At one point, the Cardinals signed Marlon Mack, who promptly suffered a torn Achilles and is out for the season.

After Conner played 11 snaps (15 percent) Saturday and had two carries for 15 yards, Ingram played 23 snaps (32 percent), rushing for 28 yards on seven attempts with a touchdown and had two receptions for 20 yards.

“I thought he looked good,” Gannon said. “Made some runs and made a couple of guys miss. That touchdown run was pretty special, so it was good to have him back in there. I know he was lathered up pretty good. He had a good attitude, he did a good job. And the O-Line did good when they were in there with him. They opened up some holes and created some displacement.”

The quote

Gannon on if allowing over 500 yards is a concern: “Yeah, it’s a concern. When the ball goes over your head, it’s a concern. So we won’t win many games if we do that.”

Charting the snaps (snaps/percentage; starters in bold)

*Indicates player that did not play from scrimmage, but participated on special teams

OFFENSE (72 snaps, 36 players)

Quarterbacks: Clayton Tune (49/68), Colt McCoy (15/21), David Blough (8/11)

Did not play: Jeff Driskel (injured)

PUP: Kyler Murray

Running backs: Keaontay Ingram (23/32), Emari Demercado (21/29), Corey Clement (17/24), James Conner (11/15)

Did not play: Ty’Son Williams

Reserve/injured: Marlon Mack

Wide receivers: Andre Baccellia (43/60), Kaden Davis (39/54), Davion Davis (29/40), Zach Pascal (22/31),Greg Dortch (19/26), Michael Wilson (14/19), Marquise Brown (10/14), Rondale Moore (9/12), Daniel Arias (8/11)

Did not play: Brian Cobbs, Brandon Smith

Tight ends: Blake Whiteheart (33/46), Noah Togiai (25/35), Trey McBride (13/18), Joel Honigford (10/14), Geoff Swaim (9/12), Bernhard Seikovits (5/7)

Did not play: Zach Ertz

Offensive linemen: G Marquis Hayes (57/79), T Josh Jones (53/74), C Jon Gaines II (49/68), G Dennis Daley (49/68), T Jackson Barton (38/53), T Kelvin Beachum (19/26), LG Elijah Wilkinson (15/21), C Hjalte Froholdt (15/21), RT Paris Johnson Jr. (15/21), RB Will Hernandez (15/21), LT D.J. Humphries (11/15), G Hayden Howerton (8/11), G Lecitus Smith (8/11), T Badara Traore (8/11)

Did not play: C Pat Elflein, G Lachavious Simmons (10/13), C Braylon Jones

DEFENSE (62 snaps, 37 players)

Defensive linemen: NT Rashard Lawrence (20/32), DE Eric Banks (20/32), DE Calvin Watkins (19/31), DE Dante Stills (18/29), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (17/27), DE Ben Stille (16/26), DE L.J. Collier (15/24), NT Jacob Slade (14/23), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (11/18), NT Leki Fotu (11/18)

Linebackers: ILB Josh Woods (32/52), OLB Jesse Luketa (26/42), ILB Krys Barnes (26/42), ILB Owen Pappoe (25/40), OLB Victor Dimukeje (25/40), OLB David Anenih (23/37), OLB Zaven Collins (17/27), ILB Kyle Soelle (13/21), OLB Dennis Gardeck (13/21), ILB Ezekiel Turner (12/19), ILB Kyzir White (10/16)

Did not play: OLB BJ Ojulari, OLB Myjai Sanders, OLB Cameron Thomas

Defensive backs: CB Kei’Trel Clark (35/56), CB Bobby Price (27/44), S Isaiah Simmons (27/44), CB Christian Matthew (26/42), S Andre Chachere (23/37), S Jovante Moffatt (22/35), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (21/34), S Jalen Thompson (20/32), CB Kyler McMichael (19/31), CB Nate Hairston (18/29), CB Marco Wilson (17/27), CB Quavian White (11/18), S Budda Baker (10/16), S JuJu Hughes (10/16), S Sean Chandler (9/15), S Kendell Brooks (4/6)

Did not play: *CB Kris Boyd

NFI: CB Garrett Williams

Reserve/injured: CB Rashad Fenton

SPECIAL TEAMS (25 snaps, 56 players)

LB Owen Pappoe (17/68), LB Jesse Luketa (13/52), TE Blake Whiteheart (12/48), WR Daniel Arias (12/48), LB Victor Dimukeje (11/44), LB Kyle Soelle (11/44), CB Bobby Price (11/44), TE Noah Togiai (10/40), LB Ezekiel Turner (9/36), CB Christian Matthew (9/36), S Jovante Moffatt (9/36), CB Kyler McMichael (9/36), RB/KOR Emari Demercado (8/32), LS Aaron Brewer (7/28), LB Krys Barnes (7/28), TE Bernhard Seikovits (6/24), LB David Anenih (6/24), CB Nate Hairston (6/24), S JuJu Hughes (6/24), P/KO Nolan Cooney (5/20), RB Corey Clement (5/20), LB Josh Woods (5/20), CB Kris Boyd (5/20), S Sean Chandler (5/20), K/KO Matt Prater (4/16), KOR Davion Davis (4/16), NT Rashard Lawrence (4/16), CB Kei’Trel Clark (4/16), S Andre Chachere (4/16), P/H Matt Haack (3/12), DE Calvin Watkins (3/12), S Isaiah Simmons (3/12), CB Antonio Hamilton Sr. (3/12), DE Dante Stills (3/12), PR Greg Dortch (2/8), G Dennis Daley (2/8), C Jon Gaines II (3/12), T Josh Jones (2/8), G Hayden Howerton (2/8), G Lecitus Smith (2/8), T Jackson Barton (2/8), WR Zach Pascal (2/8), WR Kaden Davis (2/8), DE Ben Stille (2/8), DE Eric Banks (2/8), NT Kevin Strong Jr. (2/8), NT Jacob Slade (2/8), LB Dennis Gardeck (2/8), KOR Keaontay Ingram (1/4), G Marquis Hayes (1/4), T Kelvin Beachum (1/4), DE L.J. Collier (1/4), DE Jonathan Ledbetter (1/4), NT Leki Fotu (1/4), S Jalen Thompson (1/4), S Kendell Brooks (1/4)

Reserve/injured: LS Matt Hembrough

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com. Also, become a DIEHARD and use the promo code HOWARD

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