5 underlying messages from the Chiefs’ first preseason game
Kansas City lost its preseason opener to the Bears, but there were some good things to be found.
The Chicago Bears are terrible. I mean, truly terrible. Like, the team is as bad as the field on which they play. That’s my first takeaway from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 19-14 loss in Chicago on Saturday.
Still, attempting to take too much from a preseason game is a good way to make a fool of yourself. Years ago, I thought guys like Bobby Sippio and Casey Printers would be superstars based on their preseason performances. The two of them finished with... umm... a combined nine games of NFL experience.
That’s not to suggest there’s nothing to glean from what we watched on Saturday. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Saturday’s game was about learning what the Chiefs are trying to do, which players fit into their goals and how they can win — both individually and as a team.
So let’s take a look at some of the underlying messages from the Chiefs’ first preseason performance of 2022.
The seventh-round pick was the second running back the Chiefs put on the field — after only Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Interestingly, he saw action when the Chiefs got into third-down passing situations on the first drive of the game — and once again when the team broached the red zone.
Pacheco’s first highlight in a Chiefs uniform came on a first-and-goal play from the 10-yard line. Pacheco lined up to the right of quarterback Patrick Mahomes in a shotgun set. He immediately darted to the right flat and looked back for the ball. The middle of the field options were well defended, so Mahomes worked to his right. Pacheco caught the ball cleanly and held on as Bears defensive back Lamar Jackson attempted to take his legs from underneath him.
That is where things got interesting.
Pacheco stayed up with some very impressive contact balance, put his hand on the ground, and accelerated another six yards to the 4-yard line. He was pushed out of bounds but never went down on the play.
Pacheco didn’t play much on Saturday. His stat line has two carries for six yards and one reception for five yards. That doesn’t stand out — but his usage did.
Pacheco was used as if he is a starter. By the start of the second quarter, he was hanging out on the sideline with Mahomes, Edwards-Helaire and tight end Travis Kelce. For a late-round rookie running back, that’s extremely unusual.
A team tells us more with their actions than its words. Since the start of training camp, the Chiefs’ actions have indicated that Pacheco is — at worst — the team’s third running back. He has the potential to make the early-down work more of a timeshare with Edwards-Helaire than I originally expected.
Looking back, I’m not sure any Kansas City player had a more impressive individual moment during Saturday’s game than Moore did. His catch on the sideline late in the second quarter was a thing of beauty. A rookie having the presence of mind to get two feet in bounds after spending his entire football career only needing to have one foot down in order to complete the catch? That’s some next-level stuff.
But Moore’s game was more than just a single highlight. The Chiefs used him in every way imaginable — something that should be a sign of things to come. He got the ball in motion on a jet sweep, lined up in the slot to win across the middle and lined up outside to create separation on a deep out.
The Chiefs have the deepest wide receiver corps I can remember. They go four deep with legitimate starting-level NFL wide receivers. Moore is probably fourth on that list — but if he continues putting these kinds of reps on film, he won’t stay there. Head coach Andy Reid is going to find ways to get the ball in his hands — simply because Moore is too talented to for Reid to deny him those opportunities.
Sorry, Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon: Watson has taken your roster spot.
It’s not hard to understand why “Good Morning Football’s” Peter Schrager has been hyping Watson at every turn. Watson spent the first four years of his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he didn’t have much production: just 23 receptions for 250 yards.
I was surprisingly impressed by Justin Watson. I think he's locked up a roster spot. He's pretty clearly WR5 for this group and I think we'll see him make a few big plays this year. pic.twitter.com/qHggXHJfSg— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) August 15, 2022
But on Saturday, he looked the part of a solid depth wide receiver. While he’s known as a deep threat, he also won on routes across the middle and near the line of scrimmage. Don’t expect Watson to rack up a lot of yardage this season — but if there are injuries among the wide receivers, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he gives the team some important snaps.
Have you ever met someone who was exactly what you expected them to be? Maybe it was a celebrity, a friend of a friend, or an individual you met on a dating app. Well... that’s Karlaftis. In college, he won with power and a relentless motor that never stopped.
Guess what he did on Saturday? He won with power and a relentless motor that never stopped.
...think these Chiefs got themselves a good one in Karlaftis pic.twitter.com/iadWKhprs7— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 14, 2022
Sure... the Chicago offensive line stinks. But regardless of the opponent, seeing the rookie defensive end translate to the next level was highly encouraging. If their pass-rushing unit is going to improve on last season’s performance, the Chiefs are going to need Karlaftis to see the field early and often.
Karlaftis might never be the bendy edge rusher for which some Chiefs fans have been longing, but his effort alone could earn him five sacks annually.
Along with veteran defensive end Carlos Dunlap, Karlaftis’ addition allows defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to get creative with his defensive line, using more of his “NASCAR” packages where a defensive end kicks inside. On Saturday, that player was Mike Danna — but it could also be Karlaftis or Dunlap; there are plenty of stunts the Chiefs could use from that grouping up front. Karlaftis’ power and effort is a big part of what makes that possible.
I’m not sure any Chiefs rookie has had more training-camp hype than Williams. Considering that he’s spent the majority of his time with the first-team defense while Rashad Fenton was working his way back from injury, that’s understandable.
So he was high on the list of players I wanted to watch on Saturday. What I saw was a mixed bag of results.
Joshua Williams has some early Charvarius Ward to his game. He's long and he sticks with receivers well, but the next point of emphasis will be improving his ball skills. pic.twitter.com/WPyLhbAH6E— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) August 15, 2022
The good: Williams always seems to be sticking to his defender like white on rice. Along with that coverage, his length helps to shrink the quarterback’s throwing window. Early and often, he’ll make some plays simply by being in the right place at the right time.
The bad: His ball skills are going to take some work. At multiple points in the game, Williams struggled to locate the ball — which is also something we’ve seen in training camp practices.
All of this is to say that Williams is a project. That is, after all, what you would expect from a fourth-round pick out of Fayetteville State. What you don’t expect is for that project to have enough talent to come in and play right away. William’s current skills are similar to those of Charvarius Ward during his rookie year: even though he struggles in a specific area, he’s good enough to play right now. That makes him a useful player — one who will see plenty of snaps in 2022.
Talking with Ron Hughley and Steven Serda during last week’s “Show & BK on the Chiefs” podcast, we noted that right away, we should be able to see if the slimmed-down version of the defensive end is working out as intended; Clark has said he wants to become a quicker and more explosive version of himself — and that should pop off the screen.
Well... it did — on one play in particular.
Frank Clark closing on this play looks better than he has in a while and Bolton taking the TE in the flat with speed too. The new theme of this defense is speed pic.twitter.com/SZ0qlX22T1— Daniel Harms (@InHarmsWay19) August 14, 2022
It’s not easy to close that quickly on Bears quarterbacks Justin Fields. He’s one of the league’s fastest quarterbacks, having turned in a 4.44 40-yard dash. In what seemed like a nanosecond, Fields went from having plenty of time to being under pressure.
This is the kind of play we’ve all wanted to see Clark make. For him to make good on the money he’s due, we’ll have to see that consistently — but this was a nice start.