The Kansas City Chiefs are on the road to open the 2022 NFL season, facing the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.
The Cardinals have a reputation of starting out the season hot before fizzling later in the year. They’ve one of the NFL’s most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, a young offensive-minded head coach and a veteran defensive coordinator. It’s been a recipe for success at the season’s onset, but Arizona remains an underdog in the matchup.
Kansas City has been one of the league’s most successful teams over the past four seasons, but they boast a remade defensive secondary and offensive receiving corps for 2022. There’s always a bit of intrigue surrounding teams to start the season, with a little tape on their offensive and defensive strategies. With a well-executed gameplan, the Chiefs should be able to steal a win on the road to start the season.
Here are five of the things we’ll be looking for during the course of the game:
Corralling Kyler Murray
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Containing or “corralling” Kyler Murray has been a big topic of discussion amongst the Chiefs’ players and coaching staff this week. Murray isn’t just a dangerous passer, but he averaged 30.2 rushing yards per game last season, which was good for the sixth-most among QBs in the NFL.
Where Murray is seemingly deadliest is the unscripted plays. It’s something that Justin Reid recalled about playing him with the Houston Texans in 2021.
“What I remember the most is the unscripted plays,” Reid said. “By that I mean him extending plays, extending drives by just scrambling around and not only the difficulty of just tackling him but also some of the problems we ran into that game was since he is a little bit shorter. Our defensive lineman were tackling high and they were getting flags all over the place for it. It’s not just getting him down but making sure (we are) getting him down in a way that’s legal to the game so that way they just don’t get an automatic first down.”
Chiefs HC Andy Reid said that practice squad QB Chris Oladokun played the role of Kyler Murray on the scout team defense this week. Reid said he did a good job, but we’ll see just how prepared the group is for his dual-threat capabilities on Sunday. I tend to think that playing against a quarterback like Mahomes that has similar success operating out of structure should give this defense a bit of an advantage.
A blitz-happy Vance Joseph?
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Stopping Patrick Mahomes is always the biggest task of the opposing defensive coordinator. Cardinals DC Vance Joseph spoke to media members on Thursday about the challenge at hand, but he admitted that there is really no stopping Mahomes.
“Obviously, watching him on tape, it’s scary,” Joseph said of Mahomes. “Nobody really stops him. You’ve got to, obviously, if he gives you the ball you’ve got to catch it. You’ve got to be great in the red zone. He’s going to move the ball. He’s going to buy time. He’s going to scramble. He’s going to make plays. So, being great in the red zone, being great on third downs, winning your share on those things. If he makes a mistake, take advantage of it. But no one stops those guys.”
Joseph is well familiar with the Chiefs from his tenure as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Mahomes beat his team twice in 2018. Despite the changes in Kansas City this offseason, he still expects the offense to keep rolling.
“Obviously, over the years, they’ve been good for a long time,” Joseph continued. “I’ve faced them in Denver. I faced them here in the preseason last year. Nothing has changed, he makes plays. They’ve lost Hill, but they’ve added two veteran receivers, big targets, guys with experience. And that always works well for a veteran quarterback, to have smart players with him. The tight end is still a special player, uncoverable 1-on-1. All three backs can catch the football. They drafted a rookie in Skyy Moore. So they’ve got a lot of talent around Patrick. The O-Line is solid.”
It sure sounds like Joseph’s plan with Mahomes is to get after him by dialing up some blitzes. He seems to feel that Mahomes is going to do his thing regardless and he might as well try and make a big play happen with a blitz.
“So, it’s going to be a tall task,” Joseph explained. “Having a great plan is key. Not being afraid to play on our terms is going to be key also. They’re going to move the ball anyways, so why sit back and be scared? That won’t work all day. We’ll see how it works out. We have a good plan and we’ll see how it works on Sunday.”
Mahomes has consistently been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks against the blitz over the past several seasons. This could be a do-or-die strategy for Joseph and his defense.
Cardinals cornerback attrition
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The Cardinals are hurting at the cornerback position in a big way right now. Byron Murphy was added to the injury report on Friday with an illness and is questionable to play. They’ve spent the entire offseason trying to replace Marco Wilson, who might end up being their best corner on Sunday. He’ll play alongside Jace Whittaker, who was called up from the practice squad and seventh-round rookie CB Christian Matthew.
They might even end up starting some players out of position in nickel and dime looks. Guys like Budda Baker and Isaiah Simmons could be getting some snaps in coverage at cornerback. That’s not exactly an ideal situation for the Cardinals to be in for the first week of the season.
If I’m Kansas City, I’m getting as many receivers on the field as possible to continuously stress this position group. It looks like a weakness that could be exploited, especially if Murphy isn’t on the field.
How do the rookies handle their first big games?
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The Kansas City Chiefs had nine of their ten rookie draft picks make the 53-man roster. Several of those players will be playing key roles in the first week of the season.
Trent McDuffie will be one of the team’s starting cornerbacks. Isiah Pacheco is starting at kick returner. George Karlaftis and Leo Chenal should get snaps in certain defensive packages. Bryan Cook will be on the field in the team’s dime looks and buffalo nickel packages. They’ll likely get Skyy Moore involved on offense.
With all of this youth primed for big roles, Chiefs HC Andy Reid says that he’s just keeping things as normal as possible for them.
“Yeah, well we try to do that – keep it consistent from that standpoint,” Reid said. “But, you go play the game that you’ve been playing since you were a little kid (laughs). Go play and don’t let yourself get in the way of you playing good. Sometimes you can worry so much about it, you freeze yourself. So go ahead, relax and play the game.”
Making their first NFL regular season start bigger than it is can only cause problems. Reid’s approach should help put those players at ease and lead to some big performances.
Injury situation on a short week
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You don’t want to get caught looking too far ahead if you’re the Chiefs, but the fact of the matter is that they’re facing an AFC West division rival on a short week. Getting out of Arizona with a victory is the biggest priority, but getting out of the game healthy will also be a big deal. The team currently has all 52 players on the active roster healthy — or at least healthy enough to practice and play. Let’s hope that remains the case when the team suits up on Thursday at Arrowhead Stadium.