5 things to watch as Chiefs take on Cardinals in Week 1

5 things to watch as Chiefs take on Cardinals in Week 1

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After a long offseason with as many changes as Kansas City Chiefs fans saw in the days of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the regular season is here. The Chiefs open with a road game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., which begins at 3:25 p.m. Arrowhead time on Sunday.

The Chiefs opened as a slight betting favorite, but the gap widened to six points, per DraftKings SportsBook. The total over/under is 54 points.

It’s a battle between two playoff teams looking to progress further than they did last season. I have five things to look out for in the season opener:

1. Which wide receiver has the first big game

Washington Commanders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes joked with fantasy football players on Thursday that they would have a hard time choosing which player left each week because it would be different each time. Well, who’s first?

I think opposing defenses will test Mahomes’ chemistry early with new receivers, especially going after tight end Travis Kelce. The Cardinals have athletic linebackers like Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins to pick him up at the second tier, then safety like Budda Baker to put a course on Kelce vertically.

With Kelce getting all the attention, I think we’ll see wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling have the first big game of the group. Juju Smith-Schuster will also see plenty of work, operating primarily from the slot machine – where game creator Byron Murphy will likely be patrolling. Arizona’s outside cornerbacks will be the most exploitable targets, giving Valdes-Scantling an opportunity on middle and deep passes behind the attention on Kelce or on the sideline.

2. The rush plan

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray will be tough to deal with, both as a rusher and passer. The strategy to neutralize it must start with the first four.

The Chiefs’ defensive end needs to be disciplined in their rushing way, and you’ll notice it. Their runs will focus on containing Murray in the pocket, betting on the middle to crumble on Murray with the help of star defensive tackle Chris Jones. If he doesn’t go all the way, Jones’ size and batting ability will always make Murray uncomfortable operating there.

It also means that the other inside rusher will be important, taking advantage of a one-on-one situation that will occur when the center assists the other guard with Jones. The Chiefs practiced with a few guys there. Defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton is up first, but defensive ends Mike Danna and rookie George Karlaftis could destroy throwing balls and maim a guard.

Overall, the passing rush should make it tough on Murray to help the newcomers to the secondary.

3. Arm the offensive line

The Chiefs have seen this unit work together for an entire season now and probably understand they have the advantage in the trenches against most of their opponents.

That could be the case on Sunday, especially considering Arizona’s injury report. Veteran defensive end JJ Watt missed two practices with a calf injury, and defensive end Markus Golden – who totaled 11 sacks last year – missed practice Wednesday with a toe injury and was restricted on Thursday.

The Cardinals’ defensive front was already a weaker chain in their unit’s link, with their playmakers coming from the second and third tiers of their defense. I’d like to see the game call for arming the top five, with a higher volume of downhill racing games and layered passing concepts, trusting the pocket will allow the roads to open up for each other.

4. Situational Defense

NFL: Washington Commanders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Jay Biggerstaff – USA TODAY Sports

History tells us that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo relies on his Dime staff to be on the field for most third downs and other crucial passes. Regardless of the offensive personnel, Spags wanted his game of three safeties for the important game.

Based on the preseason, this year’s Dime package will feature linebacker Nick Bolton rather than Ben Niemann; he also replaces Tyrann Mathieu and Dan Sorensen with Justin Reid and rookie Bryan Cook.

It’s likely we’ll see the same strategy upfront, but I’d be curious if they put more faith in the Nickel package this year – with linebacker Willie Gay Jr. on the field alongside Bolton, while Cook remains on the key. In my opinion, the best team defense for any given game has Bolton and Gay on the field together.

Watch that, but also how well Bolton is doing as a three-down linebacker. He had 14 tackles and three passes defended when similarly trusted last year against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15.

5. The impact of beginners

NFL: Washington Commanders vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of freshmen to watch, who are finally getting a full regular season game to see what the team thinks of them:

  • Cornerback Trent McDuffie was the starting cornerback for Day 1 of training camp, but could we see more rotation in the slot? Especially with matchups against more changeable receivers like Arizona’s Marquise Brown or Rondale Moore.
  • Defensive end George Karlaftis may not start first downs against Mike Danna, but he’ll be there for every major pass shot.
  • Wide receiver Skyy Moore will likely complement the rest of the offense’s weapons right away, but that could mean finding space as a third or fourth progression for a huge play. He is also the starting kick returner.
  • Safety Bryan Cook is the third safety in the aforementioned Dime, but has also splashed on punt and kick coverage this preseason.
  • Linebacker Leo Chenal took the first shot as SAM linebacker in Week 3 of the preseason. That said, the Cardinals’ offense probably won’t attract many scenarios for base defense.
  • Cornerbacks Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson will be fascinating to watch. One of them may be inactive on game day, and I predict it will be Williams. I would also expect right tackle Darian Kinnard to not dress up.
  • As well as starting at kick return, running back Isiah Pacheco should be in the active rotation at running back, giving the attack more explosion than other backs, especially if Ronald Jones is inactive on the day. Match.

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