NFL Week 1: Chiefs-Cardinals 5 things to watch




We’ve made it.

After a long offseason with as many changes as Kansas City Chiefs fans have seen in the quarterback Patrick Mahomes era, the regular season is here. The Chiefs open with a road game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona starting at 3:25 PM Arrowhead time on Sunday.

The Chiefs opened as a slight betting favourite, but the gap has grown to six points, per DraftKing’s SportsBook. The over/under total is 54 points.

It’s a matchup between two playoff teams looking to advance further than they did last season. I have five things to watch in the season opener:

1. Which pass catcher has the first big play

Washington Commanders vs Kansas City Chiefs

Photo by Jason Hanna/Getty Images

On Thursday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes joked with fantasy football players that they would have a hard time choosing which player to go each week because it would be different every time. Well, who’s up first?

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

With Kelce drawing attention, I think we’ll see wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling have the group’s first big game. Juju Smith-Schuster will also see plenty of work, mainly from the slot — where playmaker Byron Murphy will likely patrol. Arizona’s outside cornerbacks will be the more exploitable targets, giving Valdes-Scantling an option on intermediate and deep passes behind the attention on Kelce or down the sideline.

2. The pass-rush scheme

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

Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray will be a handful to handle, both as a runner and passer. The strategy to neutralize him must start with the front four.

The Chiefs defensive ends need to be disciplined in their pass rush and you will notice. Their rush will be focused on keeping Murray in the pocket, betting up the middle to collapse on Murray with the help of star defensive tackle Chris Jones. If he doesn’t get all the way through, Jones’ height and passing ability will still make Murray uncomfortable working there.

It also means the other interior rusher will be important and benefit from a one-on-one situation that will happen when the center helps the other guard with Jones. The Chiefs have been practicing with a few guys in that spot. Defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton is the No. 1 guy, but defensive ends Mike Danna and rookie George Karlaftis can destroy balls thrown in there and hustle a guard.

Overall, the pass rush needs to make things difficult for Murray to help the newcomers in the secondary.

3. Arming the offensive line

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

That could be the case on Sunday, especially when you consider Arizona’s injury report. Veteran defensive end JJ Watt has missed two practices with a calf injury, and defensive end Markus Golden — who had 11 sacks last year — missed Wednesday’s practice with a toe injury and was limited Thursday.

The Cardinals’ defensive front was already a weaker link in their unit, with their playmakers coming from the second and third levels of their defense. I’d like to see the play calling weapons for the front five, with a higher volume of down-scheme run plays and layered passing concepts, and to trust that the pocket will allow the routes to open each other up.

4. Situational defense

NFL: Washington Commanders at Kansas City Chiefs

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

It’s likely we’ll see the same strategy right out of the gate, but I’d be curious if they rely more on the nickel package this year — with linebacker Willie Gay Jr. on the pitch alongside Bolton, while Cook remains on the sidelines. In my opinion, the team’s best defense on any given play has Bolton and Gay on the field together.

Keep an eye on that, but also how well Bolton does as a three-down linebacker. He had 14 tackles and three passes defensed when he was similarly entrusted last year against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 15.

5. Rookie Impact

NFL: Washington Commanders at Kansas City Chiefs

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of first-year players to keep an eye on, and they finally get a full regular season game to see how the team feels about them:

  • Cornerback Trent McDuffie was the starting boundary cornerback from Day 1 of training camp, but could we see more rotation into the field? Especially with matchups against shifty receivers like Arizona’s Marquise Brown or Rondale Moore.
  • Defensive end George Karlaftis might not start on first downs over Mike Danna, but he will be on every major pass-rushing snap.
  • Wide receiver Skyy Moore will likely just complement the rest of the offense’s weapons right away, but that could mean finding room as the third or fourth progression for a big game. He is also the kickoff 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 snap as a SAM linebacker in Preseason Week 3. That said, the Cardinals’ offense likely won’t attract many base defense scenarios.
  • Cornerbacks Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson will be fascinating to watch. One of them could be a game day inactive, and I’d predict it will be Williams. I also expect right tackle Darian Kinnard not to dress.
  • In addition to starting at kick returner, running back Isiah Pacheco should be in the active rotation at running back, giving the offense more explosion than the other backs, especially if Ronald Jones is inactive on a game day.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *