As Ben noted earlier this week, “It wouldn’t be the preseason if we were not completely panicking about something.” I think this is the best caveat for all writing and speculation this time of year.
Individual players and units may look bad, but we don’t really know if they’re in top playing shape or if the coaches are just experimenting with some looks that they will probably never bring out in a meaningful game.
Throughout the week however, most of the hand-wringing in Chiefs Kingdom seemed to center around the young and unproven offensive line that had a rough outing on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. I think that it is a concern, but it’s only the second weakest part of our roster.
Here’s why I’m not as worried about the O-line: the Carolina Panthers’ front seven is going to make a lot of offensive linemen look bad. In fact, that top-five group will be tossing around blockers against most teams once the regular season starts up. Meanwhile, the Chiefs O-line as a group had a pretty good game against the highly talented D-line of the Cincinnati Bengals just a week earlier.
Furthermore, the Chiefs first-team offense faired pretty well despite the blocking problems. On the first drive, QB Alex Smith drove the team down the field for a field goal, which might have been a TD, had the drive not been hampered by a 10-yard holding penalty by rookie RG Zach Fulton on the play.
On both of the subsequent drives the Chiefs pushed into Carolina territory and settled on a field goal on their 3rd drive only after a catch by TE Anthony Fasano was ruled not a catch for some reason. Fasano also got a 10-yard penalty on the drive for bumping into a linebacker on a pass play.
Heading into the game, I fully expected the Chiefs’ young and inexperienced O-line to struggle with the Carolina front seven; and struggle they did. To me, this O-line group looks like an average to slightly below-average unit. The Chiefs defensive backfield on the other hand looks like one of the worst in the league.
I had hopes that the team’s cobbled-together secondary would look better against a Carolina team that lost its top four wideouts in free agency. In fact, the player that caught the most passes for Carolina that is still on the team — TE Greg Olsen — was out of this game with an injury. The Panthers also had a QB hitting the field for the first time in the preseason, still recovering from an ankle injury.
The early returns were good and QB Cam Newton and the Panthers were duds on three successive 3-and-outs. The Chiefs’ front seven looked dominant once again during that stretch, but it also looked to me like that was more due to Newton’s rustiness and unfamiliarity with his receivers than anything else. Once the Panthers got their running game going and had their protection hold up long enough for Newton to make accurate passes to receivers, the Chiefs defense was shredded.
On Newton’s fourth drive, Chiefs CB Ron Parker should really be credited with the score. After throwing an 11-yard strike to WR Eric Dickson, who beat out S Daniel Sorenson in coverage, Parker committed an awful and obvious pass interference penalty. This gifted the Panthers 32 yards and a first-and-goal on the 6. A couple of runs later, the Panthers were in the lead.
On the next drive, Newton started things off with an easy 24-yard pass to rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin. After a short incompletion and a sack by LB Joe Mays, the Chiefs had Carolina looking at a long field goal with 3rd and 16 on the 32-yard line. No worry, Newton flipped an easy pass to 31-year-old backup WR Jason Avant, who easily beat CB Sean Smith for 25 yards.
Things got worse when the Carolina backups hit the field. Carolina QB Derek Anderson, who is playing for his third team, has never looked so good. He ended with a 141.1 passer rating making the entire Chiefs secondary looking like a scout team.
Only one Chiefs defender was credited with a pass defensed all game — LB Derrick Johnson, who tipped a pass in the 1st quarter. The only stats the Chiefs defensive backfield seemed to be producing were passes allowed and defensive penalties committed (many of which, I agree, were total hogwash).
In my notes of the game, the only DB that earned a positive mention was CB DeMarcus Van Dyke, a castaway from the Raiders that looked like a long shot to make the team going into Sunday’s game.
In case you were wondering what the coaches think about the state of each position group, they made that clearer by trading G Rishaw Johnson to the Buccaneers for backup S Kelcie McCray.
Overall, I think it’s the secondary that will make or break the Chiefs season this year, just like it was the DBs’ weakness that broke a lot of the team’s games late in the season — including that playoff game that shall not be mentioned.
Once RB Jamaal Charles is back in the lineup, the Chiefs can deal with shaky pass protection with quick passes that put Charles with the ball in space. Even more encouraging, Smith dealt with the constant Carolina rush very well on Sunday without Charles in the lineup. Although he did get sacked twice on plays where the defense got a rusher through clean, giving up two sacks to Carolina in one half is not too shameful.
But, if even a team with as dysfunctional of a passing game as Carolina can pass on the Chiefs’ DB’s at will, I shudder to think what will happen when Denver comes to town. The Chiefs might have to win with an NBA-like score.
One can hope that once S Eric Berry is back and healthy, things will settle a bit in the secondary, but Berry can’t be everywhere. Plus, with the way that the Chiefs like to run him close to the line in run support, I’m not sure he will be able to save the day when opposing receivers are running free from the rest of the defensive backfield.
All of that said, remember, this is just the preseason. Still, if you’re going to panic about something, panic about the secondary.