The Kansas City Chiefs will get their first taste of the 2014 season Thursday night when they play the Cincinnati Bengals at 7 p.m. CT at Arrowhead Stadium in a game where they might be grabbing fans out of the stands to play in the secondary in the fourth quarter if the injury bug hits them too much harder back there.
Like most of the NFL in the first preseason game, the Chiefs superstars won't see much action. For Kansas City, that means the fans will have their #25 Jamaal Charles jerseys on for a lot longer than the real Jamaal Charles will be wearing his. Most likely, Charles will get two or three touches in the first offensive series and that is it.
The only thing faster than Charles in this game will be how quickly Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gets him off the field after getting tackled a couple of times. The rest of the starters on offense and defense will probably play the first quarter. The back-ups will play the final three quarters.
Because the world will end in fire and brimstone if an NFL coach put together an entertaining game plan for a preseason game, the schemes used by the offenses and defenses for both Cincinnati and Kansas City will be extremely basic. Head coaches don't want to give a future opponent a glimpse at a play that might be used during the regular season. Even head coaches like Reid and Marvin Lewis of the Bengals, who have been running their respective schemes for nearly 20 years in the league, keep it vanilla.
And by “vanilla”, I don’t mean delicious Ben and Jerry’s kind of vanilla, I mean that tasteless white stuff you get at Wal-Mart for the neighborhood block party that you don’t want to go to, but have to because your spouse signed you up to bring dessert.
However, despite boring preseason game plans being executed by athletes you won’t remember in a month (at least the players in the second half of the game), your NFL owners feel great that you fans going to the games are willing to shell out top dollar to watch a glorified scrimmage in a real NFL stadium with real (high) prices.
(And ladies, while you’re at Arrowhead, remember to buy your officially licensed pink Breast Cancer Awareness Chiefs gear commissioned especially for you by the loving men running NFL merchandising. You can wear it while watching the YouTube videos of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging the limp body of his then-fiance out of an Atlantic City elevator after knocking her out with his own two fists. Rice, of course, received a paltry two game suspension from NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, who gladly suspends players caught with a joint for four games for violating the league’s drug policy. But what is a mere punch or two to the face of a woman compared to a player possessing half an ounce of marijuana?)
Ok, enough of my annual hateful rant about the two-faced commissioner employed by multimillionaires and billionaires in charge of a multi-billion dollar league that loves to fleece its fan base to pay regular price for preseason games. Let's get back to the part we all DO love - the games!
Here are a few things Chiefs fans should be watching for in Thursday’s game:
OFFENSE: Other than Jamaal Charles and quarterback Alex Smith staying healthy, pay close attention to the new offensive line in the first quarter. The Bengals might have the best defensive front seven the Chiefs will play in 2014 outside of the Seattle Seahawks. It will be critical for last year’s top draft pick, tackle Eric Fisher (#72), to play well in his first game after off-season shoulder surgery. He is back to playing his natural left tackle position after a disappointing rookie year playing on the right side in 2013. Fisher needs to learn to quickly forget any bad plays he makes and move on to the next one – something he couldn’t seem to do last year when one bad play turned into three or four bad ones in a row.
In addition, keep an eye on the Chiefs new rookie right guard, Zach Fulton (#73), who has been very impressive during OTAs and training camp. If Fulton can just play guard to an acceptable NFL level, the Chiefs O-line might end up being a strength of the team. I know … pretty wild to think about.
As far as the skill position players, running back De’Anthony Thomas (#1) might be the jack-of-all-trades speedster that can give opposing defenses something to think about other than Jamaal Charles. Meanwhile training camp standout receivers, Albert Wilson (#8) and Frankie Hammond (#85) need to move their practice productivity to the field during a real game. If they can, the Chiefs passing game can move from the bottom of the league rankings to the middle range, which would be a huge improvement.
DEFENSE: Dee Ford. Oh sure, there are many other issues surrounding the defense – the paper-thin depth in the secondary being the biggest – but fans want to see another pass rusher terrorize Peyton Manning … er, I mean, opposing quarterbacks … in 2014. The Chiefs number one pick in this year’s draft, Ford (#55) must make an immediate impact for Kansas City to return to the playoffs. If Ford can come out of this game with a sack or another game-changing play (interception, forced fumble) in what will probably be relatively limited action, then Chiefs fans might feel a little bit better about the condition of the secondary because a fierce pass rush can hide holes in the back of the defense.
Speaking of which, this is the one area of the team that absolutely keeps your Chiefs Examiner biting his fingernails to the nub when he thinks about the 2014 season. When your last memory of the team from 2013 is that Hindenburg-like disaster that was the second half of the Colts playoff loss when the secondary gave up something like 100 points and 10,000 receiving yards receiving to some dude named T.Y. Hilton, the fact that the unit seems to be worse off this year gives fans ulcers. If Bengals QB Andy Dalton drives the team 80 yards downfield for a touchdown on Cincinnati's first offensive series by completing three long passes to Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, this might be a looooooooong year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Hey, don’t look now, but if kicker Cairo Santos can outplay Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop, the Chiefs won’t hesitate to make a switch at placekicker. For a team that presumably would like to make long-term contract commitments to Alex Smith and linebacker Justin Houston, saving cap space at kicker is just what the doctor ordered. Punter Dustin Colquitt might be second on the team in job security behind Jamaal Charles considering he is the only punter in camp and is one of the three best punters in the league.
In the return game, De’Anthony Thomas will have to be an upgrade over the departed Dexter McCluster on punts. If you consider that outside of two great returns against the Giants and Redskins, McCluster’s most memorable returns came when he went untouched on his way for touchdowns, Thomas isn’t exactly replacing Dante Hall back there.
Finally, for those of you going to the game at Arrowhead, the Chiefs have changed their parking and tailgating procedures this year. In a nutshell, the most obvious change to the fans is that they will be making ALL traffic flow in a counter-clockwise manner around the complex in order to speed things up. The team explains it more on their web site. Just remember that the poor ladies and gentlemen that are directing traffic out there are NOT the people that made the changes, so don’t scream at them.
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