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Studs and Duds from Kansas City's 1st Preseason Game

Christopher HansenNFL AnalystDecember 14, 2016

Studs and Duds from Kansas City's 1st Preseason Game

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    The Kansas City Chiefs looked sharp against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night. At times, the Chiefs looked like they were in an entirely different class than the Cardinals, but it's preseason and some of what happened should be taken lightly.

    Both teams were using watered-down versions of their offense and defense, and the Cardinals may have opted for a lower concentration than the Chiefs.

    There were plenty of positives and also a few negatives to take away from the first preseason game. There were some disappointing performances as well as a few pleasant surprises for Chiefs fans.

    As with any week, there are some studs and there are some duds. Good players are obviously held to a higher standard and one or two good plays typically don't wipe away the body of work.

    This week's count: Five studs, three duds.

Stud: Matt Cassel

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    Cassel has the weapons to succeed as an NFL quarterback. He’s not going to turn into Tom Brady, but he can certainly help the Chiefs win.

    On Friday night, Cassel did everything right. Cassel was accurate and didn’t make any mistakes. It was obviously a small sample (six passes), but it was enough to remind us how Cassel led the Chiefs to a division title in 2010.

    How Cassel adjusts to a legitimate defense that has had time to scheme and study his weaknesses will be the next test, but he’s well on his way to a rebound season. Protection seems to be a big key for Cassel, and the offensive line did a good job of keeping defenders away from him.

    When protected, Cassel needs to accurately deliver the ball to his playmakers and avoid costly turnovers. He did that Friday night. The next step for him is to make smart decisions under pressure.

    Cassel will probably never win the hearts of the Chiefs' faithful because he’s not a prototypical franchise quarterback, but he will win games with the roster in Kansas City. 

Dud: Brady Quinn

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    Quinn’s interception wasn’t his fault, but he was still a dud. Quinn was repeatedly throwing into tight coverage and even double coverage. At some point you have to ask yourself why a quarterback would keep throwing to players that were clearly covered.

    Quinn was the victim of a drop and an interception that should be counted against his receiver, but against the Cardinals’ No. 2 defense you would expect Quinn to be more efficient and able to find the open receiver.

    If Cassel can do it against the No. 1 defense, Quinn should be able to do it against the No. 2 defense. Ideally the backup quarterback should be smart enough to know he needs to come in and be smart with the football. Quinn threw the ball recklessly, and the Chiefs need to figure out how to get him to make better decisions. 

Stud: Dexter McCluster

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    Perhaps no player in recent memory has switched positions more than Dexter McCluster, from running back to wide receiver to running back and back to wide receiver.

    On Friday night, McCluster showed just how much progress he’s been able to make as a receiver. McCluster got open several times, and Cassel delivered the ball to him for an easy 45 yards on three receptions.

    With all the talk about Dwayne Bowe’s holdout, Jonathan Baldwin’s development and Jamaal Charles' and Tony Moeaki’s return, few have recognized McCluster.

    McCluster’s workload expanded when Charles was injured, but the Chiefs clearly didn’t want to lose his production when Charles returned. It’s always a bad idea to have a good player sitting behind a better player, so the Chiefs did the best possible thing and moved McCluster back to receiver despite an impressive 4.5 yards per carry as a running back last season.

    McCluster is also not the biggest guy, and the Chiefs needed a bruiser to pair with Charles more than they needed a shifty slasher. Peyton Hillis was the perfect match and solidified McCluster’s move back to receiver, and the emergence of the other young running backs should eliminate the need for another position change.

    It helps that McCluster was able to double his reception total despite playing running back last season. If the first preseason game is any indication, he’ll be able to get open underneath and it will not be easy for a safety or linebacker to cover him.

    The classic rule is that a receiver will break out in year three, and that might even apply to McCluster who has changed positions twice. With defenses focusing on Charles and the other receivers, McCluster has a golden opportunity to carve out a niche for himself on offense. For a player who is learning how to consistently beat single coverage, he could be in line for a big year.

Dud: Jon Baldwin

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    Jon Baldwin had only one target on Friday night. It’s too bad he was a dud, because the fans are excited to see the progress he’s made during training camp. Guess it will have to wait until Saturday night.

    Baldwin is more of a dud for not getting the opportunity than anything he did, although a leaping grab between two defenders would have been nice.

    Without seeing the hype for themselves, the fans are likely to sit idly on the sidelines and wait to see if the hype is merited or if Baldwin is just the latest example of training-camp fodder.

    It’s surprising the Chiefs didn’t try to feed a couple passes to Baldwin early to legitimize the hype and satisfy the crowd, but there’s still plenty of time.

Stud: Cyrus Gray

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    The Chiefs have Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis, and unless there is an injury there won’t be many carries for a third running back. On Friday, Shaun Draughn was the third running back and even got a few carries with the first team.

    Draughn started strong, when the offensive line was still handling the Cardinals defensive front. Once the reserves came in, Draughn has a little trouble finding running room.

    While Draughn made some plays early that will have Chiefs fans talking, it was Cyrus Gray who had a really nice game. While most fans probably were enjoying a nap, Gray was running around defenders.

    Gray displayed great patience and found the late-developing running lanes that Draughn could not find late in the game. Next week, the Chiefs should give Gray the carries they gave to Draughn and see what he can do with them.

    Either way, the Chiefs appear to have plenty of depth at running back this season and should not need to move Dexter McCluster to running back for any reason.

Dud: Ricky Stanzi

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    With Quinn’s performance on Friday, Stanzi had a golden opportunity and blew it. Stanzi completed just two passes in seven attempts and had a fumble on Friday night.

    Stanzi is running out of opportunities to beat out Brady Quinn. Even a tie would go to Quinn because of his familiarity with Romeo Crennel.

    If Quinn performs poorly again, Stanzi needs to play extremely well and also demonstrate that he will take care of the ball in order to push Quinn for the No. 2 quarterback spot. 

Stud: Starting Offensive Line

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    What a difference a year makes. The Chiefs exchanged Barry Richardson for Eric Winston at right tackle and reserve guard Rodney Hudson took over at center for retiring veteran center Casey Wiegmann. The offensive line looks infinitely more impressive than it did last season. It’s early, but the early returns are good.

    The offensive line kept Matt Cassel clean and opened up plenty of holes for the running backs. Peyton Hillis isn’t exactly a fast guy, yet he rumbled for 41 yards on four carries. Charles was finding room, and in a real game it would have only been a matter of time before he busted free.

    The test of any offensive line is if the running game can still get yards when they are down to a third-string running back, and they accomplished that task as well when Shaun Draughn ran it in for a score.

    Couldn’t have gone better for the Chiefs new-look offensive line, the question will be how it handles a defense that studies their weaknesses.

Stud: Dontari Poe

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    Dontari Poe has been kicked around like a piñata since the draft. It hasn’t gotten a whole lot better for Poe, because he’s currently running with the No. 2 defense behind former practice squad player Anthony Toribio.

    On Friday night, Poe did just about everything you can ask of your nose tackle. Poe was consistently blocked by two and three offensive linemen. Drawing additional blockers means more opportunities for his teammates. When Poe was blocked by a single lineman, he pushed his way into the backfield.

    There were times where Poe was pushed backward by two blockers, so he’s not to the level where he can beat the double-team yet, but that’s something that can come later.

    Poe let offensive linemen into his body and was dropping his hands, but as he got more comfortable he started to use his hands more violently and effectively.

    If you just watch Poe, it’s easy to see just how much attention the offensive line was devoting to him. That should open up more opportunities for his teammates. Perhaps it’s time for the Chiefs to make sure the players behind Poe are capable of making a play by inserting him in with the starters with greater frequency.

    Unfortunately for Poe, Toribio is legitimately better than he is right now.

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