With the preseason concluded and roster cuts being made, the scent of the regular season is beginning to warm in our noses.
The Kansas City Chiefs' preseason was a bit up-and-down this year. To be fair, an entirely new coaching staff had to integrate their playbooks and philosophy, new players had to adjust to new teammates and rookies are still acclimating to life in the NFL. That said, every team in the NFL is experiencing some, all or some variation of those processes, so to use it as an excuse would be absurd.
This Chiefs team has several questions hanging over it, as it heads into its inaugural season under new general manager John Dorsey and new head coach Andy Reid.
How Will the Interior of the Offensive Line, and the Unit as a Whole, Hold Up?
During the preseason, we saw several instances of the interior of the offensive line getting pushed around, especially in pass protection. While the tackles struggled occasionally on the outside, the bulk of the pressure against quarterbacks Alex Smith and Chase Daniel came from the interior of the line.
Studies have shown, despite popular opinion, interior pressure, not exterior, tends to be more disruptive to quarterbacks. The Chiefs line really needs to gel as a unit and ensure those interior blocking woes are shored up, going into the season.
What Will the Commitment to the Run Game Be?
New head coach Andy Reid has been criticized previously for ignoring the run game. Reid's offensive philosophy, a "West Coast-oriented" approach at its base, sometimes utilizes the quick pass game to supplement the run on obvious running situations, but this Chiefs team will need to establish a strong running game in order to compete throughout the season.
With weapons like Jamaal Charles and rookie running back from Arkansas Knile Davis, the Chiefs have the ability to feature a strong rushing attack, building the play-action game off it. They don't need to return to the Marty Schottenheimer stratagem of running the ball, then running the ball, then running the ball some more.
But they will need to be able to keep the pressure off Alex Smith, and since the Chiefs lack established vertical threats in the passing game, rushing the football effectively will help free up one matched in coverage down the line.
Will the New Emphasis on Upfield Pressure Leave the Defense Vulnerable in the Screen/Draw Game?
The Chiefs defense definitely has a change in attitude and feel this season. Added emphasis on pressuring the quarterback was on display during all four games. However, some glaring issues reared their head at times. I feel these concerns were partially due to the defense, perhaps, being "too" aggressive.
Kansas City struggled in every preseason game with quarterback contain against any quarterback with a semblance of mobility. Colt McCoy gouged the starting defensive unit twice on third down, because over-aggressive upfield pressure left the defense vulnerable on containment. No doubt, opposing teams have seen this and will seek to exploit it as part of their game plan in the coming weeks.
While the division doesn't present much of a threat in the way of mobile quarterbacks, unless Terrelle Pryor wins the Oakland Raiders job, the Chiefs do have to play the NFC East this year, which boasts the likes of Tony Romo, Michael Vick and Robert Griffin.
Teams that don't have a mobile quarterback will likely seek to exploit the Chiefs' new aggressiveness with a lot of screens and draws. Perhaps more than any other, this is the question that haunts me going into the season.
Who Will Emerge in the Passing Game, Opposite Dwayne Bowe?
The Chiefs have traded for, signed and drafted a plethora of weapons, but throughout the preseason, no one seemed to grab the No. 2 spot in the Chiefs receiving corps. Andy Reid's base passing philosophy calls for deep crossing patterns, usually out of the slot, to open up space underneath for the tight ends and running backs.
The Chiefs, however, are without a consistent, proven vertical threat. Dexter McCluster took quite a few snaps out of the slot this preseason, but his stature gives some pause. I think he will do fine there, as Reid has featured the diminutive DeSean Jackson there the past few years.
The real personnel question is, who will be lining up on the outside? The Chiefs have given the bulk of the looks to former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Donnie Avery, but Avery has a significant injury history and isn't exactly ideal from a size perspective on the outside either.
There are certainly many more questions we could be asking ourselves heading into the season, but these are the four that weigh heaviest on my mind. Have questions of your own? Leave them in the comments section below. I'd love to discuss them with you.