Whether it's the regular season or preseason, the Kansas City Chiefs just keep winning.
After defeating the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener last week, the reigning AFC champions beat the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 on Friday night at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
Neither first-string offense looked particularly sharp in the game.
Patrick Mahomes did see extended playing time, leading the Chiefs first three drives. Two of the drives were 15 plays each and both lasted more than seven minutes, but only resulted in three points.
The 2018 NFL MVP threw an interception in the end zone to Byron Murphy Jr. on a play that saw him draft 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
As sluggish as Kansas City's offense was, the Cardinals were a mess throughout the first half. Kyler Murray, in his preseason debut after sitting out last week's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, played two series that both ended with three-and-outs.
Arizona didn't have a drive of at least four plays until its fifth possession of the game late in the second quarter.
Chiefs backup quarterbacks Chad Henne and Shane Buechele led touchdown drives in the second and third quarters.
Cardinals third-string quarterback Chris Streveler did engineer an 88-yard scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. He hit Ross Travis on a 20-yard touchdown pass to bring the score within 17-10.
Notable Game Stats
- Patrick Mahomes (KC): 10-of-18, 78 yards, INT
- Darwin Thompson (KC): 8 carries, 49 yards; 2 receptions, 7 yards
- Mecole Hardman (KC): 4 receptions, 39 yards, TD
- Kyler Murray (AZ): 1-of-4, 2 yards; 1 carry, 8 yards
- Greg Dortch (AZ): 3 receptions, 44 yards
Chiefs Still Searching for Reliable No. 2 WR
It's hard to be very concerned about anything with the Chiefs offense when Mahomes is healthy, but there are certainly some things about this year's roster that do raise a big question:
What wide receiver is catching passes outside of Tyreek Hill?
As noted by ESPN's Mina Kimes, the Chiefs understandably focused their offseason activity on the offensive line at the expense of their receiving corps.
This isn't exactly a new question, but it's one that is compounded because of what the Chiefs lost in the offseason.
Sammy Watkins, who caught 129 passes over the past three seasons, signed with the Baltimore Ravens as a free agent. He has never been the most durable player, but Mahomes did target him 200 times in 34 games together (5.88 per game).
The most obvious candidate to step up is Mecole Hardman. The 23-year-old speedster flashed big-play potential as a rookie in 2019 with 20.7 yards per reception.
Mahomes did make a point of targeting Hardman on the Chiefs' first drive. He caught his first two targets for 19 yards, but the next two targets from Arizona's six-yard line were off target.
It wasn't until after Mahomes came out of the game that Hardman found a groove that showcased some of the tantalizing potential in his skill set.
Hardman did rank third on the Chiefs in targets (62), receiving yards (560) and touchdown receptions (four) in 2020.
As long as Kelce and Hill are healthy, they are going to get an overwhelming number of targets from Mahomes. Opposing defenses have yet to figure out a way to slow that duo down, so this isn't a big problem for Andy Reid and the coaching staff right now.
But if the Chiefs want to get back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year, they are going to need someone from the group of Hardman, Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle to step up.
Murray, Cardinals Struggle in Familiar Ways
The Cardinals starting offense certainly didn't have the performance it was hoping for in Murray's first game of the preseason.
A problem the unit dealt with last season that carried over to this game was on third down.
Warren Sharp of Sharp Football broke down the numbers for Murray on Friday night in his third-down opportunities:
Murray's only completion was for two yards to Rondale Moore on his first attempt of the game. He was sacked on back-to-back plays to start the third drive that left Arizona in a 3rd-and-23 situation.
The Cardinals ranked 22nd in the NFL last season with a 39.6 percent success rate on third down.
Even though Friday's third-down pattern does follow a trend for Murray and the Cardinals, there is another possible explanation for the first-string offense having a lethargic performance.
Murray gave his honest thoughts on the preseason leading up to this game against the Chiefs.
"(The preseason) is not real," Murray told reporters on Tuesday. "I see it as, you go out and play well – it's not real. You play bad, you have a bad taste in your mouth. But at the end of the day, it's live reps. You take something away from it, but it doesn't count. That's how I feel about it."
It's certainly plausible that Murray wasn't going to go all-out in this exhibition game. But given that one of the biggest problems for the offense in 2020 continued to look like an issue on Friday night, there is a reason to be concerned going forward.
Murray has proven himself to be wildly talented in two NFL seasons. He threw for 3,971 yards, ran for 819 yards and accounted for 37 touchdowns in 2020. The 24-year-old needs to get more consistent from week to week for the Cardinals to end their six-year playoff drought, though.
This game against the Chiefs was the first hurdle in a marathon of the 2021 season for Murray. It wasn't the best look for him, but it at least gives the young quarterback and head coach Kliff Kingsbury more things to work on during practice.