An NFL team’s third exhibition game is usually the dress rehearsal and the preseason’s closest simulation to a regular-season game.
But when the Chiefs visit Pittsburgh on Saturday night, don’t expect Chiefs coach Andy Reid to add much whipped cream or chocolate sauce to the vanilla that flavored the losses to New Orleans and San Francisco.
While the Chiefs actually prepared and did some game-planning for Saturday night’s game by practicing against the Steelers’ schemes, right down to the kicking game, it’s still going to be basic football 101. Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton will keep the frills and flourishes tucked inside the playbook until the Sept. 8 regular-season opener at Jacksonville.
“We’re going to keep it as simple as we can, but still work on our execution,” Reid said after the club wrapped up preparation on Thursday for Saturday’s game. “It’s a long season … I don’t think anybody in the league goes out and shows everything they’ve got.
“But at the same time, you want to make sure you execute well, and I’m sure Pittsburgh feels the same way.”
Unlike the previous two weeks, when Reid outlined how deep into the game his starters would go, and how he would rotate the quarterbacks, he was non-committal for this one.
“I’ve done different things (in the third game)…,” Reid said of his 14 years when he was head coach of the Eagles. “I’ll get a feel of the game, and we’ll see how it goes. It won’t be just the first series … they’ll get more work.”
At New Orleans, the Chiefs’ first units played one series. The offense mounted a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive before calling it a night; the first unit on defense left the game after six plays. Last week against San Francisco, both starting units played the entire first half, even after the 49ers pulled their regulars.
So far, the touchdown on the opening drive of the game at New Orleans is the only one the Chiefs’ offense has produced.
Quarterback Alex Smith has been confined to throwing swing passes and screens to his backs and shallow routes to his wide receivers and tight ends. Smith’s longest completion has been 17 yards, to running back Knile Davis, and the only time he went downfield was against San Francisco. Jon Baldwin dropped the throw and was traded less than 72 hours later.
Smith and his backups have not had a lot of protection and were sacked seven times by the 49ers — Smith three times, Chase Daniel three times and Tyler Bray once —and after the game, Smith cited some communication issues.
There is also an inexperience issue. Center Rodney Hudson is in his second season as a starter; left guard Jeff Allen is in his second year; right guard Jon Asamoah is in his third season as a starter; and right tackle Eric Fisher is a rookie who is battling some injury issues. Also, Davis, who started last week in place of Jamaal Charles, had difficulty with blitz pickups.
Left tackle Branden Albert, the veteran of the group, said the new offense is the “hardest” one of the four he’s had to learn during his six seasons in Kansas City, so imagine how difficult it’s been for the younger linemen.
“There are a lot of nuances and detailed things on every play you’ve got to remember,” Albert said. “You’ve got to know what everybody is doing, so you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, you hesitate, and if you don’t play fast, that’s when things happen, and you can’t do your job.
“This is an important game, to see where you’re at. The Steelers are a good defensive team, a good team, period. It’s a good test to measure ourselves.”
While Smith would like to open up the offense, he knows there’s a balance between the Chiefs taking the wraps off and not showing their hand.
“You’d love to win all these preseason games, but in the end, the development, the execution on the field is the most important thing,” Smith said. “Yeah, we want to win every game, but in the end, no one remembers the scores of these games. For us, it’s a progression toward opening day, and it’s to continue to take steps.
“Yeah, we are game-planning this and we’re treating this like a dress rehearsal, and whatever gets called, we have to execute and make it work. But all of our vision and direction is for Jacksonville. I want to start 1-0.”