The Chiefs’ season opened with a 38-28 road win over the Los Angeles Chargers in the StubHub Center.
The offseason featured a major overhaul on defense as well as key changes to the starting lineup on offense. While the preseason gave some indication of how the new pieces fit together, the number of plays individual players were on the field in Sunday’s first game paints a clearer picture.
Here are some observations/thoughts on what we might glean from the snap counts from Sunday’s game. Those figures are tracked by the NFL.
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Chiefs offensive linemen Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Cam Erving, Eric Fisher, Mitch Morse and Mitchell Schwartz each played all 56 offensive snaps. Eving’s playing time is particularly interesting because he’d been listed as the backup at both tackle spots on the depth chart after having held the starting left guard spot throughout camp and the preseason. The Chiefs announced last week that they’d signed Erving to a contract extension, and playing time is believed to be one of the incentives that would allow Erving’s compensation to increase. Andrew Wylie, who was listed as the starter on the depth chart, played six snaps exclusively on special teams.
Easing in rookies
Second-round draft pick Breeland Speaks played the most of any of the rookies in the season opener. Speaks, an outside linebacker converted from the defensive line, played 23 percent (19) of the defensive snaps. Rookie defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi played 22 percent of the snaps, and safety Armani Watts played three defensive snaps (4 percent). Tremon Smith (six snaps), Ben Niemann (19 snaps) and Dorian O’Daniel (20 snaps) played exclusively on special teams. Speaks’ 19 snaps were almost twice as many as his fellow backup outside linebacker and converted defensive linemen Tanoh Kpassagnon (10 snaps).
Tight end Travis Kelce was the only member of the receiving/tight end group to play every offensive snap (56) against the Chargers. Sammy Watkins played 91 percent (51 snaps) of the offensive plays. Tyreek Hill logged 40 snaps, but his playing time got cut short because he came down on his head while making a reception. Hill had to be evaluated for a concussion before he could be cleared to continue playing. Chris Conley played 62 percent of the offensive plays (35). Kelce had just one catch despite being targeted six times. His versatility and ability to create mismatches and line up in various positions makes him a table-setter for what the Chiefs do offensively.
The starting secondary unit of safeties Eric Murray and Ron Parker, as well as cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Steven Nelson, were the only four defensive players credited with playing every defensive snap (82). Parker, who just re-joined the team the previous weekend after spending all of preseason with the Atlanta Falcons, jumped right into a central role on a defense that did not include All-Pro safety Eric Berry (heel injury).
Parker made an interception, and playing as much as he did shows how much he was needed in a secondary that didn’t have either Daniel Sorensen (knee injury) or Berry. The fact that Fuller and Nelson played every snap comes as no surprise: They’re expected to be the staples at the corner position, with Fuller bumping over to nickel in three-wide sets. Orlando Scandrick played 83 percent (68 snaps) of the defensive plays.
With so many young players in the secondary, the veterans were the only ones trusted to execute in a season-opening game on the road against a divisional opponent.
Fullback Anthony Sherman was on the field for 30 percent (17 snaps) of the Chiefs’ offensive plays. He took on a bigger role last week because he also played tight end due to the Chiefs only having two active tight ends on the roster. Demetrius Harris, the backup tight end, served a suspension in the first game of the season. That meant Sherman did double duty as both fullback and as an additional tight end along with Kelce and Alex Ellis (10 snaps). Sherman also played 80 percent (24 snaps) of the special teams snaps. Sherman’s playing time figures to step back a bit this week with Harris’ return giving the Chiefs a full complement of tight ends.
Anthony Hitchens played 95 percent of the snaps on defense (78) at inside linebacker, while Reggie Ragland played 51 percent (42 snaps). The two played in just one preseason game together while both dealt with ailments during training camp. Hitchens, a free-agent signing in the offseason, registered a game-high 15 tackles. Terrance Smith played 37 defensive snaps at linebacker. The Chargers made it a point of attacking the Chiefs’ inside linebackers in coverage on a sunny, 84-degree day in Southern California.
Last year’s NFL rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, carried just 16 times for 49 yards ... but he played 71 percent (40) of the Chiefs’ snaps against the Chargers. Hunt enjoyed a pair of big games on the ground against the Chargers last season, and the threat he poses as a ball carrier set up scoring plays to Tyreek Hill and De’Anthony Thomas. Hunt was also an adequate contributor in pass protection and as a receiving threat in order to stay on the field on third downs.