What We Saw: Week 1

The QB List team recaps everything you missed while you were glued to the couch watching Red Zone

Chiefs @ Cardinals

Final Score: Chiefs 44, Cardinals 21

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs majestically obliterated the dismal, under-manned Arizona Cardinals in an opening day rout in the desert. Any worry that the Chiefs offense would be a little blunter with the loss of Tyreek Hill was quickly extinguished by a decisive 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that set the tone for Andy Reid‘s team. Mahomes looked efficient, slick and splashed a little magic on proceedings with a couple of beautifully-executed flair passes that resulted in touchdowns – the first finishing that opening drive, a lovely flighted pass for favorite target Travis Kelce to haul in for six.

 

 

Mahomes went on to execute the next two Kansas City drives for scores as they pulled away to a 23-7 lead at the half. Kyler Murray had his moments in the first half but couldn’t keep pace with Mahomes and struggled to identify blitzes from Steve Spagnuolo‘s fast, powerful defense. An early sack by standout defensive back L’Jarius Sneed on third-and-long allowed the Chiefs to get on the front foot early, taking the next possession straight down the field to double their lead.

 

 

After the half it was a case of carve up, score and repeat for Mahomes and the Chiefs as they once again scored on their first three possessions. The Cardinals gave up 488 yards on defense, including 22 passing first downs – it was far too easy for Mahomes to sit and survey his options before firing to the receiver of his choice, finishing up with an impressive 9.2 yards per pass for the day. It was as smooth as Mahomes’ gameday attire.

 

 

Meanwhile, the expectations for the Cardinals will now be tempered after seeing just how bad this defense projects to be over the season. They were dreadful in the secondary and didn’t have much joy stopping the run either. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jerick McKinnon and rookie Isiah Pacheco all averaged over five yards per carry. A frustrated Murray never stopped fighting and fourth-quarter garbage-time touchdowns to Marquise Brown and Zach Ertz were hard-earned even if they were ultimately futile.

The key takeaway, however, is that the Chiefs look in the mood for a return to the Super Bowl and looked focused on winning it all.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

 

Quarterback

 

Patrick Mahomes: 30/39, 360 Yards, 5 TD | 3 Carries, 5 Yards

 

What was so impressive about Patrick Mahomes in this first outing of the regular season was his composure, confidence and pazzaz. Mahomes had a complete mastery of the playbook, working almost seamlessly with his huddle to execute Eric Bieniemy‘s play-calling at will, completing 76.9% of his passes with a 144.2 passer rating. The superstar quarterback looked undeterred with worries that this offense wasn’t going to be as explosive, or have all the bells and whistles it had, with Tyreek Hill on the roster. Mahomes put that notion to bed early with scores on the first three drives in each half, ending the day six-for-six in the Red Zone, and adding the sprinkle of class on top with this cheeky shovel pass to CEH for the second touchdown of the day.

 

 

Mahomes made a number of high quality throws, both conventional and creative, and my favorite was this effortless short-arm floater into the arms of Jody Fortson while remaining calm under pressure from both sides. Elite stuff from one of the most fantasy valuable signal-callers in football.

 

 

Mahomes threw passes to nine different receivers and showed no signs of slowing late in the game even when up big – this has always been the case with Reid in Kansas City, he knows the best form of defense is his offense and Mahomes will be given the license to blow out teams every week if the opportunity arises.

 

Running Back

 

Isiah Pacheco: 12 Carries, 62 Yards, TD, 1 Fumble (Recovered)

Clyde Edwards-Helaire: 7 Carries, 42 Yards | 3 Targets, 3 Receptions, 32 yards, 2 TD

Jerick McKinnon: 4 Carries, 22 Yards | 4 Targets, 3 Receptions, 27 Yards

 

Is this the Clyde Edwards-Helaire we have been waiting for? The former LSU back, drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, has been underwhelming so far in his professional football career, however he broke out in entertaining fashion in this dominant showing. CEH mustered 34 of his 42 rushing yards on the opening drive so his final line is a little disappointing for fantasy managers. However, CEH ran well throughout this contest and his speed on the outside was particularly encouraging.

 

The bulk of his fantasy points came from two receptions inside the ten-yard line that both resulted in touchdowns. The cheeky shovel pass from Mahomes was one, and, midway through the second quarter, CEH gave the Chiefs some breathing room with an easy grab in the flat to walk in for his second score of the game.

 

 

CEH touched the ball just twice in the second half and sat out the entire fourth quarter as rookie Isiah Pacheco handled all the work out of the backfield with the game decided. It was a nice way for Pacheco to introduce himself to the Chiefs fans and his impressive performance could earn him more touches and, hopefully, some fantasy relevance in this aggressive offense. He showed nice feet on a number of occasions, and his touchdown run showed he has vision and a nice cut.

 

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Travis Kelce: 9 Targets, 8 Receptions, 121 Yards, TD

JuJu Smith-Schuster: 8 Targets, 6 Receptions, 79 Yards, Fumble (Lost)

Marques Vales-Scantling: 4 Targets, 4 Receptions, 44 Yards

Skyy Moore: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 30 Yards

Mecole Hardman: 6 Targets, 3 Receptions, 16 Yards, TD

Noah Gray: 2 Targets, 1 Reception, 10 Yards

Jody Fortson: 1 Target, 1 Reception, 1 Yard, TD

Justin Watson: 1 Target

 

Travis Kelce could be in for a career year…another one! The veteran tight end has records in his sights after a receiving masterclass in which he left tagging defender Isaiah Simmons trailing time-after-time. Kelce failed to haul in just one of his nine targets and hit paydirt for his 60th career touchdown. He is the clear top option at tight end for fantasy purposes and managers were not let down by this great performance. His beautiful over-the-shoulder grab for the first touchdown of the game was even more impressive when you see him go and grab it away from Simmons late to ensure he came away with the score.

 

 

This view gives us an even greater appreciation of the speed in which Kelce has to react and the physicality he has to deal with to secure the ball for the touchdown.

 

 

Behind Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman look to be the two favorites for looks from Mahomes. Smith-Schuster was targeted early in downs and worked out of the slot well. The big-bodied receiver could benefit from an increase in targets with the Chiefs – he only averaged six targets per game in his stunted 2021 with the Steelers. JuJu was methodical and efficient with his targets but did fumble the ball away just before the half. It was a shame as he had created separation effectively and was taking the Chiefs into Cardinals territory.

 

 

Hardman saw half the targets of Smith-Schuster but was targeted twice in the Red Zone, unlike the former Steelers wide receiver. Hardman’s day had been quiet until he popped up late in the third quarter with a smart across the formation run and grab at the goal line to haul in a touchdown. Fantasy managers will hope this earns Hardman a greater share of the targets going forward, however there is still enough for him to be effective as a fantasy WR3 or FLEX option in this offense.

 

 

The other new free agent acquisition, wideout Marquez Valdes-Scantling, caught all four of his targets for 44 yards but was rarely seen outside of routes over the middle when JuJu was not on the field. There was no real sign of any field-stretching deep balls but then again there was no need either.

Rookie Skyy Moore wasn’t forgotten in this rout and the second round selection in the 2022 NFL Draft ran a nice route for a 30 yard catch and run, keeping his feet well and breaking through a couple of tackles to add extra yardage early in the second half. It will be interesting to see if his looks grow in the coming weeks.

 

 

Arizona Cardinals

 

Quarterback

 

Kyler Murray: 22/34, 193 Yards, 2 TD | 5 Carries, 29 Yards, Fumble (Recovered)

Trace McSorley: 2/4, 12 Yards | 3 Carries, 20 Yards, Fumble (Recovered)

 

The good news for fantasy managers was that Kyler Murray came out of this massacre with a respectable 19.62 points (in standard Yahoo! leagues), largely due to two touchdowns thrown in the fourth quarter with the game already dead and buried. Murray endured a torrid end to last season and things behind his porous offensive line didn’t look any better today – the diminutive quarterback was pressured on a whopping 43.8% of dropbacks in the first half, and avoided defensive chasers in the backfield all day en-route to a double-digit loss, his third in the Cardinals’ last six games going back to 2021.

Murray connected with only two passes beyond 15 yards as receiving options around him were limited to young, inexperienced wideouts – Rondale Moore and De’Andre Hopkins are out and safety blanket Chase Edmonds now plays for the Dolphins. He did find some chemistry with newly acquired former Ravens first round selection, Marquise Brown. The beautiful back-foot fade on this throw to find “Hollywood” in the back of the end zone was top drawer in quality.

 

 

It wasn’t all bad. Murray will bemoan a stumble from young slot receiver Greg Dortch when wide open on a fourth-and-two play in the second quarter with the Cardinals seemingly finding some rhythm and trailing just 20-7 at the time. And despite his offensive line issues, Murray only took three sacks. Penalties were again an issue, however, another unwanted legacy from 2021.

He only ran for 29 yards on five carries, and didn’t really look to be a factor around the goal line. In truth, they were not there that often. If this is Murray’s floor, it’s not a bad one given the fantasy output. And once he gets a couple of more receivers (and offensive linemen) back, the Cardinals should be more effective. It sure helped that the Rams and 49ers both lost their matchups too.

 

Running Back

 

James Conner: 10 Carries, 26 Yards, TD | 6 Targets, 5 Receptions, 29 Yards | Fumble (Recovered)

Eno Benjamin: 4 Carries, 28 Yards | 4 Targets, 3 Receptions, 33 Yards

 

All James Connor does is score touchdowns! Well, that’s a little unfair. The former Steelers running back made a name for himself in the desert last year by hitting paydirt 18 times in 2021 and he got off to a good start despite the Cardinals being down big for most of the contest. And, with Edmonds no longer a factor in the passing game, Connor picked up five catches on six targets to bump his fantasy score – this would be a welcome addition to his game given his reputation as a short-yardage back. He only average 2.8 targets per contest in the passing game last season. Connor’s touchdown run, which salvaged his fantasy score, was a hard fought drive straight up the middle through a couple of strong tackles. It was a bread-and-butter run for him.

 

 

Eno Benjamin has taken over duties as the backup to Connor and there were a couple of things to shout about on this performance, with the former seventh round pick seeing eight touches for a total of 61 yards – it was the manner of those yards that brought encouragement, however. Benjamin showed toughness and desire and made a couple of gutsy runs to try get things going. He also ran a great route out of the slot on a third down play that Murray failed to see – it would have been an easy conversion. It remains to see whether he will carve out a fantasy relevant role like Edmonds did, but he is worth watching.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Greg Dortch: 9 Targets, 7 Receptions, 63 Yards

Marquise Brown: 6 Targets, 4 Receptions, 43 Yards, TD

Zach Ertz: 4 Targets, 2 Receptions, 14 Yards, TD

A.J. Green: 4 Targets, 2 Receptions, 13 Yards

Andy Isabella: 3 Targets, 1 Reception, 10 Yards

 

The stat lines make grim reading for Cardinals fans as Kliff Kingsbury failed to work out a game plan to hurt the Chiefs on the ground or in the air. The fact that unheralded former undrafted free agent Greg Dortch, primarily a slot receiver, led the offense with seven catches on nine looks, all in short yardage down the middles tells the story. Murray didn’t have the time or the vision to hit his receivers on intermediate or deep routes, instead reverting quickly to short throws to avoid incoming pressure.

The only bright spot was his chemistry with the underused Marquise Brown, who inexplicably didn’t see many targets during the main course of this game despite some good work early on – this deep crossing-route just before the half was a throw Murray needed to attempt more off throughout the contest. Brown nabbed his touchdown late on but only two other catches was criminal usage to be honest.

 

 

What made things more questionable in terms of the play-calling was how little the veterans were offered in a tough matchup against a strong, aggressive defense. A.J. Green and Zach Ertz mustered just eight targets and four catches between them, which is not a recipe for success. Ertz did get on the board late on with an excellent grab under heavy coverage at the goal line, the former Eagles tight end showing strength and experience to twist his body over the line.

 

 

Kingsbury will likely point to a lack of protection from his offensive line as to the reasons why this offense couldn’t get anything going bar a couple of drives late in the game. It is his job as the play-caller to come up with ways to protect his quarterback, however, who can clearly make things happen if given the right scene with which to do so. It was a hostile environment today with nowhere to hide, however.

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