It’s only an exhibition, but Chiefs show reasons for concern

08/17/2014 10:48 PM

08/18/2014 12:09 AM

The first guideline of NFL preseason football probably should be like the rule from that movie, “Fight Club”: Don’t talk about exhibition games. Or dwell on them, for that matter.

It’s one team’s vanilla extract vs. another’s brand of blandness, one team’s experimentation with things it would never do in the season vs. another’s rapid-fire shuffling of personnel.

But even if everything about it has to be qualified by context and restraint, well, they do play the games.

And the half that the Chiefs’ regulars played against Carolina on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium was distressing enough to make you wonder if there actually was some broader validity to what took place.

Whatever stuff you were fretting about as the Chiefs move into year two of the Andy Reid era, quite possibly is a valid worry after the nationally televised game ended in a 28-16 loss.

Forget that star running back Jamaal Charles sat out for precautionary reasons because of a foot injury.

Pick a point of concern or apparent vulnerability that this team seems to have had, and it pretty much was alarmingly confirmed in a game also marked by its flag football.

Chiefs regulars committed seven penalties for 93 yards in the first half … not to mention several others declined and another discounted since it was one of two on a single play. It would be 13 by game’s end, a number Reid called “ridiculous.”

That’s something that can be scrubbed up, but the Chiefs sure look as if they need help they don’t have in other key spots.

The rejiggered offensive line might as well have been a turnstile when Alex Smith wanted to pass. Unless, of course, it just resorted to tackling onrushing Panthers without the tact to avoid penalties.

If 2013 overall first-round draft pick Eric Fisher really has improved with seasoning, recovery from injuries and being at his more natural left tackle position, it’s hardly evident yet.

Afterward, Reid initially attributed the line issues to youth. But asked about the line getting beaten, Reid said, “In certain cases they did. I’ll be curious to go back and look at it. We’re going to play the five best guys. That’s what we’re going to do. So we’ll find out (who) those are.”

Meanwhile, receiver Dwayne Bowe continued to rebound from his career-worst season with five catches for 62 yards, including a long of 21 yards and a resounding pounding of a Carolina defender at the end of a 6-yard gain a play later.

But Bowe’s play only served to illustrate the fact that the Chiefs don’t seem to have any … other … wide receiver asserting himself.

Oh, and Bowe won’t be available for the Chiefs Sept. 7 opener against Tennessee because of an NFL-mandated one-game substance-abuse suspension in response to his arrest last November.

So no wonder the Chiefs mustered just two field goals with their first-team offense, meaning that through two exhibition games (and three quarters of play overall) it has yet to generate a touchdown.

But at least the offense can console itself with the knowledge it was without Charles, who even in the spirit of a preseason game surely would have had, what, between eight and 12 touches?

The regular defense, though, seems another matter, even after holding the Panthers to exactly one yard in the first quarter and even with the knowledge starting safety Eric Berry was out because of a heel injury.

The Panthers then unfurled two second-quarter touchdown drives, of 66 and 50 yards, each marked by miscues in the Chiefs’ gasping and grasping secondary — which got run by a few times without having to pay for it.

A 32-yard pass-interference call on beleaguered Ron Parker set up a two-yard Carolina touchdown run by Jonathan Stewart.

Then, even what would have been an illegal-contact penalty on Sean Smith failed to foil a 25-yard pass that set up Stewart’s 3-yard TD.

Just for good measure, Marcus Cooper committed an inconsequential pass-interference penalty later in the half.

Reid also made a point about youth in the secondary before acknowledging that the job ultimately requires covering people.

Not that the night was a total bust for the Chiefs.

Surely, they got some evidence to work with in the kicking derby between veteran Ryan Succop and rookie Cairo Santos: Succop made field goals of 54 and 25 yards, and Santos was good from 44.

Surely, they cultivated some depth.

Receiver Frankie Hammond had some moments in the late-game mishmash. And on his first “NFL pass,” if you can call it that in an exhibition game, rookie quarterback Aaron Murray feathered a 43-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce.

Of course, Murray later threw his first “NFL interception,” but this is all in the name of experience, right?

Maybe best of all for the Chiefs, they had their flaws illuminated.

Unless they’re playing a heck of a game of rope-a-dope, doing something about them might be another matter.

At least until proven otherwise when the games count.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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