The last time the Chiefs and Seahawks met at Arrowhead Stadium, in November, they engaged in a brilliant battle filled with physical play in which the Chiefs prevailed.
The rematch on Friday was, well, less so. Of course, that’s to be expected in the preseason.
And while the Chiefs won 14-13 on Friday in the second preseason game for both teams, most of the attention will — and should — be placed on the most recent performance of the Chiefs’ starters, who played the entirety of the first half.
So let’s sum it up.
Here’s a positive: the burgeoning connection between quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Jeremy Maclin. After targeting Maclin — the recipient of a five-year, $55 million free-agent contract this offseason — a mere two times in the preseason opener against Arizona, Smith targeted Maclin five times, finding him three times for 22 yards and a touchdown.
The second-quarter touchdown came on third and goal at the Seattle 3 and gave the Chiefs a 7-0 lead. Chiefs coach Andy Reid dialed up a play that cleared out the left flat for Maclin, who was lined up in the backfield and ran a little option route to the sideline, where he beat a linebacker in coverage.
“Just kind of a taste of some of the things he can do, and we can do,” Smith said. “Nice to see (Maclin) get matched up on a linebacker.”
It was also the first preseason touchdown for the first-string offense, which struggled a week ago against Arizona.
“It was better today than it was last week for the ones,” Reid said of the 14-play, 83-yard drive. “We put together a long drive, and that’s important.”
By the way, it was the first touchdown pass that Smith has thrown to a wide receiver in 594 days. Oh yes, the embarrassing wide receiver-touchdown drought spanned last preseason, too.
So yes, even though the game doesn’t count, that was a positive sign. Just like it has to be considered a negative that the right side of the offensive line — manned by guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and tackle Paul Fanaika — was bulled back by defenders on a handful of runs.
And while starting tackles Eric Fisher and Jeff Allen each missed the game because of injuries, the fact it’s a preseason game shouldn’t do much to ease concern about the pass protection issues on Friday, as the the starting group surrendered two sacks, some quarterback hits and multiple pressures that forced Smith to flee the pocket, especially after a 2014 campaign that saw Smith get sacked 49 times, the seventh-highest total in the league.
Perhaps Smith should have known what kind of day it would be on the very first play of the game, when the Seahawks blitzed and ran a stunt up front that resulted in Smith getting walloped by two defenders. Seattle was whistled for roughing the passer, but it still left a mark for a unit that struggled to block stunts and blitzes a year ago.
“For being a makeshift group, with the exception of the first play, we did OK,” Reid said. “They took a pop on that first one, but then they did better.”
Fortunately for the Chiefs, general manager John Dorsey has assembled a pretty nice pass rush, himself. Pro Bowlers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston continue to man the outside, but Friday’s game offered perhaps the most inspiring performance of fellow outside linebacker Dee Ford’s young career.
Ford, the 2014 first-round pick, looked disruptive, using his quickness to rattle Seattle left tackle Russell Okung enough to force a false start on one occasion, and using his improved power and aggression to disrupt some running plays.
Even Ford’s worst play of the half turned into a positive, somewhat, when he somehow returned to action after a scary de-cleating by Seattle running back Christine Michael on a chip block late in the second quarter. Ford finished the half with three tackles.
The Seahawks added a field goal shortly after Ford’s injury, making the score 7-3 with a little under three minutes left in the half and spoiling the shutout bid for the Chiefs’ first-string defense, which held the Seahawks’ first-string offense to 108 total yards, a paltry 2.5 yards-per-carry average and a 43 percent third-down conversion rate.
“I feel like we did a really good job,” cornerback Phillip Gaines said. “We always wanted to be really good on third downs, get off the field. I know I gave up a couple of third downs, just got to tighten up on. As a whole, I feel like we came out here and flew around and played a good half.”
But the Chiefs surrendered the lead when Smith threw an a ugly pick-6 to Seattle inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, who jumped a short pass intended for receiver Jason Avant on a sitdown route and took it back 25 yards for a touchdown.
Smith said he originally wanted to throw to tight end James O’Shaughnessy on the play, but the Seahawks doubled him so he checked down to Avant.
“I just didn’t see Wagner when I came to throw it off of him in the slot,” Smith said.
That made the score 10-7 Seattle going into halftime. Smith finished the game 11 of 18 passing for 81 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Against the Cardinals, he was six for 10 for 42 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception.
And for the second straight week, Smith wasn’t quite as good as his backup. Chase Daniel, the seventh-year pro who threw three touchdowns against Arizona in the preseason opener, completed eight of 12 passes for 82 yards and a 1-yard touchdown to rookie tight end James O’Shaughnessy ― behind a diving linebacker ― that gave the Chiefs a 14-10 lead.
“He made a heck of a play,” Daniel said of O’Shaughnessy. “He ran the route that was called, and I was able to look off the mike backer just long enough to fit it in there. I mean, I threw it as hard as I could. I tried to put it low and he just bodied it up. I’m sure he’s got a bruise.”
Like Smith, Daniel has consistently shown toughness ― he absorbed a pair of roughing the passer penalties Friday, just a week after he impressed Reid by absorbing some big hits against the Cardinals ― and has also shown a knack for the timely throw, converting six of eight third downs in their first two preseason games.
The Chiefs, however, are committed to Smith — he is 19-11 as a starter in KC and entering the first season of a four-year, $68 million extension — which makes the Chiefs’ third preseason game, at home against Tennessee next Friday, particularly interesting.
Teams rarely play their starters in the fourth and final preseason game, which means the Titans game will essentially be the Chiefs’ final dress rehearsal before they open the season Sept. 13 at Houston.
And with reigning defensive player of the year J.J. Watt awaiting in the regular-season opener, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Chiefs to improve on some of their negatives in Friday’s game ― particularly when it comes to pass protection.
“It’s been a lot of moving parts in camp, and that’s kind of the nature of it, especially with where we’re at with right now between trying to find out the five-best (linemen) and some injuries and stuff,” Smith said. “Then, you’re going against a good front — that’s maybe one of the best in football.
“So it was a good test for us. We’ll look at the film and learn from it.”