Red Zone

Halftime observations: Chiefs 20, Rams 14

Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin taunted Rams fans after scoring a touchdown in the first half in preseason NFL action Saturday night in Los Angeles. Maclin later was ejected from the game.
Chiefs wide receiver Jeremy Maclin taunted Rams fans after scoring a touchdown in the first half in preseason NFL action Saturday night in Los Angeles. Maclin later was ejected from the game. The Associated Press

It’s halftime at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the Chiefs lead the Rams 20-14. Here are some quick thoughts.

1. The first-string offense looked terrific on its first drive, a 13-play, 75-yard scoring march that was picture perfect in many respects. Quarterback Alex Smith spread the ball to four different receivers and the Chiefs used at least four different personnel packages, showing great balance. The Rams’ defense — which has a reputation for being aggressive — adjusted, though; they started sending an assortment of blitzes and the offense looked out of sorts on its next series.

2. The defense struggled while the Rams’ first-string quarterback, Case Keenum, was on the field. Period. Teams don’t show much, scheme-wise, in the preseason and that’s fine. But that applies to both sides of the ball, and you don’t want to see your your starters get shredded. The young secondary — which featured rookie corner D.J. White and rookie safety Eric Murray as starters in the base defense — had some issues, particularly on the Rams’ assortment of pick plays. It was a reminder that the Chiefs could really use a strong pass rush this year to help a young back four.

3. There’s also no great excuse for allowing 85 yards on 15 carries — a way-too-high 5.6 average — in the first half. Even though several of the Chiefs’ best defensive players (Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Eric Berry) were MIA, the Chiefs’ coaches like their depth and probably would have liked a better defensive performance. It’s just the preseason, sure, but the defense will need to perform better than this going forward. Berry and Hali will help with the run defense, that’s for sure, but through two games, there are some cracks on the defense worth monitoring going forward.

4. The Chiefs trailed 14-7 at one point in the second quarter, but the offense bounced back in a big way. Spencer Ware started finding some creases, and most importantly, Smith and his receivers found their rhythm again. Smith made two big throws on the drive; one being a 37-yarder up the sideline that was set up by Chris Conley’s terrific route in 1-on-1 coverage (he created all kinds of separation with a stutter step near the line of scrimmage), and a 20-yard touchdown throw to Jeremy Maclin up the seam.

(Bonus thought on Maclin: I need to review the tape to see what happened during his ejection, but I’d be surprised if he would allow something like that to happen in a regular-season game. He talks to opponents and plays with an edge but is a smart player).

5. With the score tied at 14, than the Rams brought in rookie quarterback Jared Goff to replace Case Keenum. Goff quickly turned the ball over on a fumble, but the Chiefs couldn’t get more than a field goal out of it due to their issues in pass protection. On the ensuing drive, left guard Parker Ehinger surrendered a sack while left tackle Eric Fisher got beat on an outside swim move by Matt Longacre, who got a good hit on Smith.

Look, this specific o-line group has its strengths. They’re mobile, smart enough and generally pretty tough. But they’re also young — right tackle Mitch Schwartz is the vet and he’s only a fifth-year pro. There could be some growing pains early — especially with Ehinger, who needs to add strength — but this group has a chance to be pretty good, either toward the end of the year or next year.

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