Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: All the Chiefs stuff, including film, plus Royals and more

This thought won’t leave my mind:

The Chiefs beat the Jaguars 40-26 on the road against a tough team in their revenge game in near record Florida heat. Half of the points surrendered came late, with the outcome already secured.

The Chiefs’ quarterback played most of the game hobbled with an ankle sprain, and something like 9 minutes with full health before their best receiver left with an injury.


Sorry for screaming. But the point deserves emphasis.

Andy Reid insinuated that Patrick Mahomes will be unaffected going forward. Tyreek Hill’s status is less clear.

But it shouldn’t go without notice that the Chiefs had to drastically change their plan on the fly, on the road, against a good defense, and never came close to losing control.

Mahomes went from attacking with lasers downfield to soft tosses closer to the line of scrimmage, and had just 65 yards passing after halftime. But the offensive line held up relatively well against a formidable rush, and they also did something as impressive as any highlight.

They transitioned from ballet to mud fight, an impressive collection of talented parts syncing well enough to focus more on ball control and the run game while keeping a worthy opponent at arm’s length. When linebacker Damien Wilson forced a fumble, the offense emphasized the effect with its longest touchdown drive of the day.

The funnest part of the Chiefs is when Mahomes is scrambling behind the line of scrimmage against the 49ers, or Hill is sprinting through the Chargers, or Travis Kelce is doing his Anthony Davis thing against the Browns.

But fun plays don’t win games alone. Good offenses need to be more than pretty. They need to be diverse, resourceful, and tough.

The Chiefs showed all of that and more in their season opener.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Green Dream at Ruby Jean’s and the reading recommendation is Bryan Curtis on how Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann’s SportsCenter changed TV forever.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and Facebook and as always thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

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You guys aren’t going to like this but here goes:

I didn’t have a problem with a single thing the Jaguars did and, what’s more, I believe this is a sound strategy against the Chiefs. And whether you agree with me or not, you should probably expect to see more of it.

The Chiefs’ offense is one big, beautiful, exceedingly fast, wildly confusing, force-you-into-choosing-between-two-bad-outcomes cheat code. It is built on speed and timing.

The simplest and perhaps most effective way to disrupt that speed and timing is with muscle. Bump at the line of scrimmage, use a little extra muscle on tackles, whatever it takes.

If you let the Chiefs take what they want, you know the result.

Myles Jack lost his dang mind, throwing a punch at the head of a man wearing scientifically advanced head protection. That can’t happen. But other than that, I don’t think the Jaguars did anything outside of what the Chiefs should expect going forward.

Like, here’s the play that left Tyreek Hill injured:

Looks like a hard and clean tackle by Jalen Ramsey to me. His weight came down in a dangerous way, obviously, but this is just as clean as Chris Jones’ hit on Nick Foles. Initially, it looked like Ramsey made a dirty shove on Hill after the play, but on a rewatch I’m not sure that’s the case.

Looked incidental to me, caused when Ramsey was jumping back from a subtle shove by Cam Irving on the sideline. This is how the Jaguars play.

Notably, the Chiefs were called for just five penalties. That doesn’t include some (including personal fouls) that offset, but still. For a team that is regularly among the most penalized in the league, this is a positive sign.

The Chiefs are the NFL’s It team. Them and the Patriots. Teams are searching for ways to win, and this seems as reasonable a strategy as any:

On offense, spread the corners in the pass game, make the linebackers prove they can tackle in space, help against Frank Clark and Chris Jones. Run clock when possible.

On defense, double Hill and/or Kelce, expect the screen, and make the playmakers — from Mahomes on down — feel something by the third quarter.

Maybe you call that dirty. I call it smart strategy.

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Well, the answer is both. I do think patience is appropriate to know more of what this group will be, but I also think the cornerback position is a place where the Chiefs can improve.

We went deep on the defense in the game column, but the tl;dr version is that the problems seemed to center on miscommunications.

That was particularly stark in the secondary, with six pass plays out of 33 that accounted for 201 of the Jaguars’ 350 yards.

I would assume those types of mistakes will diminish as the season goes on. If they don’t, the Chiefs have much bigger problems.

So, that’s part of it.

I also — and this is just first impression, without the benefit of the All-22 — thought the pass rush could’ve been better. I rewatched the broadcast feed, and while there were a lot of snaps with Frank Clark doubled, it wasn’t quite as often as I thought watching live.

Anyway, fixing those problems will go a long way in helping the cornerbacks. But two truths will remain:

First, playing cornerback in today’s NFL is hard, man. Receivers are faster than ever, and the rules favor the offense more than ever. Playing the position is a bit like trying to hit a baseball. Failure is part of job description. The other side has the advantage.

Second, if the Chiefs are serious about maximizing their Super Bowl chances this year they have to be open to improving that position through trade.

Their biggest rival in the AFC will line up Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, and Julian Edelman against Kendall Fuller, Bashaud Breeland and Morris Claiborne/Charvarius Ward.

That starts to look a lot different if the Chiefs are able to, say, bring Xavien Howard along. If the reports are true that he doesn’t want out of Miami, and the Dolphins won’t listen, the move is to lay in the weeds for a few weeks and target an underperforming team with a good cornerback.

Kick the tires on Patrick Peterson, again. Maybe the Lions struggle and Darius Slay is available. Trumaine Johnson, perhaps. Whatever. Some GM will be facing a disappointing season, and could be talked into moving a good corner for the right price.

If that happens, the Chiefs should be positioned to be that partner.

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Man, LeSean McCoy did look faster and more explosive than I expected at this point in his career — after his yards per carry dipped from 5.4 to 4.0 to 3.2.

He runs with a bit of a different style than Damien Williams. McCoy appeared much more north-south, quick to the holes. Less juking and more quick hits.

That said, watch these two runs. McCoy is well downfield before a defender is close:

That’s two rushes for 44 yards. NFL Game Pass didn’t yet have video of his 19-yard run late with the Chiefs killing clock, but this is more than half his total and it’s largely a credit to play calling and blocking.

I don’t mean to suggest that McCoy should receive no credit here. He sees the holes and hits them, after all. Reid knows McCoy’s game better than any coach in the league, and perhaps he’s intentionally calling certain plays with that style in mind.

My point here is that playing running back for the Chiefs is a little like being in charge of customer experience at Disney World. You’re going to get a lot of credit for the culture and priorities that have already been established.

That doesn’t diminish the question. My belief is the Chiefs were going to be fine at running back before they signed McCoy, but obviously they are fine-er with him. It’s another playmaker, and at this point in McCoy’s career there is little question the Chiefs are positioned to get his best.

That’s an important distinction, too. He’ll be much better for the Chiefs than he would’ve been for the Bills. I made this point on the SportsBeat KC podcast* but there was a moment in the second half that stood out to me with the running backs.

*I hope you guys are listening, by the way. We’re prioritizing that space in a new way, with Blair leading the way. If you like it please give us a rating and review.

Damien Williams had just juked two Jaguars defenders so thoroughly that they crashed into each other, like henchmen in an old Batman show. McCoy came in for Williams after that play, and as they passed each other, McCoy mimicked Williams’ juke and gave his new teammate an emphatic high-five.

A small thing, but what appeared to be a genuine moment and an indication that the possibility of any personal conflict over sharing the shine of RB1 won’t surface.

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Well, they’re not the new favorites. They’ve been the favorites. And why wouldn’t they?

Tom Brady went to his first Super Bowl when Patrick Mahomes was in kindergarten, and, well, I’m sorry to interrupt but I have to get this off my mind.

This is what Brady looked like in the postgame on Sunday:

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Does that look like a knockoff Mahomes haircut to anyone else? The jacket is strong, but am I the only one seeing this?

Where was I again?

Right, anyway, Brady has played in four of the last five Super Bowls and won three. The Patriots beat the Chiefs twice last year, including at Arrowhead in the playoffs.

I think you’re referring to the signing of Antonio Brown, which obviously makes them better, but they were always the favorite.

Now, I don’t think they’re unbeatable, if that’s what you’re implying. The Steelers may be an absolute wreck this year. If nothing else, Mike Tomlin was overmatched against Bill Belichick on Sunday night.

The Patriots, per usual, will be a hard team to figure this year. Their next seven games are at the Dolphins, vs. the Jets, at the Bills, at Washington, vs. the Giants, at the Jets, and vs. the Browns.

Tell me when they’ll be challenged over that stretch?

Against the Browns, maybe, if they figure it out?

I’m assuming they’ll lose one of those games, because that seems to be the pattern, but the pattern also says the unexpected loss will indicate nothing about what the Patriots will be in January.

The Patriots lost to the Jaguars and Lions last September and then won the Super Bowl.

They were blown out by the Chiefs in the season and home opener in 2017, then won the AFC.

They were shut out by the Bills in the fourth game of 2016 — without Brady, but still: the Bills! — and won the Super Bowl.

This is what the Patriots do. I digress. Again.

The Patriots remain the hurdle the Chiefs and everyone else in the AFC must clear. I do believe the Ravens are going to be a problem, but the regular season could be as much about whether the AFC Championship game is at Arrowhead or Gillette as anything else.

If that’s the way it goes, then the regular season game is at Gillette is a major advantage, obviously.

The Chiefs will need to find a way to bother Brady at least a little, and not start so slow offensively like they did in each of the two games last season.

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The reasons to worry, in order:

  • Patrick Mahomes’ health (this is always No. 1).
  • Tyreek Hill’s health.
  • The cornerbacks.
  • The pass rush.

That’s basically it. The whole list. And I’m putting the pass rush last here for a few reasons.

Frank Clark and Chris Jones are Tier 2 pass rushers. They are as good as anyone in the league after Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald and depending on health J.J. Watt. The Jaguars appeared to have a sound plan against the Chiefs, which focused largely on doubling and/or chipping Clark and Jones and getting the ball out quickly.

If an offense prioritizes protection over everything else, then the pass rush is essentially shut out. The Jags did that by moving the pocket at times, getting the ball out quickly with short routes, and providing extra help on Clark and Jones.

Here is a good example of a play call that’s difficult to rush against. The Jags suck the Chiefs’ rush to the right with play action, then move Gardner Minshew back to the left. Clark is blocked by the tight end, which puts him in a no-win spot: leave the tight end for the quarterback and a relatively simple 7-yard completion is open behind him.

That said, the pass rush had opportunities. This is one of the biggest misses, a 3rd-and-18 in which Jones has one man to beat. He does it, too, with power and hands. He grabs the jersey of Nick Foles, but can’t complete the tackle. Foles earns the extra fraction he needed to convert the first down.

The 69-yard completion to D.J. Chark on Charvarius Ward is another good example. The linebackers and safety Tyrann Mathieu bit on the play action. The Jags went max protect here, keeping the back and tight end in to help, but they really didn’t need it.

Minshew had plenty of time, even with five Chiefs rushers essentially single blocked. Ward didn’t bump Chark enough at the line, and without safety help was beat deep.

There’s a lot of blame to go around on this play. But the way the Chiefs are built they simply cannot allow the quarterback to have that much time. Watch Minshew when he throws. There’s still nobody close. He could’ve held onto it even longer.

Now, it wasn’t all bad. Jones was a blink away from a sack on Foles’ touchdown pass, hitting the quarterback hard enough to cause injury. Emmanuel Ogbah had a sack, and Clark was enough of a problem to cause a few holding penalties.

But there were too many opportunities for the Chiefs. The cornerbacks are going to need more help from the pass rush.

One thing I wonder about. We’ve talked a lot about how this is all new, and the guys will have a better understanding of the scheme as the season goes along. You will inevitably hear them talk about playing free at some point, of simply attacking and not thinking.

When that happens — presumably with more stunts at the line of scrimmage than we saw Sunday — the Chiefs will be closer to what Spagnuolo wants to be on defense.

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That’s the optimist’s version and, I suppose, in some ways similar to my running theory that the defense will improve as the scheme more fully sets.

You might be right, too. The logic is there.

My hesitation, though, is that I don’t believe Hill’s presence is an impediment to Hardman’s growth. In some ways, I believe it’s an important benefit.

Hill is, by all accounts, a good teammate. He’s team first and cares about the broader product more than his individual shine. He is available to Hardman for advice, and those answers come from someone uniquely qualified to give it: a supernaturally fast receiver who was once a rookie in this system. A Georgian, to boot.

One thing Reid has always done well is to understand the different metabolisms for different guys. Reid offers bite-sized chunks of the playbook and philosophy. Once those digest, he offers more.

The pattern repeats until Hill has gone from return specialist to part-time receiver to full-time receiver to star.

If he’s out for a month or two, particularly this early in the season, the risk is there that Hardman will be forced into speeding through the process. He’s smart and committed, so maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

But I keep thinking about this: it’s an unplanned disruption to a system that’s operated with terrific results.

In the broader picture, this is probably nitpicking. Even if Hill misses — I’m just spitballing! — five games the offense will score plenty. Hardman will come along at his own speed, but this figures to be a playoff team no matter what. The question isn’t what this looks like in Week 8 or Week 12 but what it looks like in the divisional round of the playoffs and beyond.

My guess is that the effect of Hill’s injury — again, assuming he’s back — will be minimal and you’re right that there could be a hidden benefit here.

I’m just saying there is a potential harm, too.

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Nachos, thank you very much, and I will add: it was quite warm in the press box. Mid to even upper 70s, in fact, with some direct sun exposure.

To be real, that’s the hottest football game I can remember. The heat was over 100 degrees on the field, hot enough that it virtually melted Star photographer Jill Toyoshiba’s phone, cutting short the pregame Facebook Live by Blair and Vahe.

It’s a credit to the players and training staffs that the heat did not seem to have a major impact on the field. I know that’s easy for me to say — the queso on those nachos was Pro Bowl caliber — and I can’t imagine being a defensive lineman on a day like that. But LeSean McCoy was the only Chief to cramp.

I mentioned these scenes on Twitter, but just to emphasize the heat:

Chris Jones was born and raised in Mississippi but refused to wear the suit he packed after the game, saying, “It’s way too hot for this shiny thing.” And a Chiefs employee seemed genuinely relieved in telling me he’d already checked the forecast for Oakland next week, and the predicted high is 74 degrees.

I do think the advantage for the Jaguars in the heat had been overstated by some. It gets hot in Kansas City, too, and stretches of training camp were miserable. Most of these guys grew up in the South, anyway.

But, still. Worth mentioning. Both teams did a good job managing a brutal afternoon.

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You asked about the best thing, not what’s feasible, so:

Demolish Kauffman Stadium and in its place build The New Arrowhead.

A decision will have to be made about whether to mimic what the Yankees have done and try to build a bigger and modernized version of the old place — in this case, most obviously, keeping the curves of the stadium’s shoulders and the football shaped video boards — or going more like the Cowboys or Falcons and simply building the badass-est new stadium possible.

The Chiefs tie themselves to their history more than most franchises, so my guess is they’d prefer the former, but if it’s determined that the latter would bring in more revenue then their preference would change.

But no matter what the new stadium would look like here’s the important part: the new Arrowhead would gain land the Chiefs could use to build the sort of retail or multiuse business park that could generate more money.

I’m thinking specifically of Gillette here, which is neighbored by a shopping mall with a movie theater and all kinds of other businesses. The Rams’ new stadium will be similar.

The idea is for NFL teams to expand their scope, and be able to generate money on non-gamedays and more money on gamedays. You can make the easy joke about Taco Bell being the only development around the sports complex, but that actually proves the point.

Maybe the development has to be intentional and incorporated into the design of the stadium and complex.

Now, doing something like this would bring up all sorts of relevant questions. Would the tax money the Chiefs would ask for be worth it? How much of the potential economic impact would just be displaced spending from people who otherwise would be shopping at Power & Light or the development around I-70 and I-470 among other places?

And why exactly are cities continuing to bend over for the private and foolproof businesses that are NFL teams?

But, you asked for the best thing. And I think that’s the best thing.


I also believe some within the organization are ready to move on from Arrowhead, and play in a stadium better suited for the 21st century and a more effective vehicle in pushing the Chiefs closer to the top half and even top third of local revenue in the league.

*ends whisper*

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A list? A list!

First, you’re assuming the Royals are contenders in 2021, which is best-case. My thought is that 2021 will be a bit like 2012, which was a giant disappointment at the time but proved to be a learning step toward a winning record in 2013 and playoff run in 2014.

But, anyway, it’s your question so:

Catcher: Cam Gallagher or Meibrys Viloria. Best-case scenario is they are competing for the backup job behind a young stud like MJ Melendez or Sebastian Rivero. But that’s very optimistic at the moment.

First base: Ryan O’Hearn. There’s a lot to like about O’Hearn, and I do think he hits into some bad luck, but at some point you have to produce. There is also the chance that the Royals will have Sal Perez as the regular first baseman in a few years.

Second base: Whit Merrifield. An emphatic yes, unless the right trade offer comes along.

Shortstop: Adalberto Mondesi. An emphatic and unqualified yes.

Third base: Hunter Dozier: the optimist says yes, the realist says he’ll be pushing 30 in a few years and it’s fair to ask for another season to know whether this is real.

Left field: Alex Gordon. Nope, but by 2021 we should be within a year or two of his Royals Hall of Fame induction.

Center field: Bubba Starling. He’s shown himself to be what the front office expected: really good defensively, and a significant work-in-progress offensively. He’ll get another long look next year, but the Royals can’t count on this quite yet.

Right field: Jorge Soler. I’d explore a trade, but assuming the bat is real — and I’ve seen enough to believe it is — he would be a valuable piece in the middle of the lineup as a DH and occasional outfielder.

Now, doing the list like this doesn’t include room for Nicky Lopez and Brett Phillips. The best version of the Royals’ future has Lopez at second base and Merrifield in whatever spot his versatility best serves. Phillips has shown some nice moments but is hitting just .171/.286/.293. No matter his speed and defense, that’s not nearly good enough.

So, to review: two that you’d bet on, two more that feel realistic, and then a lot of unknowns.

The Royals have some ground to make up in the development of both current big leaguers like Starling and Lopez and O’Hearn, and minor leaguers like Khalil Lee and Nick Heath and Nick Pratto and Kyle Isbel.

And those are just the hitters.

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The opponents are subpar, like you mention, but when really good teams face subpar opponents it’s supposed to look like K-State going 101-14 over Nicholls and Bowling Green.

The notable development from this last Saturday was Skylar Thompson seeing more opportunities and showing himself to be efficient, dangerous, and the right mix of risk and reward.

Mississippi State this weekend is a much different challenge. The Bulldogs dominated K-State physically last year, and that was in Manhattan. Starkville has a reputation as a particularly difficult place to play.

This always looked like a loss on the schedule, so I’m not going to be discouraged by anything other than K-State getting Bowling Green’d.

We’ll have a better idea of what K-State is by the end of business on Saturday, and an even clearer picture once we see a few games in the conference.

But I’m not sure how anyone could be anything other than encouraged so far.

On the other hand ...

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... woof.

My expectations of Les Miles’ first season are really low. I’ve looked at this all along as a marathon, and of the program’s problems as much bigger than any first season by any head coach could solve.

But even so, my expectations are that a national championship coach can be organized enough to not burn his last two timeouts (with the benefit of a timeout by the defense thrown in!) to run an agonizingly uncreative run up the middle on a key fourth down.

My expectations are that even without terrific talent a good coach can find a way to avoid going so predictable, particularly with good receivers on the outside. My expectations are that if Miles is up for the job he should be able to avoid a home loss to a Sun Belt school that’s never beaten a Power Five program.

My expectations are that Miles should have the program beyond the point of being literally piñata’d by Coastal Carolina.

My expectations were that KU would be approaching the point where we can take the football program seriously.

Maybe that point is still coming, and maybe Miles will still be the coach when it does.

But we have no tangible evidence of that.

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There was a long period in my life when any home improvement project I attempted backfired in spectacular fashion. Honestly, it rocked my world.

My dad would be the first to admit that I grew up in a household without, um, a good role model for handiwork. Meanwhile, my father-in-law is the kind of man who built his deck with nothing more than his own hands, a hammer, some wood, a bunch of nails and some beer.

That’s a lot of pressure, and I’m comfortable enough to admit to you that I lost a little sleep when we moved from a loft downtown to a 90-some-year-old house.

I came out of the gates on fire, figuring a way to squeeze two queen box springs up a small and curvy staircase when the moving company said it couldn’t be done. I painted, stained the deck, patched some holes in walls, and I know this doesn’t sound like much, but from where I started I felt like Bob Damn Vila.

Then I hit a rough patch. Every picture was crooked, except for those that didn’t hang at all because I screwed up the anchors. I formed a habit of dog-cursing the kids’ toys as I struggled to put them together. I painted some chairs, but they chipped easier than Pringles and please excuse the awful joke because my heart hurts going back to this dark place in my life.

A cabinet hinge broke and I spent like two full days and six trips to the hardware store and way too much money to not fix it. My old neighbor literally hired people to change lightbulbs and when the smallest things went wrong — a mirror needed to be rehung, for instance — my wife suggested calling his handyman.

That’s when I knew.

She was tough, but fair. I needed to hear it. I sat a few plays out and slowly found ways to get my confidence back. The other day, a cabinet door slipped off the hinge. I acted quickly, and with conviction. My to-do list now includes patching holes and touching up some walls and I feel ready.

The next major test for me will be installing a couple Nest thermostats. If I do it without electrocuting myself I will start to truly believe again, but just in case, I’ve offered a neighbor beer to help.

My point here is not sympathy. My point here is not to boast. My point here is to just say that we all scuffle from time to time, and the key is not how often we fall but how often we get up. I lost track of that for a while and it led me to a dark place.

Stick with it, Daniel. You’ll get your second chance at that broken cabinet.

This week I’m particularly grateful for some truly stellar co-workers. We’re starting another Chiefs season now and we’re doing it with a new team. Blair is still a captain in many ways but will be spending more time continuing to develop the only daily sports podcast by any newspaper in the country.

The new beat team will be Herbie Teope and Sam McDowell, a terrific combination and complement to each other. Vahe and I will continue to do whatever the heck it is we do. These are all friends, and I respect the hell out of them. I’m excited. Let’s get it.

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.