The Kansas City Chiefs didn’t need to overcomplicate things in a 34-20 season-opening victory over the Houston Texans.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the star of the night. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid wanted to feed the rookie running back early and often. Edwards-Helaire was given a carry on the first offensive play of the game, a three-yard run, and it set the table for the rest of the game.
On the same opening drive, quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw a deep pass to Demarcus Robinson in what looked to be the first touchdown of the season. The decision was later reversed by referees, and the touchdown erased from the scoreboard when video replay showed Robinson didn’t maintain control of the ball. Surprisingly, this was the only ball Mahomes threw over 20 yards the entire game. The average of 4.5 air yards per pass attempt was the lowest of Mahomes’ young career. (I have a feeling we will see that number increase steadily going forward.)
As the game continued to roll on, it seemed like Reid had a bit of a vanilla gameplan drawn up. After the game concluded, it was 34 rushing attempts to 32 passing attempts. It doesn’t seem like a typical Reid-coached game, but the Chiefs' offense still scored over 30 points and got the job done.
Mahomes spread the ball around, as he has typically done since taking the NFL by storm in 2018, and didn’t focus on one receiver too often. Sammy Watkins was the leading receiver on the night with seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Travis Kelce didn’t overwhelm the Texans like he did in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season, but he still contributed six catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. Tyreek Hill added five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Unfortunately for those who thought Mecole Hardman would take a big second-year jump, it didn’t happen in Week 1. His only reception was a shovel pass that went for six yards early in the first quarter. There’s still plenty of season left for Hardman to make strides in his sophomore campaign, but some doubt has been cast that his role will increase as Watkins, Kelce, Hill, and Robinson led the way in playing time yet again.
One name you won’t see on the stat sheet in the passing game is Edwards-Helaire. For all the fanfare that was given to Edwards-Helaire in regard to his receiving skillset, he didn’t have a catch in his NFL debut.
However, Edwards-Helaire really opened things up on the ground and looks to be the piece to the puzzle the Chiefs were missing on their offensive unit last season. He finished the game with 25 carries for 138 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He showed great vision, mobility, and speed on his first career touchdown run that really put the game out of reach, giving the Chiefs a 24-7 lead at the time.
Second-string running back Darrel Williams added seven carries for 23 yards. Fullback Anthony Sherman was trusted with his lone carry of the game on fourth down, and he converted that rush into a first down. Running back Darwin Thompson didn’t get a touch in the season opener. With the strong start from Edwards-Helaire, it appears that Thompson will have an uphill battle vying for any kind of playing time that isn’t on special teams.
The Chiefs' offense loves to run pre-snap motion to confuse defenses, and that was on full display on Thursday. While the offense as a whole was less obviously creative than usual, the most delightful play call of the night came on 3rd-and-goal with just under three minutes left in the first half and the game tied at 7-7. Andy Reid’s play-calling, historically speaking, shows us he loves to draw up interesting plays inside of the five yard-line. This was one of those circumstances where he got to dig into the playbook and do something fun. Anthony Sherman and tight end Nick Keizer split out wide in a trips formation with Watkins lined up furthest outside. The lead blockers did their job, Watkins got in for six and the Chiefs took the lead and never looked back.
The Chiefs scored 34 points on a night in which they didn’t need to play catch-up or do anything extraordinary. Outside of Edwards-Helaire’s rushing stats, it was a quiet night for what many anticipate to be a more explosive offense going forward this season. Mahomes didn’t play at an MVP level, as he only threw for 211 yards, yet still threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That's all they needed on NFL's opening night, and the Chiefs started their season with a victory. 1-0. Now it’s onto the Los Angeles Chargers.