The Kansas City Chiefs began their title defense with a convincing 34-20 win over the Houston Texans to kick off the 2020 NFL campaign Thursday night.
Here are five key takeaways from the season opener.
A summer without preseason football was a shock to everyone's system. For players, it means jumping into meaningful games without live reps against another opponent. For coaches, it means preparing for opponents without film on players and/or coaches on new teams. And for fans, it means getting right into the fun stuff without a month of borderline unwatchable football.
While there was justifiably some concern as to how players and coaches would adapt in such unfamiliar circumstances, there wasn't much discernible difference from regular-season openers to which we've grown accustomed. Tackling was sound, timing was relatively good in the passing game, and there weren't any major mental errors on either side of the field. It's almost as if a four-game preseason is - and always has been - totally unnecessary.
There are certainly still benefits to preseason games - most notably, lesser-known players having more opportunities to crack the roster. But if the rest of the week goes like this (and really, even if it doesn't), it's tough to imagine the NFL not making major changes to the preseason format in a post-pandemic world. The plan is to reduce to three games when a 17-game season is implemented, but why stop there?
It was easy to love the fit when Clyde Edwards-Helaire landed with the Chiefs at the end of the first round of this year's draft. One game in, it's becoming easier to dream about just how good he's going to be.
The popular sentiment heading into the summer was that Edwards-Helaire, a sensational receiver out of the backfield, could be the next Brian Westbrook in Andy Reid's offense. A flattering comparison, to be sure, but it still felt as though most of the football world was sleeping on the impact he could have as an early down ball carrier, too. Anything a running back may lack in terms of size and breakaway speed simply doesn't feel as important when his elusiveness and contact balance are at such an advanced level that he's this difficult to bring down.
The former LSU standout demonstrated everything he's capable of in that regard Thursday, racking up 138 yards and a touchdown, which came on a spectacular 27-yard run. And for anyone who wondered whether Darrel Williams might take some touches away from the rookie, Edwards-Helaire not only out-carried his veteran counterpart 25-7, but also got consistent opportunities on the goal line.
Edwards-Helaire is a budding superstar. The Chiefs adding him to an already unstoppable offense is a problem for the rest of the NFL.
The Chiefs lost a key starter at guard when Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, who has a doctorate in medicine, opted out of the 2020 season to continue working with patients in long-term care facilities in Montreal. So if there were going to be any questions about the high-flying offense carrying its dominance into the new campaign, they would be centered around the offensive line.
In what appears to be the latest stroke of genius from the Kansas City front office, signing Kelechi Osemele following Duvernay-Tardif's decision may well ensure this group doesn't miss a step.
Osemele's been a dominant player for significant stretches in his career, making two Pro Bowls in a three-year stay with the Raiders, but injuries caught up to him the last two seasons and left him without a job into the summer. A one-year, $1.2-million contract so late in the offseason was the definition of a flier, but early returns suggest Kansas City may be getting the Osemele of old.
Now healthy, and no doubt motivated, Osemele was one of the best players on the field against the Texans. If the Chiefs are going to dominate the line of scrimmage like they did Thursday night - a vast improvement over what we saw from Kansas City's running game last year - no team's going to be able to stop this offense.
Houston's offseason trade of DeAndre Hopkins, which netted David Johnson and a second-round pick, felt like one of the more lopsided deals in recent memory. It may well end up that way, but that's not to say there isn't at least some upside in the Texans' return - especially if Johnson plays like he did Thursday.
After three years of injury issues and overall ineffectiveness, Johnson once again showed flashes of the player who took the league by storm back in 2016. Yes, it's only one game, and players - especially not running backs - aren't often able to recapture some magic after trending down the way Johnson has, so it's best to not overreact, but the explosiveness and shiftiness he demonstrated in his Texans debut were impressive.
The 28-year-old finished his night with 77 rushing yards on 11 carries - highlighted by a 19-yard touchdown that opened the scoring - and three catches for another 32 yards out of the backfield.
Johnson's not going to win this trade for the Texans - that's impossible. However, his turning back into a big-time playmaker would be a major development for an offense that needs to take some pressure off Deshaun Watson.
Here's the other - and likely more important - side of the DeAndre Hopkins trade: the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins. The deal was bound to have negative implications for Houston and, unsurprisingly, the Texans' offense absolutely suffered without a true No. 1 against the Chiefs.
Will Fuller fared well sliding into a more prominent role, catching eight passes for 112 yards, but Brandin Cooks, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills combined for four catches for 43 yards on eight targets. The Chiefs' secondary deserves some credit for the underwhelming effort from Houston's receivers, but the Texans need more from this group.
The transition to more of a committee approach at receiver may work out over the course of the season, as there's something to be said for spreading the ball around, but the new approach is not off to a strong start. And every time Watson's let down by his receivers, we'll wonder how the team could have traded Hopkins for what it did. Again.
We're going to be talking about this trade for a long time.