When the Chiefs moved quickly and signed Kelvin Benjamin shortly after the Buffalo Bills waived him, the assumption was Benjamin would help fill the void created by Sammy Watkins’ absence due to a foot injury. The snap counts tell a different story.
An already in-house option, third-year wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, has taken on the bulk of Watkins’ playing time.
The Chiefs’ third wide receiver, Chris Conley, has also seen an increase in playing time. Conley had been on the field for 90 percent or more of the offensive snaps in the four games leading up to Sunday’s game against Oakland, in which most of the starters were pulled in the fourth quarter.
However, Conley had regularly played the majority of snaps even with Watkins healthy. Robinson’s playing time is the variable that has changed most significantly, and Sunday he became the answer to a trivia question by catching the pass that put quarterback Patrick Mahomes over 5,000 yards passing and gave the first-year starting signal-caller 50 touchdown passes this season.
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“I didn’t even know he got over 5,000 yards,” Robinson said. “I was just playing ball. He just made a great throw to me and I ended up in the end zone with it.”
The milestone came on an 89-yard scoring pass in the third quarter. Robinson, who played 65 percent (35 plays) of the offensive snaps gave the ball to Mahomes as a keepsake.
In the past five games with Watkins inactive, Robinson has played 59 percent of the offensive snaps or more in each game. By comparison, he didn’t play that large a percentage in any of the first five games of the season.
In the last five games of the regular season, Robinson caught 11 passes on 16 targets for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Benjamin played just four snaps on Sunday.
Youth movement: Kendall Fuller’s return to the starting lineup after missing the Seattle game following hand surgery meant he played alongside rookie cornerback Charvarius Ward.
Ward started at cornerback against Seattle, while rookie Tremon Smith started as the nickel corner. Fuller plays both spots for the Chiefs, starting at corner in base personnel and moving over to nickel. Fuller played 63 snaps, matching Steven Nelson and Dan Sorensen for the most on the defense. Ward played slightly more than ¾ of the defensive snaps (50).
Ward and third-year (first with Chiefs) safety Jordan Lucas started, while veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick and veteran safety Ron Parker were moved to backup roles after having started most of the season. Scandrick did not start for the second week in a row, while Parker had been inactive last week in Seattle.
“Young guys bring a lot of energy,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Then it is just a matter of making sure we are doing the right things. You saw the enthusiasm and effort.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the old guys because they are all behind that. They’re in there coaching and helping out. They have a great attitude, the two veterans I am thinking of there. They have been phenomenal, and they ended up playing in the game, so they were a part of it.”
Parker played six defensive snaps at the end of the game, and Scandrick got on the field for three defensive snaps.
Mahomes’ steak ends: When the Chiefs pulled most of their offensive starters in the fourth quarter, it marked the first time all season Mahomes hadn’t played an offensive snap. That left right tackle Mitchell Schwartz as the lone player to have been on the field for every offensive snap of the season.
Schwartz has played every snap since his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns (2012), and he’s got the longest active streak of consecutive snaps played. That streak surpassed 7,000 earlier this season.
Edge rushers: Dee Ford and Justin Houston were each on the field for at least 80 percent of the defensive snaps on Sunday. Ford played 58 snaps (88 percent), while Houston played 53 (80 percent). Each also logged at least one sack — Houston had 1 1/2. Ford finished the regular season with 13 sacks in 16 games, while Houston registered 9 in 12 games.
“Right now, you look around the league and I get the snap count every week, very few guys come off the field,” Chiefs outside linebackers coach Mike Smith said last week. “Look at Von Miller’s snaps. Look at (Bradley) Chubb’s snaps. Look at these guys around the league, that’s just how it is. You try to get a handful here and there (for young guys), probably need to do a better job at that, but at this level your best players better play.”
Zero snaps, some hope: One of the most alarming or intriguing aspects of Sunday’s game — depending on your perspective — was the number of key players who did not play for the Chiefs. All-Pro safety Eric Berry, starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins and starting running back Spencer Ware were not even active for the game.
Starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returned to practice last week, but he remains on injured reserve with the possibility of being added back to the active roster.
“Larry had a good week,” Reid said after the game. “The other guys really, Watkins had a good week. The other guys have all been out there and going through practice, or at least parts of it. I think the week off will help us get healthy and where we need to be.”