The time has finally come, Falcons fans. The season opener in Kansas City is just around the corner.
Games actually begin to matter this week, and the team that takes the field on Sunday against the Chiefs will no longer be playing vanilla preseason football. I am looking forward to seeing how the offense and defense take shape under new coordinators Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan. Follow the jump for three specific things to watch for on Sunday.
Matt Ryan vs. Chiefs Defense
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali is suspended for the season opener, and the Chiefs are dealing with various and sundry injury issues on defense; linebacker Derrick Johnson and cornerback Brandon Flowers have both been limited in practice this week, but the fact is, despite the injuries, this won’t be an easy matchup.
Will the Falcons’ offensive line hold up against a Chiefs squad that had 12 sacks in the preseason? This will be fundamental to the Falcons’ success in this game, and throughout the season. Hali is the Chiefs’ primary pass rusher, so his absence certainly does not hurt the Falcons.
Despite the fact that the Kansas City defense has many solid non-injured or suspended players (Eric Berry and Abram Elam come to mind), their defensive backs could have difficulty covering all of the Falcons’ receivers. If Brandon Flowers plays, can he actually cover Julio Jones? An injured, 5’9" cornerback, regardless of his talent, is a favorable matchup for Julio.
Ryan has gotten stronger during the offseason, and he had some success with the vertical passing game in preseason. Kansas City’s defense is no pushover, but with the Chiefs’ injuries, suspensions and matchup problems working in the Falcons’ favor, I expect Ryan to be solid on Sunday.
Provided Charles is adequately recovered from surgery to repair last season's ACL tear--although he’s unlikely to have fully regained his speed and agility at this point in his recovery--and providing Hillis has shaken his Madden curse/strep throat/aversion to being consistently good, this is a very respectable running back tandem. The Falcons’ defense will need to step it up, after finishing preseason 27th in the league for rushing yards allowed, if they want to contain this running back tandem.
The Falcons’ secondary can take advantage of Matt Cassel, who isn’t always the most accurate under pressure, if the Chiefs’ run game is contained. Limiting the impact of Charles and Hillis has to be a priority.
Tony Gonzalez Returning to Arrowhead Stadium
Arrowhead Stadium was Gonzalez’ football home for a long time, and he is returning to Kansas City for the first time since he was traded to the Falcons before the 2009 season. Surely it’s odd for Gonzalez to return to Kansas City as an opponent. I am expecting multiple mentions of Tony G.’s long history with the Chiefs and his return to Arrowhead Stadium as an opponent from analysts and commentators.
The other thing I’m really looking for from Sunday’s game is a win. Although it should not come easy, the Falcons are the better team, and should emerge victorious over the Chiefs on Sunday.
What will you be looking for from the Falcons this Sunday?