Yesterday I took a look at how the Falcons offense, loaded with weapons, could possibly take advantage of a Kansas City’s good but weakened defense. A lot of those ideas had to do with projections of Kansas City defenders being injured, missing the game, or not playing completely up to their past level of play (especially Eric Berry). Not exactly anything too terribly concrete, but certainly worth keeping an eye on.
The interesting thing is how similar these two teams are offensively. Both teams are loaded with weapons at the offensive skill positions. The number and quality of these weapons make matching up very difficult. Just take a look at these weapons.
At wide receiver, the Chiefs have a trio of really good players. Pro-Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe is big, fast, and can catch the ball at its highest point. He is very similar, in my mind, to Roddy White. He is a complete receiver. Add to that Steve Breaston, a quick receiver who is very productive at racking up yards, and Jonathan Baldwin, another player with excellent ability to stretch the field vertically and catch the jump ball, there are a lot of really good options at wide receiver. Baldwin hasn’t lived up to his potential yet, but he is just starting his second year, and could go off at any time.
Tight ends Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss are excellent receiving tight ends who will provide Matt Cassel with a reliable security blanket to throw to, and are pretty good blocking tight ends on top of that. Check mark next to talented tight ends.
I think the real matchup problems come from players in the backfield, or at least with running back numbers. Jamaal Charles is a tremendous threat to take it to the house on any play due to his tremendous speed. He can catch the ball really well, and for a guy of his size runs extremely well between the tackles. It is a credit to him, as well as the Kansas City offensive line. They have also added a bruising back in Peyton Hillis, who runs best between the tackles, and can convert short yardage situations while also providing some receiving abilities.
Those are all well and good, but the biggest problem could come in the form of Dexter McCluster. McCluster wears the number 22 and lines up in the backfield a good bit. He even receivers handoffs on runs. However, his true value comes not from runs, but when he moves to the slot, or is split out wide to catch passes. On any given offensive play, McCluser could line up in the backfield as a running back, get the defense to leave a linebacker on the field to play the run, the motion him out to catch passes from a receiver position. In fact, the Chiefs even list him as a wide-receiver, not a running back despite his number. His immense speed will be a problem no matter where he lines up, but especially if the Falcons are forced to cover him on pass routes with a linebacker. Even if it’s Sean Weatherspoon covering him, things could get ugly.
What, then, is the key to stopping an offense with so many options? If it were a snake, I’d say cut off its head before it could bite. That’s exactly what the Falcons need to do. Matt Cassel is going to be the trigger-man for this Chiefs offense, and in my mind, he is the weakest link on that side of the ball. The Chiefs do have a solid offensive line, and it has been improved over their 2011 unit with the addition of offensive tackle Eric Winston, a free-agent from Houston. Regardless, the Falcons will have to pressure Cassel, get in his face, and force him to get rid of the ball earlier than he might prefer. Hopefully new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will find a way to blitz conservatively (no more than 5 pass-rushers with 6 in coverage) and get pressure on the KC QB. Even if they aren’t getting sacks, they need to get hits in on him. The secondary will need to both play well, and disguise its coverage well in order to trap Cassel into incompletions or interceptions.
The Falcons aren’t exactly the stoutest run-defense team in the NFL, but they can certainly get it done. If they can force the Chiefs into third and long situations, they will win the day. Cassel isn’t the worst quarterback in the league, but I don’t think even Chiefs fans would argue that he is among the league leaders from a talent standpoint or at reading coverage.
As exciting as I am to see the Falcons offense operate on all it’s cylinders and really ramp up the passing attack beginning in Week 1, I am even more anxious (and in this case I mean anxious in a nervous, slightly scared way) to see how the defense operates. The Falcons added Asante Samuel to make plays in the passing game from the cornerback position, but otherwise their only defensive addition was coordinator Mike Nolan. Hopefully he will figure out ways to get after the quarterback more effectively than last year, while also holding up in pass-coverage. We will probably see a no-holds-barred approach from Nolan in Week 1 against this very explosive and versatile Chief offense.