The regular season is here and the Chiefs’ biggest fears have been realized. Early injuries devastated this football team just one year ago when the ACL3 were all on the wrong side of the injured reserve list by the third week of September. The team’s top priority, coming into their 2012 campaign, was to arrive at the season opener with a clean bill of health. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Kansas City now has four injured starters (Johnson, Flowers, Toribio, and Lewis). Romeo Crennel believes his starting ILB and CB will play on Sunday. Anthony Toribio is listed as day-to-day. Safety Kendrick Lewis is likely to miss the opener. The league office added insult to injury when they levied a one-game suspension on Tamba Hali for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. This team could be missing three starters when the Atlanta Falcons come to town this weekend.
Game 1 was probably a “pick’em” two weeks ago. That was before the news broke about their top pass-rusher. On paper, the Falcons now look to have a decided aerial advantage. Without Hali to protect him, Justin Houston will get special attention from Atlanta’s OC Dirk Koetter. Derrick Johnson is the only other linebacker on the roster with a pass-rushing skillset. He’s nursing an ankle injury though that could affect his closing speed. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go by Sunday, but he did not practice with the team today (neither did Allen Bailey). That leaves the job to Andy Studebaker, Cameron Sheffield, and a rotation of defensive linemen who are similarly underwhelming at pressuring the QB. If Matt Ryan consistently has six seconds to throw, this team will be in for a very long day.
Brian Daboll and company will have to effectively control the clock and keep the Atlanta offense off the field. This Chiefs’ offense has struggled to sustain a drive over the last two weeks. If those struggles continue, we could very well see a repeat of the 2011 season opener. I’ve done my best to block out the memory of the Buffalo blowout at Arrowhead Stadium last year. That game is a perfect example of how offensive ineptitude can hang this defense out to dry. The Chiefs had just 12 offensive plays in the first quarter of that game. Those four drives netted Kansas City zero points. By then they were already down two possessions. A repeat of that offensive effort will be disastrous, especially against a team that boasts an offense with Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Turner.
The team could also use a lift from Tom McMahon and the Special Teams. The aforementioned 2011 opener began with several Special Teams missteps. Dexter McCluster fumbled the opening kickoff and turned the ball over deep in Chiefs’ territory. Dustin Colquitt was responsible for a short 27-yard punt that swung the field position battle in favor of the Bills. Ryan Succop missed a 49-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Compare that against the 2010 season opener with the Chargers where McCluster returned a punt 94 yards for a touchdown. That helped to secure the game for the Chiefs and set the tone for a successful AFC West-winning season. Kansas City could use a few positive plays from the Special Teams on Sunday.
Here’s where Romeo Crennel will earn his paycheck. He needs to keep his football team calm and poised in the face of adversity. Crennel will have to balance that with instilling a sense of urgency in them to play passionately from the opening kick. It’s important that the Chiefs win this game before departing the cozy confines of Arrowhead for two tough road games. This game will be won with mental toughness and a great overall team effort. We’ve seen Crennel do this before. He beat the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers at Arrowhead last year to start a three-game stretch as interim head coach of this team. Crennel needed to make a statement then, and he needs to make a statement now.