KANSAS CITY — Good morning. After a solid 4½ hours sleep, I’m back.
Mr. Ledbetter (who was Mr. Sidebar at the Georgia-Missouri game) and I left Columbia at close to 1 a.m. CDT for the drive back to Kansas City and my head hit the pillow at 3:24 this morning. So I’m tired but not complaining. It was a great atmosphere at Mizzou and a fun game to cover (although, speaking for the entire media contingent, we would’ve preferred a day game).
Georgia started the SEC season right with a 40-21 win. Can the Falcons do the same in their regular season opener?
The backdrop for both games were similar in that both are/were slight road favorites but there are/were enough concerns to make fans nervous. The Falcons did not look great in the exhibition season (although it’s dangerous to draw conclusions from that). There also are these issues:
• The Falcons went into last season with high expectations but they laid an egg in the season opener at Chicago (losing 30-12), struggled with consistency problems all year, finished 10-6 and then got dropped by the New York Giants in the playoffs.
• There are questions again about the strength of the offensive line, which remains relatively unchanged.
• New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is expected to implement a more aggressive scheme than the team has used in the past, but questions remain about the strength of the secondary, the effectiveness of defensive end Ray Edwards (who actually may come out in passing situations) and how the loss of linebacker Curtis Lofton to free agency will hurt. The addition of Asante Samuel should help, although he got burned by A.J. Green in the exhibition against Cincinnati.
• We’ve been told to expect changes — needed changes — in the offense by new coordinator Dirk Koetter. He would be hard-pressed to do worse than Mike Mularkey, who got stuck in the same play-calling patterns every week and struggled to effectively utilize all of the team’s weapons. Expect more screen passes, an increased role by running back Jacquizz Rodgers and, most of all, a heavy dose of Julio Jones.
The Falcons do get a break today in that the Chiefs will be missing outside linebacker Tamba Hali, who was suspended for one game for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Chiefs also are missing cornerback Brandon Flowers, safety Kendrick Lewis and nose tackle Anthony Torbio, all of whom are injured. So quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense catch a break.
Finally, it should be a cool scene with tight end Tony Gonzalez, who is expected to retire after the season, playing his final game in Kansas City, where he spent most of his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chiefs fans give him a loud ovation.
Here’s the Falcons’ inactive list: Dominique Davis (emergency third quarterback), safety Charles Mitchell, cornerback Robert McClain, center Joe Hawley, tackle Lamar Holmes, defensive end Lawrence Sidbury (a little surprising) and defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi.
That’s it for now. I think I need my second cup of coffee. The cyber venting lines are open.
Welcome to the NFL season.
By Jeff Schultz
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