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Falcons Need to be Aware of Speed on KC Defense

The Kansas City Chiefs are bruised, battered and befuddled on defense. One Pro Bowl linebacker, Tamba Hali, will miss this weekend’s opener while he serves a one game suspension. Another, Derrick Johnson, is listed as questionable on the injury report and has been limited in practice all week. Also questionable are starters Brandon Flowers and Jovan Belcher. Anthony Toribio and Allen Bailey have both missed the week of practice and are listed as doubtful for tomorrow. Safety Kendrick Lewis has already been ruled out.

It will be up to a makeshift unit to slow down an Atlanta offense capable of victimizing most defenses across the league. To do that, the Chiefs will look to rely on the speed of their defense.

Even without as many as six starters, KC has plenty of it.

As with most defenses, the Chiefs rely on the speed of their defensive backs to defend the vertical passing game. With Brandon Carr now with the Dallas Cowboys, the Chiefs will look to start Flowers and Eric Berry once again, alongside the newly acquired Stanford Routt and Abram Elam. Javier Arenas and Travis Daniels see the field as part of the DB rotation as well, and combined for four INTs in 2011. When healthy, there isn’t any reason this unit shouldn’t be one of the best in the AFC.

For the Falcons though, a bigger concern will be the speed the Chiefs generate from their 3-4 front and linebackers. Julio Jones and Roddy White shouldn’t have too much of a problem with most defenses the Falcons will see this year, and figure to get their looks on Sunday.

Problems may arise for short-yardage receivers however. Tony Gonzalez makes his return to Arrowhead Stadium Sunday, a place where he compiled the majority of his Hall of Fame numbers. Gonzalez should be defended by a host of KC linebackers on Sunday, including Derrick Johnson, (if healthy) Justin Houston and Hali’s replacement Andy Studebaker. None of those three boast tremendous speed, but then again Gonzalez has never really relied on speed to make himself a viable receiving option either. That’s been especially true for Gonzalez during his time with the Falcons.

The linebackers tasked with covering Gonzalez do not include Cameron Sheffield and Brandon Siler. Sheffield, though not blessed with tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed, is a capable pass rusher with a sack to his credit this preseason. Siler, a six year veteran coming off a lost 2011 season, is an undersized, speedy interior player with a safety, 3 sacks and 2 interceptions in his last two healthy seasons. Both could cause problems when left without a man to cover, especially against an offensive line without much experience playing as a unit.

Second string tight end Michael Palmer could be in for an increase in playing time, simply because Gonzalez isn’t terribly serviceable when used as a blocker first/pass catcher second. Palmer also figures to be used to contend a young Chiefs’ defensive line led by Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and rookie Dontari Poe. All three are quick off the block and built to excel in Romeo Crennel’s system that essentially requires linemen to do little other than create space for blitzing linebackers. That up-tempo style could be problematic for the interior of Atlanta’s offensive line even without Hali.

If nothing else, tomorrow’s opener should be a good test for Matt Ryan and the offense. With the Raiders, Redskins, Cardinals and Giants all on the docket for later this season, the 2012 schedule is filled with many other speed-first defenses.

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