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Falcons @ Chiefs, Week 1
Gordon McGuinness | 2012/09/10
While the final score says otherwise, the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t make life easy for the Atlanta Falcons in this one. At the half this was a nip-and-tuck game with both offenses clearly on top of the opposing defenses. At that point the two teams had combined for 37 points, 454 yards and both quarterbacks had shown excellent command of their offense. Costly turnovers in the second half set the Chiefs back however, and allowed the Falcons to set up what proved to be an unassailable lead by the end of the third quarter.
Despite the score line, there were reasons to be cheerful and fearful for both teams as the season begins, with one performance in particular exciting Atlanta fans more than the rest. The Chiefs had their own players who stood out, so with that in mind let’s take a look at the key performances from both sides in this Week 1 matchup.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Keeping up with the Jones
After an impressive rookie season, much was expected of wide receiver Julio Jones heading into 2012 and his Week 1 performance (+4.3) would suggest he isn’t going to disappoint. Reeling in six of nine passes thrown his way, with no drops, he finished the game averaging 18 yards per catch and two touchdowns. His big play ability was evident on both scores, as he made a Kansas City defender miss each time. It was a dominant start to the season from the former sixth-overall draft pick, as he took advantage of Kansas City’s defensive backs affording him far too much room on his way to a big day. If he can maintain this form more consistently in 2012 than in his rookie season, we will be talking about Jones plenty this season.
Making the Three-Down Role His Own
With Curtis Lofton now in New Orleans, Stephen Nicholas (+4.0) has the opportunity to make a name for himself in a three-down role and, based on this game, it’s an opportunity he’s ready to grasp with both hands. Outshining teammate Sean Weatherspoon (+2.7), who was our fifth-highest graded 4-3 outside linebacker a year ago, he finished the game with six defensive stops against the run. Targeted eight times in coverage he did give up five receptions, but made up for it with an interception off a horrible Matt Cassel (+2.6) pass on 3rd-and-1 with 14:52 left in the game. If he can put in more performances like this one, where he made some good plays and limited his mistakes, he’ll go a long way to making Falcons fans forget all about Lofton.
Trouble in the Slot
It wasn’t all good news for Atlanta at Arrowhead, however. Finishing the game without a single positively graded play, Dunta Robinson (-4.0) struggled from the slot. He gave up a reception on all four occasions he was targeted, and allowed an average of 14 yards per catch. He didn’t fare much better against the run, with a grade of -1.4 in that area. It was his struggles against Dexter McCluster (+2.6) that showed most however, as he missed a tackle on both receptions to the Chiefs’ slot man, and gave up a first down on both occasions. Much was made about Atlanta acquiring Asante Samuel (+0.2) in the offseason, giving the Falcons a fearsome set of corners. However, this display from Robinson and the injury to Brent Grimes, makes you reconsider this altogether.
Kansas City – Three Performances of Note
Improvement from Cassel
It’s easy to look at the stat sheet and put the blame of this loss at the feet of Cassel, however a closer look at his play on Sunday shows that it’s not time to start the Brady Quinn calls yet. His second interception of the game came from a poor throw and an even worse decision, but the first came from a tipped pass and he had a very good first half. He completed 21-of-31 aimed passes throughout the game, while being the victim of three dropped passes. The horrific interception notwithstanding, he limited his mistakes for much of the game and his greatest weakness to work on moving forward is ball location, his decision making this week was solid for the most part. He was inefficient in the second half and he wasn’t at the standard of an elite quarterback, however it’s worth pointing out that it was his highest graded game since Week 16 of the 2010 season and, after a horrible 2011, at least showed enough to give Chiefs fans optimism this year.
It may just be one game, but we got to see signs on Sunday that Dexter McCluster could be an exciting weapon for Kansas City this season. Looking dangerous out of the slot, he pulled in six of nine passes thrown to him for 82 yards. His best play of the game came on 2nd-and-9 with 12:35 left in the third quarter. Working against Robinson in the slot, he made the reception in front of the cornerback 14-yards downfield before spinning free from him and using great balance to gain a further seven yards. Ever since he entered the league fans, both Chiefs’ and neutral alike, have been excited about the potential McCluster has as an “X-Factor” in the Kansas City offense. To this point in his career that potential has only been realized sporadically, but this game saw the Chiefs make better use of McCluster than they have in the past and he responded with one of his best career games. It may only be Week 1, but Kansas City fans will be eager to see this form continued to complement the threat of Dwayne Bowe on the outside.
It went without saying before the game that the Chiefs were going to miss PFF’s fifth-highest graded corner in 2011, Brandon Flowers, as he sat out through injury. It was further highlighted however, with a poor outing for the Kansas City cornerbacks. While Stanford Routt (+1.1) did make a nice play pressing Jones to the sideline to prevent any chance of a completion with 10:58 left in the first quarter, to go along with a forced fumble later in the same period, he still gave up a reception on the other three passes thrown into his coverage. Opposite him, Jacques Reeves (-2.4) couldn’t handle Atlanta’s top two receivers, giving up a catch on all five passes thrown to Roddy White (+2.3) and Jones, including a touchdown to the latter with 8:56 left in the first quarter. Kansas City fans will be desperate to see Flowers return to the field quickly. It should come as no surprise that the Chiefs have no-one else of Flowers’ level on the roster, but the drop off without him was alarming this week with the Chiefs’ corners never looking like getting close to the Falcons’ top two receivers.
- The Chiefs rotated their backfield a lot with Peyton Hillis, Jamaal Charles and Shaun Draughn all seeing at least 19 offensive snaps.
- Derrick Johnson gave up a perfect quarterback rating to throws in his coverage, allowing five receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown on six attempts.
- Matt Ryan completed 75% of his passes and threw for two touchdowns when blitzed.
With two touchdowns to highlight an incredible performance, Julio Jones set the standard for what could be a spectacular season.