It’s a bit down the road, but for Falcons head coach Mike Smith he has thought a lot about his Week One opponent. The Falcons travel to Kansas City to start the season against the Chiefs, whom they have not faced since 2008, in Smith’s third game as the head coach in Atlanta.
Smith believes that the Chiefs’ 7-9 record in 2011 is a bit deceiving.
“I know (Chiefs head coach) Romeo Crennel is building something special there along with (Chiefs GM) Scott Pioli, and of course (Falcons GM) Thomas Dimitroff is familiar with both of those guys, having worked with them in New England,” Smith told PFW on a conference call this week. “They have done a very good job of building the roster there.”
Like others have noted, Smith felt that injuries were the key derailment for the Chiefs last season.
“They were a team that suffered an exorbitant amount of injuries last year, and clearly it affected them,” he said. “I think they are a much better team than they were last year if they can keep all the (key) guys healthy.”
But one of Smith's more interesting comments came in how he saw a lot of the Falcons in the Chiefs. Clearly the Dimitroff-Pioli-Crennel connections run deep from their time together in New England, and Smith has seen it play out in how the teams’ rosters have been constructed.
“There’s going to be some balance and some familiarity there,” Smith said. “We look alike in some ways, which is interesting.”
Some differences are clear — the Chiefs run a 3-4 defense, and the Falcons do not, for one — but Smith has a point. The two teams have invested heavily in the WR position with the Falcons trading up for Julio Jones a year ago and Roddy White in the middle of a six-year, $50 million contract. The Chiefs have used recent first-round picks on Dwayne Bowe (who is currently unsigned as the team's franchise player) and Jonathan Baldwin, they used a second-rounder on Dexter McCluster and also signed mid-level free agent Steve Breaston.
Both teams also clearly favor using a diverse run system to control the action offensively, although each have new offensive coordinators — Brian Daboll for the Chiefs and Dirk Koetter for the Falcons — who could add their own wrinkles to the existing model. Still, Michael Turner and Peyton Hillis are expected to be the battering rams and Jacquizz Rodgers and Jamaal Charles the quicker backs for the Falcons and Chiefs, respectively.
There also, of course, is one more level of familiarity despite the teams having not met in nearly four years. TE Tony Gonzalez, in what appears to be his final NFL season, will return to Arrowhead for the first time since he was traded by Pioli and the Chiefs to the Falcons, in what should be an emotional scene for the future Hall of Famer.