Monday Morning Quarterback: Bengals Are Next

After nearly eight months of preparation, coaching, teaching, maneuvering and roster turnover, the 2006 Kansas City Chiefs will open the season in five days against what might be the best team on paper in the AFC: the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards is excited about the matchup.

"I think it's great," said Edwards. "I think you find out a lot about your football team. You have no choice. A lot of people were wondering in the offseason that their quarterback (Carson Palmer) might not be there (for the opener.) You know what? I'm glad he's playing. I want him to play. I would be disappointed if they came in here without their starting quarterback. I want to see how good we are."

And that's the challenge for the 2006 Kansas City Chiefs. As I mentioned after the cuts, Edwards is a confident and upbeat man. He leaves no doubt entering his first game as head coach of the Chiefs that right now this team is not a Super Bowl contender.

Don't get me wrong. The Chiefs have what it takes to beat the Bengals, especially at Arrowhead. But where this team has struggled mightily over the last few years is on the road. We'll save that for next week's column when the Chiefs travel to Denver to face the Broncos.

For this Sunday, Edwards knows the importance of this game. He's planned for this game since he took the job in mid-January. He talked all offseason that you have to win your first game then move onto the second and so forth. That's his style, and it's perfectly suited for this year's team.

The Chiefs have the experience factor going for them on both sides of the ball. They have a good mix of over-30 and in-their-prime players that hope to make a statement this year.

On offense, Trent Green might be the most underrated and undervalued quarterback in the NFL. I marvel at the fact that he's never missed a start since he came to Kansas City in 2001. This year, he knows the offense is going to change. Without the presence of Willie Roaf, logic suggests that Green will throw the ball with shorter drops in the pocket, yielding more quick passes to the receivers, backs and tight ends.

Larry Johnson will get the rock often this season. Against the Bengals, a team he terrorized last year, he'll set the tone right off the bat. He has the pressure on his shoulders and he relishes every moment. Johnson is not afraid of anything, and after three up-and-down seasons that have produced amazing statistics, this is finally his team.

The new look of the offense is not a bad thing. Mike Solari takes control of the play calling and fans will see things that we've not seen in years from this offense. Edwards has always been a conservative head coach, but he's got more offensive talent in Kansas City than he had in New York.

But the primary reason that Carl Peterson signed Edwards last January was to re-tool and re-teach the defense. That side of the ball will determine the Chiefs' success this season. Is there a better team to test them against than the Bengals?

Cincy's offense is loaded with Palmer at quarterback, running back Rudi Johnson and the best receiving corps in the NFL led by the enigmatic Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry. They can all stretch the defense, make tough catches and score from anywhere on the field. They were undefeated this preseason, scoring a combined 131 points. Palmer didn't even suit up for two of those contests.

That's scary, to say the least. But that's what's on tap for the Chiefs this weekend. The defense is going to get an early test. Can the defensive line additions of Tamba Hali, Ron Edwards and James Reed put pressure on the quarterback?

In the secondary, the Chiefs are loaded with Patrick Surtain and Ty Law, perhaps the best corner tandem in the league. But where this team is going to succeed or fail will be at the safety position. With two veterans and two rookies, the last line of defense for the Chiefs will need to play lights out.

Greg Wesley and Sammy Knight will be asked to run all over the field. They are both solid against the run but struggle against the pass. They can make up for that as long as they punish receivers coming over the middle of the field.

Behind them are rookies Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page, who in my opinion will be starting before the season ends. They bring speed, tremendous cover skills and a hard-hitting reputation this team has not seen since Lloyd Burruss and Deron Cherry. They need to get on the field this weekend and make contributions right away.

On special teams, the Chiefs have what I think is the best trio in the NFL. Punter Dustin Colquitt is on the verge of becoming a perennial pro-bowler, kicker Lawrence Tynes is more accurate than I've ever seen him and his leg is the strongest this team has had since Nick Lowery. Deep snapper Kendall Gammon is among the best at his craft.

With all that said, this game will shed light on how far the Chiefs have come or how far they need to go to become the team Edwards' envisioned they'd be when he inherited the team.

But one thing is for sure: he'll be prepared, and he's not afraid of the challenges that lie ahead.

"I want to play against the best guys," said Edwards. "I don't want to sugar-coat it. Let's find out about ourselves."

On Sunday, we'll all find out.

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