First Look: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens bring their experienced playoff team to Kansas City on Monday. Do they have enough to derail the Chiefs at home Sunday? Let's take our first look at some of the keys to this playoff matchup in Kansas City.

Opponent: Baltimore Ravens (12-4 record, 2nd place in AFC North)

Offensive Statistics: 114.4 rushing yards per game (ranked 14th), 208 passing yards per game (ranked 20th), 322.9 total yards per game (ranked 22nd), 22.3 points per game (ranked 16th)

Defensive Statistics: Have allowed 93.9 rushing yards per game (ranked 5th), 225 passing yards per game (ranked 21st), 318.9 total yards per game (ranked 10th), 16.9 points per game (ranked 3rd)

Wins: @ New York Jets (10-9), Cleveland (24-17), @ Pittsburgh (17-14), Denver (31-17), Buffalo (37-34 OT), Miami (26-10), @ Carolina (37-13), Tampa Bay (17-10), @ Houston (34-28 OT), New Orleans (30-24), @ Cleveland (20-10), Cincinnati (13-7)

Losses: @ Cincinnati (13-10), @ New England (23-20 OT), @ Atlanta (26-21), Pittsburgh (13-10)

Notes: One thing that really stands out when looking over the Ravens' stats from this season is the fact that they've played in a ton of close contests. Their overall margin of victory was less than nine points a game, and that figure includes lopsided wins over Carolina and Denver, the two worst teams in the league.

Likewise, their losses were extremely close, with a margin of just four points per game. Ultimately, the Ravens only played in four games all season that weren't decided by a touchdown or less, with three of their games needing overtime to determine a winner.

This shows that Baltimore has a definite knack for coming out on top in tight games. But it also suggests that if the Chiefs can avoid mistakes and keep the score close, they should have a chance to be in it right down to the wire.

Analysis: A few weeks ago in the WPI Roundtable, a question was posed as to which potential playoff opponent – the Jets or the Ravens – we'd prefer to see the Chiefs face in the opening round. Although I ultimately took the easy way out and said they would both be tough games, I highlighted two important areas where I thought the Chiefs matched up with the Ravens better than they did with the Jets.

It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that any team the Chiefs play will focus their efforts on stopping the run. Statistically, the Ravens aren't quite as strong against the run as the Jets are, but that's ultimately meaningless if we assume they'll load up the box. It's even more meaningless given that the Ravens' defensive line will probably be a tougher chore for the Chiefs to handle up front than New York's.

But if the defense focuses on stopping the run, the Chiefs will need to be effective in the passing game to open things up on the ground. In theory, this should be easier against the Ravens than it would have been against the Jets, because Baltimore doesn't have a shutdown corner like Darrelle Revis to negate Dwayne Bowe.

However, being "easier" doesn't actually mean it'll be easy. A great deal obviously depends on Matt Cassel. It seems to have gotten lost because of how badly his protection failed him against Oakland, but Cassel started the game looking an awful lot like he did early in the season. He was missing receivers and generally looking out of sync, including nearly throwing an awful interception in the red zone. If that's the Cassel who shows up on Sunday, the Chiefs are going to be in for a long afternoon.

Then there's the offensive line, which got absolutely manhandled by the Raiders. Their pride should be wounded after such a pitiful performance, and they need to take the field against the Ravens like they have something to prove. Incidentally, the Ravens are tied for the fourth fewest sacks in the league, so the pressure on Cassel shouldn't be quite as severe as it was against Oakland and their second-ranked pass rush.

If we operate under the assumption that Cassel and the offensive line will actually show up for the game, the Chiefs should be able to move the ball against Baltimore's 21st ranked secondary. In turn, that should allow them to find some success in the run game.

On the other side of things, one of the biggest problems plaguing the Chiefs' defense this year has been their habit of getting beaten deep with the pass. Luckily, though, Baltimore doesn't appear equipped to exploit this to any great degree.

With their top pass-catchers primarily being possession receivers, the Ravens haven't had much of a deep passing game to speak of. The Jets' receiving combo of Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes seemed like a much more challenging matchup in that regard.

The Ravens offense has been struggling of late, and their lack of deep threats should prevent them from burning the Chiefs with a big play. It should also allow the Chiefs' defense to stay a little closer to home as they try to contain Ray Rice, who's a threat in both the running and the short passing game.

For the Chiefs to win on Sunday, they'll probably need to accomplish both of the things we've described: establish the pass to make their run game effective, and force the other team to dink and dunk their way down the field with a passing game that hasn't been very explosive. Playing the Ravens seems to give them a better shot at accomplishing those goals than playing the Jets would have.

But does it give them a better shot at actually winning the game? We'll find out on Sunday.

WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Take the fan out of it. Who do you think wins on Sunday?

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