Kansas City Chiefs @ Baltimore Ravens – Rewind
1. Dante Hall. What else can you say about Hall. His 97-yard kick-off return was electric. People around the NFL are noticing Hall. He's a special and magical player. He has carried the Chiefs offense with his returns and the decoys he presents in the Chiefs offensive sets. Hall has to be the NFL's MVP thus far. No one player has changed outcomes of game more than Hall.
2. Johnnie Morton where have you been. With the Chiefs receivers struggling most of the season, Morton stepped up his play and made acrobatic catches to show Kansas City fans why they paid him ahuge signing bonus a year ago. Morton was the Chiefs offense on Sunday. He caught five balls for 73 yards to lead the team. But his end around in the third quarter set up the Chiefs only touchdown of the day. On the play, Morton scampered 36 yards as he side stepped Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis with a magnificent move that left him lying on the turf with the only missed tackle he had all game long. If Morton can continue to step up his game, then the Chiefs passing offense will get a much needed boost.
3. Trent Green was not flashy but he was consistent. He threw for 159 yards and completed 17 of 28 attempts. Green has yet to air out in 2004 but he was getting so much pressure from the Ravens blitzing linebackers, that he overthrew some of his receivers. The Ravens secondary was not all that impressive but Green was unable to get any consistency going on offense. The Chiefs had poor field position most of the game and they were very conservative on offense.
4. Morton Andersen made an appearance in this game. Though it was not a game winner, his 46-yard field goal gave the Chiefs a 3-0 lead at halftime. It was good to see Andersen get on the field. The field goal was huge for the Chiefs since their offense stalled on drive after drive in the first half.
5. This is starting to sound like a broken record but cornerback Dexter McCleon continues to play near perfect technique on every snap. Not only did he intercept Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller twice, once sealing the victory in the fourth quarter but he was in great position to prevent the Ravens from scoring a touchdown in the first quarter. The Ravens had the ball inside the Chiefs ten yard line when they flipped the ball to Jamal Lewis on fourth down. Lewis was so shocked McCleon was standing in his path he lost his footing trying to cutback to avoid a loss. He fell down for a loss and the Chiefs prevented the Ravens from scoring any points on that drive. McCleon is the MVP of the defense.
6. Tony Gonzalez finally made it to the end zone. His one-yard scoring catch was his first in 2003 and the Chiefs hope many more are in his grasps this season. The Chiefs have tried very hard to get the ball to Gonzalez but he has been well covered. But once the Chiefs wide receivers get more balls, Gonzalez should be able to avoid some of the double teams that he's been facing all year. My spies tell me that Gonzalez is finally at 100% after ankle and knee injuries so expect him to be a more focal point of the Chiefs offense.
7. Ryan Sims continues to be a major factor on the defensive line. He had another sack against the Ravens and he continues to clog up the middle. Though the Chiefs recorded three sacks in all on Sunday, Sims penetration and patience at the line has helped the Chiefs play better against the run. Before the injury to Vonnie Holliday, the Chiefs defense had managed to bottle up Jamal Lewis for the first three quarters.
8. Speaking of sacks. Gary Stills made a huge one at the end of the first half. With the Ravens driving for a game tying field goal, Stills beat his man to the inside and sacked Boller to put Baltimore out of field goal range.
9. Thanks to the refs for calling to critical penalties on the Ravens nullifying two touchdowns. The first was a holding call and the second was an illegal shift. But the biggest call of the game was the off sides penalty that precluded Dante Hall's second chance return in the fourth quarter.
10. Congratulations to Dick Vermeil for his 100th win as an NFL Head Coach. People in Kansas City appreciate the efforts you've put into the organization and the team. Vermeil hinted yesterday that he might stick around another year or two as he ‘feels good' about the progress of the team. His most potent statement on this year's 4-0 team was made yesterday at his post day media session when he said, "Were not a fluke." No coach you're not. Nor is your team.
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs – October 6, 2003
1. Pass, Pass, Pass that has to be the theme this weekend. The Broncos only weakness is in their secondary. Green must get into a rhythm then punish the Broncos talented defensive line with Priest Holmes.
2. The Broncos need to continue to get the ball to their wide receivers. Lelie and tight end Shannon Sharpe have been the primary targets for Jake Plummer this year. Sharp burned the Chiefs last year in both game and the Chiefs want some payback. Look for linebacker Shawn Barber and safety Greg Wesley to shadow Sharpe all afternoon long.
3.. I think next to the Raven's Ray Lewis, Broncos linebacker Ian Gold might be his only peer. Gold has been the difference maker for Denver on defense. He had his first career interception this year and he flies to the ball faster and better than any other defensive player on the Broncos. The Chiefs must not allow him to have an impact on Sunday.
4. Priest Holmes has marked this game and the one in Denver later in the year as must wins. He wants revenge. The Broncos came from 14 points behind to defeat the Chiefs in Arrowhead last year and then won again in Denver after Holmes was injured and left the game. Holmes was bottled up by the Ravens defense last week but still managed to get 90 yards rushing. The Chiefs tried very few screen plays against Baltimore because of Ray Lewis and if the Chiefs can design plays that keep Ian Gold away from Holmes, then he could have a big day receiving. Expect Holmes to be on a mission on Sunday.
5. Dante Hall can solidify a hall of fame spot if he can score a touchdown on special teams for a fourth straight game. He now holds the NFL record doing it three games in a row. If Denver has a weakness, it's with their special team coverage units. They tend to vary from their lane assignments and that could prove deadly for the Broncos. I expect that Denver will kick the ball out of bounds on punts and shorten the field on kick-offs b y sacrificing distance for height.
6. If Clinton Portis does not play this weekend, the Chiefs must blitz Jake Plummer on every down. They have to make him make the plays to get the Chiefs to deviate from their attack. Kansas City has been very passive with their blitz the past two weeks and they can't allow Plummer to stand in the pocket or allow him to roll out.
7. If Portis does play on Sunday, then they have to control the defensive line of scrimmage. The Chiefs were suckered into over-pursuing the run against the Ravens and Portis can cutback better than any other back in the NFL. The Chiefs must force Portis to run into the defense instead of allowing him to sit back, wait on his blocks and burst through the hole for a big gain. The Broncos offensive line is solid but it's not overly physical. Mike Maslowski needs to shadow Portis and ignore taking on blockers to prevent him from getting into the secondary. If Portis averages only 2-3 yards per carry, then the Chiefs will be successful. But for that to happen defensive ends Eric Hicks and Vonnie Holliday need to play better against the run. Holliday before his injury was unable to seal the end position allowing Lewis to gain extra yards. Hicks was not much better. But those are correctable items that Greg Robinson needs to emphasize in practice this week.
8. Speaking of Greg Robinson, he might be looking forward to this game more than any other coach. He's never had players of the caliber that the Chiefs 2003 roster possesses. He was embarrassed by the Broncos twice and I imagine there are some hard feelings from Robinson after Shanahan fired after two Super Bowl appearances. Robinson has a similar team now and this is a huge statement game for him and his defensive staff.
9. Dick Vermeil can't be tempted to allow William Bartee to regain his starting cornerback position. If Bartee can step up and learn the nickel package, he can be a huge asset to the Chiefs. Hopefully he's learned something from McCleon the past four weeks. Bartee is recovering from a sever ankle sprain.
10. The biggest factor in this game will be the Arrowhead crowd. They made a huge impact in the Steelers game and with the rivalry already at frenzy, Chiefs fans need to make it as difficult as possible on the Broncos offense. Last week, the Ravens pinned the Chiefs into poor field position and that contributed to their lack of success. Green said the crowd made it very difficult for Kansas City to call an audible inside the twenty yard line.
Around the AFC West
1. The Marty Schottenheimer watch is at a critical point in San Diego. The Chargers blew a 14 point lead with five minutes to go in Oakland against the Raiders. Schottenheimer had bottled up, blitzed and shoed an aggressive approach in shutting down the Oakland offense led by Rich Gannon. But instead he installed a prevent defense and that prevented the Chargers from eliminating the Raiders from any chance of making the post season as the Raiders scored two touchdowns with little resistance from the Chargers defense. Schottenheimer continues to be out coached week after week. Look for the Spanos family to make a statement soon.
2. Give Gannon credit. He played poorly in the first three quarters but came alive in the fourth quarter. He had another 300 yard passing game and his performance kept the Raiders from being cellar dwellers in the AFC West. They now stand 2-2 after defeating the Chargers in overtime 34-31.
3. Anyone who thinks that Jerry Rice is done better think again. He challenged his teammates to step up and he did just that on Sunday. He led the team with 118 receiving yards. With Jerry Porter expected to miss at least another 4-5 weeks, Rice has to continue to play lights out.
4. The only downside to the Raiders win on Sunday was their run defense. They might be the worst in the NFL. Chargers LaDainian Tomlinson ran over Oakland to the tune of 187 yards rushing and 55-yard touchdown pass. In fact Tomlinson threw his first career touchdown pass, he hit quarterback Drew Brees on a 21-yard pass in the first quarter that caught the Raiders napping.
5. Chargers wide receiver David Boston was suspended for violating team rules and being an idiot. Not sure the NFLPA will acknowledge the idiot part but Boston needs to grow up and step up. The Chargers could have used Boston on Sunday. They are decimated by injuries and Boston's refusal to be a team guy cost the Chargers a victory on Sunday.
6. It won't show up in the box score but Oakland center Barrett Robbins returned to the starting lineup. He is the best center in the NFL bar none. He has the ability to dominate any defensive player on every snap. The Chargers were unable to get a consistent push up the middle. If the team can forgive him for his Super Bowl antics, Robbins could make a difference to the Raiders chances of repeating as division champs.
7. Sebastian Janikowski might have the strongest leg in the NFL. His game winning 46-yard field goal in overtime would have been good from 66 yards. He really knows how to put his weight into his kicks. Maybe the bar fight got him off the snide. Speaking of Snide, Bill Romanowski missed the game and is hinting at retirement after suffering a concussion a week ago in Denver. Romo for all his faults and antics has been an outstanding NFL linebacker his entire career.
8. Jake the Snake Plummer continues to baffle the experts. With running back Clinton Portis inactive for their game against the Lions on Sunday, Plummer threw for two touchdown passes and completed 16 consecutive passes to lead the Broncos over Detroit 20-16.
9. Don't look now but Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie is fast becoming the most potent receiver in the Denver offense. He's become Plummer's favorite target and he might be the fastest wide receiver since Rick Upchurch.
10. Another round of congratulations for Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. He also earned his 100th coaching victory on Sunday. Shanahan has his detractors but he is one of the very best coaches in the NFL. No one is more respected around the country than Shanahan. He was the coach who finally got John Elway to play under control and he's putting his career in the hands of Jake Plummer. I don't think there is a better offensive coach in the NFL.