Last year Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis nearly broke the NFL rushing mark. This year he faces a similar challenge but off the field legal issues might prevent the All-Pro back from nearing that NFL watershed mark. Instead he's focused on being the only viable offensive threat to one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Chiefs fans are not happy with their offense but the Ravens offense is relying on second year quarterback Kyle Boller who has done nothing to show he can adjust to the NFL after a standout career at California. That should be to the Chiefs advantage.
The Ravens will be without tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Travis Taylor. Journeyman Kevin Johnson and third year receiver Randy Hymes will have to make a few plays or the Chiefs could stack as many as nine defenders in the box.
The advantage the Chiefs have in facing Lewis is he's not a cutback runner. He has great speed and power once he pops through the hole but he's not going to reverse his field between the tackles. The Chiefs for the most part were able to contain him last year when the two teams faced off in 2003 in Baltimore.
In fact, the Ravens game was probably the teams' best defensive performance in 2003. They were physical and forced the Ravens to throw the ball and that's what the Chiefs have to do Monday Night. Boller has been so-so this year. He's not playing behind a great offensive line. He's been sacked seven times in three games despite the fact the Ravens have Jonathan Ogden and Orlando Brown. This means the Chiefs if they are aggressive can bring heat up the middle and force Boller to make plays.
Boller has only thrown one touchdown and has been intercepted twice in three games this season. Last year the Chiefs picked off three Boller passes because they were able to shut Lewis down. Even further Boller is only averaging 138 yards passing per game. That spells opportunity for the Chiefs defense. But the corners for the Chiefs have to be more aggressive.
That means Dexter McCleon who probably has one more shot to keep his starting cornerback spot must play the game of his career. Second year corner Julian Battle, despite the touchdown he gave up last week against Houston, played very well. And he's getting his NFL sea legs. I think Battle has the opportunity to make a statement and solve some of the problems that McCleon has caused with his poor play.
Eric Warfield is having an All-Pro year. He already has three interceptions including one for a touchdown and despite his off-the-field issues has effectively shut down the opponents top receiver.
But the defense led by the emergence of John Browning at defensive end and the consistant play of the Chiefs linebackers gives optimism to a defense that I think is ready to make a statement.
Last week after the Texans loss, linebacker Shawn Barber stood up and asked everyman in the locker room that this team was capable of winning 13 games in a row. He challenged every player that if they felt different to leave the locker room. That might have been the most united moment for this franchise in quite sometime.
On offense the Chiefs will face a daunting task facing arguable the best linebacker in the NFL. Ray Lewis is pound for pound the best linebacker I've seen play in the NFL since Bobby Bell. He can do it all and he does it with a passion that is fun to watch.
The Ravens employ four linebackers on the field and in the off-season they converted last years rookie defensive end Terrell Suggs to linebacker in attempt to better use his speed. That has yet to pay dividends but the Ravens defense is all about attitude and talent.
They have one of the best shut-down corners in the NFL in Chris McAlister and a solid safety in Ed Reed. They are the keys to stopping the Chiefs passing attack. Priest Holmes will get plenty of touches this week and Tony Gonzalez should be able to occupy some of the Ravens defense but Trent Green is going to need to make some plays.
One player to watch is wide receiver Chris Horn. He'll get another opportunity to show his NFL debut last week wasn't a fluke. With Eddie Kennison still iffy for the game, Horn proved he could get separation and make plays in the Chiefs offense. He scored his first career touchdown last week and if he stays the course; could be a solid contributor similar to what Marc Boerigter did in 2002.
The key for this game to help offset the Ravens defense will be the return ability of Dante' Hall. Mighty-Might has been held in check for the most part this year and it seems like he's not hitting the holes like he did a year ago. A large part of that could be because he plays so much on offense and that has affected his ability to be the game breaker the Chiefs need from in when he's fielding punts and kick-offs.
This game boils down to attitude. Either the Chiefs are going to come out fighting and take no prisoners or they'll play passive and end up 0-4. My bet is they will come to play and go into the bye-week with a 1-3 record and a sigh of relief. This team needs a week off to get completely healthy so they can make a real run.
This game must be won by the Chiefs. Losing is not an option.
Predicted Score: Chiefs 26 – Ravens 14