Chiefs Season Preview: Week #14 Ravens

When the Baltimore Ravens come to Kansas City to face the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in December, all the pre-game hype will surround one debate: what wins, offense or defense? Who plays better on both sides of the ball could determine the winner.

Over the last five years, both teams have earned the status as being the game's best one-sided team. The Chiefs have been all offense and no defense; the Ravens have been all defense and no offense.

In the previous two matchups, the Chiefs were barely able to escape with road wins. They did it by playing a hard-nosed, smash-mouth style of football.

In both games, the Chiefs' offensive line was able to control the line of scrimmage and prevent Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis from making game-changing plays.

Can they do it again? They will have their hands full with a Ravens team that many believe has turned a corner after consecutive years without a postseason appearance.

OFFENSE
In the 2003 NFL draft, Ravens head coach Brian Billick moved up in the first round to select quarterback Kyle Boller from the University of California. Many experts felt that Boller was a raw player who had a long way to go until he could become a competent NFL quarterback.

The jury is still out on Boller, but Baltimore's trade for Steve McNair indicates the Ravens will move in a different direction, for now. Billick has been frustrated by Boller's inconsistency and lack of development.

McNair can win games on toughness alone, and he should bring a winner's mentality to an offensive unit that desperately needs to find an identity. He will also provide the Ravens' offense with another ingredient they've been without: a leader.

Many believed that running back Jamal Lewis would step up and be the leader of the team, but his production slipped in 2005 after a brilliant, record-breaking 2004 season. Lewis has been a mess off the field and served time in jail last year. The Ravens are counting on Lewis to return to form this year. If they aren't successful on the ground, they don't have a chance at being productive offensively.

Tight end Todd Heap will again be Baltimore's biggest target, and he'll really open things up on the outside for Derrick Mason (a former teammate of McNair's) and Michael Clayton. Heap, who is 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, is a great pass-catcher and excels at finding the open seams in zone coverage.

Though he's a great short yardage option, his speed and jumping ability makes him a threat to catch the ball downfield. In jump ball situations, he rarely loses; he almost always brings the ball down. Heap will be the best tight end McNair has had since Frank Wycheck.

Along the offensive line, left tackle Jonathan Ogden remains one of the game's best despite his old age creeping up on him. The rest of the offensive line is full of question marks. That has to concern McNair, who can't afford to take many shots to a body that's been bumped and bruised more than anybody in the league over the last 10 years.

One of the best battles in training camp could be for the starting center job. Mike Flynn underperformed in 2005, and the Ravens might have found his replacement with second-rounder Chris Chester from the University of Oklahoma. Billick will be looking for some veterans to step up this year, because the line play needs to improve if the Ravens hope to field a legitimate offense in 2006.

DEFENSE
Ray Lewis is still one of the most feared players in the league at age 31. Lewis plays with a mean-spirited tenacity and has been the source of energy for the rest of the players on the defense.

Lewis has great range and is a force against both the run and the pass. If the Chiefs can take him out of the game, as they did in 2004, then they've successfully removed the heart of what's been the best defense in the league over the last several years.

In recent seasons, Lewis hasn't been able to roam free because he was always getting blocked, especially up the middle. The best example of this came in 2004 against the Chiefs, when left guard Brian Waters and fullback Tony Richardson made him their puppet.

He complained to general manager Ozzie Newsome during the off-season that they needed a big nose tackle that could take up space and draw double-teams. It appears that he got his wish, as the Ravens drafted Haloti Ngata with the 12th pick in the draft. Ngata is a 6-foot-4, 338-pound monster from the University of Oregon.

The Ravens should hope that Ngata performs better than the last big-bodied defensive tackle to come out of Oregon, Junior Siavii, who has been less-than-impressive in his two years thus far with the Chiefs.

Anchoring the secondary is safety Ed Reed, a Pro Bowl staple over the last few years. Much like Lewis, Reed can take over a game and usually comes up with several big turnovers. Cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAllister are the other household names in the Ravens' secondary, and they should be able to handle Kansas City's best wide receivers – Eddie Kennison and Samie Parker.

BOTTOM LINE
This game should be a low-scoring affair that moves along rather quickly. The Chiefs will try to use the same formula that has worked the last two times they've played the Ravens: clock control and power-running between the tackles.

The Ravens' offense should be better equipped to score points than in year's past, so if the game turns into a shootout, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance.

But just like the last two meetings, the Chiefs should have just enough to escape with the win.

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