Five to Watch: Ravens vs. Chiefs

It's been a rough week for Chiefs fans. First Kansas City goes on the road and loses to the lowly Cleveland Browns who, by the way, were spanked by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. That loss almost made as much sense as the Kansas City Royals signing two big time free agents on Thursday. What's this sports town coming to?

Props to the Royals for doing the most unthinkable thing they've done over 20 years. They made more headlines than the Chiefs for a day.

With Herm Edwards' players still stinging from the loss in Cleveland, the Chiefs meet the Baltimore Ravens in a game that means far more to the hometown team.

But we still have four games left and anything is possible, including the possibility that the Bengals, Jaguars, Jets and Broncos could all lose on Sunday. Wouldn't that be a beautiful thing?

But that's not KC's main concern at the moment. It's the Ravens, who are the class of the AFC North and could clinch the division with a win and a Cincinnati loss. The second half of that sentence sounds great, but the Bengals host the lowly Oakland Raiders.

This is a game the Chiefs should easily win, despite the fact the Ravens have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They're blessed with one gazelle after another on that side of the ball.

On offense they have, pound for pound, the toughest quarterback I've ever seen in Steve McNair. This 12-year veteran has sold his soul to the Devil, but he paid a price by taking more shots to his body than Muhammad Ali took in three decades as a heavyweight boxer.

But he's no spring chicken. Though he still has some mobility, the Ravens live and die with their hard-hitting defense. That's been the recipe for their 9-3 season record to date. Baltimore's offense ranks amongst the lower third in the NFL but that doesn't mean they can't chew up the clock and get the ball into the end zone.

The Chiefs defense can't underestimate Baltimore's offense. If they do, then they'll fall into the same trap that they found themselves in at Cleveland.

Running back Jamal Lewis is one of those special runners who can take over a football game. He enters the game with nearly 800 rushing yards even though he's not the same runner that once dominated defenses. He's put the rock on the ground three times in Baltimore's first 12 games. That's something he never did in his prime.

But he's not the only weapon the Ravens possess. Tight end Todd Heap and wide receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton have done a good job giving McNair plenty of options in the passing game. That's allowed them to do just enough to keep opposing defenses off balance. They can be stopped, but after last Sunday's meltdown in Cleveland I'm not even sure the Chiefs players know which defense will show up to face the Ravens.

Kansas City's defense had been playing well going into Cleveland but they lost their mojo. They better get it back the last four games of the season. The offense can't carry the load and shouldn't be asked to.

Edwards was asked on Thursday about Baltimore's defense and the fact they have a leader in Ray Lewis and some Lieutenants like safety Ed Reed and defensive end Terrell Suggs.

If the Chiefs are going to win this weekend and continue their playoff run, they'll need to be able to count on their own defensive leaders to make the stops down the stretch. There's no longer any margin for error.

That's because Baltimore's defense has the ability to slow down the Chiefs offense just enough to make this a one-possession game late in the fourth quarter. Kansas City has its backs up against the wall and they have no one to blame but themselves.

How they come out fighting from the pile will determine if they defeat the Ravens on Sunday and how they give notice to the five other AFC teams who go into this game with the same wild-card hope and the same 7-5 record.

Five to Watch:
1. DC Gunther Cunningham - This game is huge for Cunningham. He laid an egg in Cleveland last week because he used the Bud Carson ‘prevent defense' that prevented the Chiefs from winning against the Browns on the road. I'm not sure his job is on the line or not, but he's not reaching all of his players. Players like Kendrell Bell and Greg Wesley keep letting him down, and that means he needs to play Keyaron Fox and Jarrad Page instead. He should do it not to save his job, but because it's the right thing to do for his football team.

2. OC Mike Solari - The first year offensive coordinator can't be caught up in the fact that quarterback Trent Green found his rhythm last weekend. They didn't run the ball enough. If they had, then maybe they would have chewed up more of the clock. He needs to take his shots down the field but the Chiefs have a solid history of being able to run against Baltimore's front seven. I think it's important to put the ball in LJ's hands in crunch time. He's KC's best offensive weapon.

3. DLC Tim Krumrie - With Jimmy Wilkerson likely out on Sunday, the Chiefs will be forced to play disgruntled defensive tackle Ryan Sims. That means Krumrie needs to light a fire under the former first-round pick. If he can do that, and Sims plays a good game, he should get a medal. Sims didn't play well last weekend filling in for Wilkerson. He needs to at least bring his ‘B' game on Sunday because he owes it to his teammates. Krumrie should shadow Sims and stay on him until the game ends.

4. DBC David Gibbs - The same goes for KC's secondary coach as it does for the defensive line coach. This unit was flat awful against Cleveland's receivers last week. Greg Wesley was bad, Ty Law was bad and Patrick Surtain didn't do much better. He needs to insist that both Page and Bernard Pollard get more action against Baltimore. They're ready to step up and make plays and Gibbs deserves credit for getting them in a position to help this team down the stretch. Now he has to insist they get into the game.

5. STC Mike Priefer - With Dante Hall struggling in every phase of the return game for the Chiefs, Mike Priefer has to find a way to get Hall out of his funk. He's clearly lost a step. Based on the way he conducts himself on the field after a poor return, his confidence is as bad as his attitude. That's to be expected when you consider that he once was the most feared return man in the game, but that's also why the Chiefs have a solid special teams coach. If you asked him straight up, then maybe he'd make the switch to rookie Jeff Webb, but that's not going to happen. For good or bad, Hall is the man over the remainder of the season. Priefer needs to find a way to make it happen. Top Stories