WHEN THE CHIEFS PASS
Will Matt Cassel play? It's unknown, but the Ravens will attack him in a variety of ways. They'll move their best pass rusher, Terrell Suggs, all over the field in an effort to get to the quarterback. He may rush as a linebacker, or may put his hand on the ground at times. Forgot about left tackle Branden Albert having his hands full – whomever the Chiefs line up at right tackle better be prepared, too.
The Ravens also mix it up with Trevor Pryce. He's one of the league's few 3-4 defensive ends who can provide a pass rush, but he'll line up in a 4-3 as an end, too. Pryce may give fits to Chiefs' right guard Mike Goff, who struggled this preseason. Baltimore's other pass-rush threat in the front seven, Jarrett Johnson, isn't quite the same player as Suggs or Pryce, but he's a long, lean rush backer who will also line up as an end at times.
If Cassel actually has time to throw, he may find that Dwayne Bowe has a bit of an advantage over either of Baltimore's corners, both of whom are on the smallish side. Domonique Foxworth inparticular is a mismatch – the Chiefs would abuse Foxworth routinely when he played with the Broncos. The Chiefs, though they don't have much at tight end, may be able to get Ray Lewis matched up down the middle with Sean Ryan or Brad Cottam. Lewis, at 34, has clearly lost a step and though he's still a dominant defender against the run, can be beaten in pass coverage.
With few true threats to defend, look for the Ravens to blitz Cassel and test his mobility early. Baltimore won't be shy about bringing Lewis up the middle or a safety from the secondary. As always, the Chiefs will have to be wary of Pro Bowl safety and turnover artist Ed Reed patrolling the secondary.
WHEN THE RAVENS PASS
If you think the Chiefs have any sort of advantage in playing second-year quarterback Joe Flacco, think again. Flacco is not a liability within Baltimore's offense. While his numbers were pedestrian as a rookie, he has clearly made a leap forward this offseason. During preseason, he completed over 65 percent of his passes at a healthy 7.7 yards per attempt and did not throw an interception.
But it goes beyond mere stats. When you watch Flacco, he doesn't appear to be a quarterback who is struggling with reads or confused by what defenses throw at him. The ball comes out quickly, on time, and extremely accurately. Flacco is making difficult throws look easy, and pressure doesn't prevent him from getting rid of the ball.
The Chiefs will have a difficult time sacking Flacco. Baltimore's offensive tackles, Jared Gaither and rookie Michael Oher, are inexperienced, but talented and massive. It will be interesting to see if Tamba Hali can survive Gaither should the tackle get his hands on him. Gaither and Oher aren't Willie Roaf clones, but their talent, combined with Flacco's ability to get the ball out quickly, will make KC's pass rush a chore.
Fortunately the Ravens don't have huge, game-breaking receivers in Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. Kansas City's Brandon Flowers can easily handle either receiver. The real danger for the Chiefs might be tight end Todd Heap. If Todd Haley chooses to start Mike Brown and Jon McGraw, a pair of slow, un-athletic safeties, Heap will have his way with both. Brown is a real mismatch, standing only 5-foot-10 against Heap's 6-foot-5 frame. The Ravens also have two capable receiving threats out of the backfield in Ray Rice and Willis McGahee.
WHEN THE CHIEFS RUN
The challenge for the Chiefs and their running game will be moving Baltimore's mammoth, quick and powerful defensive tackle, Haloti Ngata, in order to create space for Larry Johnson. He will require a constant double team. The Chiefs have no lineman who can handle him one on one, and if Ngata's 350 pounds take on Mike Goff or Rudy Niswanger alone, the play has a good chance of being destroyed.
If the Chiefs can't block Ngata and allow him to disrupt and cause Johnson and Jamaal Charles to stop their feet, Ray Lewis will feast in the backfield. The real issue is that the Ravens move Ngata all over the place. Sometimes he plays nose tackle. Other times, he lines up at defensive end.
Even if Ngata is blocked, Baltimore is lethal everywhere else. Tackle Kelly Gregg is the classic fireplug defensive lineman, built low to the ground and great at using leverage to win. Pryce has quickness and strength. The Ravens' complement to Lewis, linebacker Tavares Gooden, has the speed to run sideline to sideline. Baltimore even has something of a Ngata clone in backup nose tackle Kelly Talavou, another 350-pound monster.
The Chiefs will have to use misdirection and spread the Ravens out to run on them. This is not a team Kansas City can simply line up and block, as we often saw Herm Edwards' teams attempt futilely. Tricking Baltimore, instead of hitting them, will be the wisest course of action.
WHEN THE RAVENS RUN
Ray Rice, LeRon McClain, Willis McGahee. This is the three-headed monster the Ravens employ in their rushing attack, and they may only need two of the heads against the Chiefs. Despite his more impressive NFL resume, McGahee sits the bench, with Rice the starter at the moment. McClain, now the starting fullback and a load at 260 pounds, may not even carry the ball.
But both McClain and Rice are short, stout runners that can run you over. Rice has much quicker feet, however, and is a threat to make most defenders miss a tackle. His build and burst are reminiscent of Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew. Tackling him won't be an easy assignment.
Up front the Ravens have a lot of size, as every lineman outside Matt Birk is at least 310 pounds, and Birk is one of the league's bigger centers. If Tank Tyler cannot force the Ravens to double-team him with Birk and another player, it may make things difficult for KC's linebackers, especially because Baltimore's left guard Ben Briggs, a former first-round pick, should be able to handle Glenn Dorsey alone.
The Ravens did not destroy people running the ball this preseason (3.4 yards per carry) but they have the potential to grind it out on Kansas City, especially if time of possession leans in their favor. Flacco has progressed enough to keep the Chiefs' safeties honest and away from the line of scrimmage.
New Ravens' placekicker Steven Hauschka is an accurate kicker but does not have the strongest leg in the world. His kickoffs fall well short of the end zone. The Chiefs will have to be wary of Baltimore's returner, Chris Carr, who has given them problems in the past when he played with the Oakland Raiders. Carr's speed has landed him on Baltimore's coverage units, also.
The Chiefs will have the element of surprise on their side with new systems on offense and defense and a brand new coaching staff. They'll also have the mentality of the underdog, as most have predicted a down season for Kansas City. But will that be nearly enough against a Ravens team opening at home to a sellout crowd? Doubtful.
The Chiefs will put up a good fight and no one will mistake Todd Haley's coaching for Herm Edwards.' But the Ravens are a stacked team that finished one game short of the Super Bowl a year ago, and Joe Flacco has made strides. It is far too much, far too soon for the 2009 Kansas City Chiefs.
Ravens 24, Chiefs 10
The Matchups - Chiefs vs Ravens
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