Offensive Game Plan
1.) Getting off to a fast start: In the past two games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the Ravens have grabbed early leads and never looked back. Not surprisingly, the Ravens established those leads by generating big plays in the running game. Do not expect the approach of hammering the ball down the opponents' throats early to change against the Chiefs.
Kansas City's defense ranks 29th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 150.3 yards per contest. In addition, Kansas City has given up three runs that covered 20 yards or more in just three games. Offenses have had success going against Kansas City's front seven because the group lacks sure tackles, discipline and size.
The Ravens have the type of physical offensive line, and explosive running backs (Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor) to take advantage of the Chiefs' over aggressiveness against the run. If the Ravens can hit on a big gain or two in the first quarter, the Chief defenders may become deflated quickly, leading to Baltimore being able to establish its brutish, physical style of play throughout the game.
2.) Handling the blitz: With new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham controlling the Kansas City defensive ship, one can expect to see an aggressive attack against Baltimore's passing game. For the most part, the Ravens have handled the blitz successfully this season. Of course, that success has as much to do with Kyle Boller's progression as anything else. Boller has done a better job of scanning the field quickly while dropping back, and checking down to his outlet receivers before the rush gets to him. In addition, Boller has been able to use his legs to escape collapsing pockets, even gaining big chunks of yards in the open field.
Although Boller has been able to evade a strong pass rush, Cunningham will still test him and the Ravens' offensive lineman's ability to make the correct blocking adjustments right before the ball is snapped. The Ravens should counter the Chiefs' attack by employing more draw runs and screen passes in the game plan. Running these plays will help to slow down the Chiefs' rush, and could lead to big gains if the Chief defenders consistently shoot the gaps with abandon instead of properly diagnosing the play before it occurs.
3.) Not turning the ball over: The only given in the NFL is that whichever team loses the turnover battle will likely lose the game. Saying that the Ravens need to take care of the football is obvious. However, the importance of not giving Kansas City any extra possessions holds a bigger precedence considering the tone of the game that will be played on Monday night.
The Chiefs are coming into Baltimore looking for any sort of crack or opening to get themselves out of the 0-3 quicksand they are trapped in. Forcing turnovers, which could lead to convertible scores, is what the Chiefs are looking for to regain confidence, and to put the Ravens on their backs early on. The Raven offense must play smart to avoid giving the Chiefs anything.
Defensive Game Plan
1.) Reading the motion offense: One of the staples of Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders' offense is the use of motion. The Chiefs will often set up in one formation on offense, then motion players around to set up a completely different formation that the defense has to match-up against right before the ball is snapped. Saunders' purpose for changing his formations on the fly serves two purposes: To force the defense out of its original formation, and to create mismatch opportunities for the motion players to exploit.
In last year's game against the Chiefs, the Baltimore defense was not fooled by Kansas City's gimmickry offense. In most cases, the Baltimore defenders had a good read on what plays the Chiefs were trying to run. It will be important for the Raven defenders to continue to shift properly and stay with their assignments in this second encounter.
2.) Utilizing the blitz to keep Holmes occupied: Obviously, the biggest emphasis that any defense can have when facing Kansas City's offense is to contain Priest Holmes. The reason that it is virtually impossible to keep Holmes bottled up is he is the NFL's ultimate dual threat; he can dominate in the running game or the passing game.
The bigger key for the Ravens may be to contain Holmes the runner, because the Chiefs' best way of attacking Baltimore is through its ground game. However, keeping Holmes from gaining yards out of the backfield is key. Perhaps the most effective way to keep Holmes from making plays as a pass catcher is to blitz to his side often, especially in long conversion situations, so that Holmes is forced to help the offensive line pick up an extra pass rusher or two. The Ravens should also have a linebacker spy Holmes at all times so that he does not escape his blocking assignment, and sneak into a passing lane after the play develops.
3.) Defending the perimeter running game: It is probable that Kansas City will look to establish its running game featuring Priest Holmes in order to setup its play-action passing attack, and to test a Ravens front that has given up more long gains in the running game in the last two games than it normally does.
The strongest aspect of this rushing attack is Kansas City's perimeter running plays. The Chiefs use a lot of off tackle runs to allow Holmes to maneuver off the edges. All of Kansas City's lineman are athletic enough to pull or get into space, and Holmes has the patience to allow the coordinated trap, counter and stretch run blocks to develop before he sprints through an open seam.
Conversely, if the Baltimore defense has a weakness, it is being able to consistently defend the perimeter rushing attack, because ends Tony Weaver and Marques Douglas are susceptible to being engulfed by big offensive tackles in run defending situations. It will be key for these two to win their blocking match-ups so that Holmes is either forced to prematurely cutback up the middle or the linebackers are able to crash through the gaps to stop him behind the line of scrimmage.
One-on-One Match-up to Watch
Terrell Suggs versus Willie Roaf: Age has not seemed to catch up with Willie Roaf, as Roaf remains one of the better pass blocking left tackles in the game entering his twelfth season. Roaf uses expert technique; quick footwork and a long extension to keep pass rushers away from Trent Green. On the other side of this match-up is young Terrell Suggs. Suggs has made tackles Marvel Smith and Levi Jones look inferior over the past two games, and he seems to be hitting his stride as a pass rusher. Specifically, Suggs has developed into a pass rusher with a full array of moves to complement his great burst off the snap.