Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

1. How will the Ravens respond after snapping a five-game winning streak? Heading into today's maiden voyage into raucous Arrowhead Stadium, the well-rested Baltimore Ravens (9-3) are looking to further cement their playoff prospects against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) after faltering against the Cincinnati Bengals 10 days ago. The Ravens lost their chance to clinch the AFC North title early.

They will have to wait until at least Dec. 17 to wrap up the division. Now, they're looking to rebound against a team they've never beaten in three previous tries. Kansas City has won its past 18 home games in December. The Chiefs are a flawed outfit, but don't lack for talent at several critical positions, especially at running back and tight end. Kansas City is desperate to break out of a logjam of five AFC teams with 7-5 marks. The Ravens are still in the hunt for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and currently hold the No. 3 seed in the AFC behind the Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers. They should be supremely motivated.
2. Can the Ravens slow down running back Larry Johnson? One of the most dynamic forces in the league, Johnson seems to get stronger every week, but now he runs into the top-ranked defense in the league that has allowed just one 100-yard rusher this season. And that was without middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the lineup. In a losing cause, the Ravens held Rudi Johnson to only 47 yards on the ground last week. Johnson leads the NFL with four games of 150 yards or more this season and has hit the century mark in six of the past seven games.
Lewis says the Ravens don't believe in allowing 100 yards and made several strong statements to that effect. The gauntlet has been thrown down. 3. Can Jamal Lewis have a field day against the Chiefs' run defense? Kansas City managed to allow 150 yards on the ground to a suspect group of Cleveland Browns' runners last week. Lewis still runs hard and can wear down a defense. The Chiefs have excellent defensive ends with Jared Allen and Tamba Hali, but there's yardage to be found inside against Ron Edwards, James Allen and first-round bust Ryan Sims. Plus, Allen and Hali aren't nearly as good against the run as they are as upfield pass rushers.
4. Is Todd Heap primed for a big game? Heap wasn't involved nearly enough last week and was held to four catches for 29 yards, negating the Ravens' play-action game. The Chiefs contained Kellen Winslow last week, but have allowed six touchdown passes to tight ends this year, a fairly high number.
5. Can the Ravens contain tight end Tony Gonzalez and the Chiefs' passing game? This is a run-first offense, but they may need to alter their approach if it's going to move the football against this stingy defense. Trent Green is coming off a four-touchdown, 300-yard outing. Although this isn't a big-play offense, the Ravens have allowed too many deep balls for that to be a mere coincidence. Gonzalez is still playing at an extremely high level. Chris McAlister needs to stay home until he's sure it's not a pass. He got caught looking in the backfield on a flea-flicker last week.
Total (23) Rushing (24t) Passing (16)
Steve McNair is coming off his worst game since Brian Billick took over as offensive coordinator. The bad weather in Cincinnati seemed to affect his accuracy and focus. He wasn't nearly as sharp, and will need to play much better today.
Running backs
Jamal Lewis isn't locating cutback lanes as adeptly as he had been weeks ago. He needs to beat linebackers to the punch more consistently. He's capable of more than he's shown recently, but needs to run more decisively.
Derrick Mason was the only receiver to consistently create separation against the Bengals, and has a critical matchup today against Ty Law. The Ravens need to make better use of tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Mark Clayton.
Offensive line
Their pass protection has improved markedly. However, the interior linemen were overwhelmed at the point of attack by big Sam Adams. A possible return of Keydrick Vincent today at right guard could spell the answer inside.
Total (1) Rushing (2) Passing (10)
Defensive line
Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs were far too quiet a week ago, and will need to stack the line of scrimmage to control Larry Johnson and create penetration to get Trent Green off his rhythm.
Ray Lewis and Bart Scott have a tough assignment today in trying to keep up with and tackle Larry Johnson. Is there an ESPN The Magazine cover jinx? Linebacker Adalius Thomas was on the latest cover.
Quietly, safety Dawan Landry has had an outstanding season and should be a strong candidate for various all-rookie honors. Veteran safety Ed Reed hasn't made many big plays since signing that big contract. Cornerback Samari Rolle has settled down since getting exploited most of the season. Chris McAlister needs to play more disciplined.
Kicker Matt Stover is closing in on a major milestone: 400 field goals. He currently has 399, which ranks him behind Gary Anderson (538), Morten Anderson (537) and John Carney (409). Diminutive return specialist Cory Ross is going to handle kickoff returns and might catch punts, too, with assistance from Mark Clayton in the wake of B.J. Sams' season-ending fractured ankle.
Total (13) Rushing (6) Passing (19)
Trent Green has gamely come back from a major concussion. He delivered four touchdown passes with one interception in last week's loss to the Cleveland Browns. Green remains one of the more underrated quarterbacks in the league.
Running backs
Larry Johnson has sparked comparisons to a young Earl Campbell with his punishing running style. A brooding competitor with a history of sulking if he doesn't get the ball enough, Johnson is getting along fine with new coach Herm Edwards.
Besides seven-time All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, this is a nondescript unit considering it starts journeyman Eddie Kennison and unproven youngster Samie Parker. Both have vertical speed, but neither approach Gonzalez's professionalism and route-running.
Offensive line
Even after the abrupt retirement of left tackle Willie Roaf, these blockers have distinguished themselves. Especially a rock-solid interior trio of Will Shields, Brian Waters and Casey Wiegmann. Kyle Turley has played decently at right tackle, and Jordan Black is beginning to come into his own at left tackle.
Total (14) Rushing (14) Passing (15)
Defensive line
Jared Allen doesn't get much attention outside of Kansas City, but he should. This rangy end combines grit, intensity and closing speed. First-round pick Tamba Hali (Penn State) already has five sacks.
Middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell has outshined free-agent bust Kendrell Bell, the former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year cast off by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Derrick Johnson is extremely athletic at the other linebacker spot.
This veteran-laden group understands the game, but no longer plays it as well as they used to because of the advanced age of Ty Law (32), Sammy Knight (31) and Greg Wesley (28) and Patrick Surtain (30). In particular, Law has slowed down.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes has already missed five field goals. Punter Dustin Colquitt is averaging 45.1 yards with a lot of hangtime. Dante Hall is having an off-year and is beginning to bristle at all of the criticism he's fielding. He's still dangerous.
EDGES: Quarterback: Even; Running back: Kansas City; Receivers; Baltimore; Offensive line: Kansas City; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Kansas City.
How the Ravens can win
1. Rough up quarterback Trent Green. Green has shown no signs of becoming gunshy since convalescing from a scary concussion. He hasn't faced an aggressive pass rush like the Ravens, though.
2. Stop the run. The Ravens' top-ranked defense can't allow Larry Johnson to run roughshod over a stacked line of scrimmage. He's good enough that he's capable of taking over games singlehandedly.
3. Open up the playbook. Brian Billick was far too conservative in Cincinnati. With field position a potential issue because of B.J. Sams' absence, it's time to attack struggling defensive backs Ty Law and Greg Wesley.
How the Chiefs can win
1. Larry Johnson has a monster game. Although the Ravens have allowed only one 100-yard rusher this season, they have struggled in the past to contain the Chiefs' ground game. Johnson is much younger and stronger than Priest Holmes.
2. Work the football to Tony Gonzalez. The seven-time Pro Bowl tight end is coming off a two-touchdown game, one of his top performances this year, and could be a matchup problem for Dawan Landry and Adalius Thomas.
3. Create turnovers. Baltimore tends to lose whenever it struggles with ball-control, and opposing teams tend to get hit with calamity and sore eardrums at noisy Arrowhead Stadium.
Linebacker Bart Scott has ceased to be a secret in NFL circles.With 107 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, two interceptions, nine pass deflections and one forced fumble, he's the only player on the No. 1 defense to rank in the top five in all of those categories. Scott is tied for fourth in the NFL among linebackers in sacks, and ranks first in pass deflections.
LB Ray Lewis vs. RB Larry Johnson
One of the NFL's most intimidating, decorated defenders gets a chance to prove he can still handle a running back in the prime of his career against Johnson, a physical, downhill runner with enough athleticism to explode through gaps. WR Derrick Mason vs. CB Ty Law
Two savvy veterans clash as Mason, a supremely-conditioned athlete who's still fairly productive, takes on Law, an intelligent, big-play cornerback who's up in years and appears to have lost a step or two.
Three downs with ...
Steve McNair
Ravens quarterback
1. On playing at Arrowhead Stadium: "Well, if you like looking at red, you'll like it. But it's one of the loudest stadiums in the league. I had the luxury of playing there when I was in my younger years. I think it's all about shutting them down early. We just have to have ball-control offensively and move the ball. I think it's mainly just concentration."
2. On executing: "I think we need to be on top of our game. We need to come out firm. We have to come out and not have any hesitation. Last week, we came out and there was a little hesitation with the false starts and stuff like that. But we have to just come out and minimize all the things that we normally would do and just go out and play football. With the crowd noise, we kind of hesitated a little bit jumping off the ball. We have to make sure we make up for it, but we didn't do that."
3. On the Ravens' veteran leadership: "It's good because you have a lot of veterans who are bringing these young guys along. Nobody is too selfish for anybody here. If we all play together and all play for each other. That's a good sign. It's the mark of a championship team."
Three downs with ...
Trent Green
Chiefs quarterback
1. On if he feels like he's over his concussion: "I've felt like that since a couple of weeks before they let me come back. Once I was symptom-free and all the tests they had given me were pretty normal, they contined to put me through tests from a neurological standpoint. Once I got on the field, I felt pretty good about where I was mentally."
2. On if he has seen the hit: "It's hard. I thought I was doing the right thing by sliding and trying to get down and obviously the officials didn't rule it was illegal and the league didn't rule it was illegal. It's frustrating because from the video I think it was avoidable. Sometimes, there's too much criticism for protecting the quarterback, but we're pretty vulnerable."
3. On if no contact should be allowed on a feet-first slide: "I think so. My understanding of the rule is if you begin your slide, you are giving yourself up. What I have recently learned is that it's not the word of the law. You have to actually be on the ground to be protected. So, it's up to the runner to begin his slide at the appropriate time."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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