The Ravens are set to take on the Kansas City Chiefs at M&T Bank Stadium (1 p.m.).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2008 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 24th (308.7 ypg) Total Defense – 31st (393.2)
Rush Offense – 16th (113.1) Rush Defense – 30th 158.9)
Pass Offense – 20th (195.6) Pass Defense – 28th (234.3)
Points Per Game – 26th (18.2) Points Per Game – 29th (27.5)
Sizing Them Up
With the hiring of new head coach Todd Haley and former Patriots personnel guru Scott Pioli as general manager, the Chiefs are looking to transform their identity as doormat to contender.
And, they are resting their hopes on quarterback Matt Cassel, who had an unexpectedly stellar season with New England last year in mop-up duty for Tom Brady. When Brady got injured in his season opener, Cassel went on to lead the Pats to an 11-5 record.
But Cassel has been injured for most of the preseason, and he's even questionable for this game. Regardless, the Chiefs' offense will likely be predicated on running back Larry Johnson, who is a two-time Pro Bowler.
Running behind an offensive line that features Pro Bowl guard Brian Grant and the talented, young left tackle Branden Albert, Johnson has the ability to rack up the yardage. He even did that by posting 120 yards against the Ravens in 2006, the last back to top the century mark against Baltimore.
Through the air, it's Dwayne Bowe that wreaks havoc on opposing defenses. Bowe, 6-foot-2, 221 pounds, is a big target that is coming off a season where he caught 86 balls for 1,022 yards and seven scores.
Defensively, the Chiefs are running a 3-4 scheme that gets pressure on the quarterback. They totaled seven preseason sacks. Linebacker Tamba Hali is their leading pass rusher, while rookie Tyson Jackson is being counted on to provide the pressure as a 3-4 end.
What's Up?* *
Doug Tucker of the *Associated Press *writes that quarterback, wideout and corner are still under question for Kansas City.
"Forty-eight hours before the Kansas City Chiefs launch their season in Baltimore, coach Todd Haley indicated he may have several positions besides quarterback where the starters were not set in stone."
Confusing and very vague Cassel news coming out of KCChiefs.com.
"If indeed, Cassel is unable to go on Sunday, most believe that the starter will be second-team QB Brodie Croyle. Just because Croyle is listed second on the depth chart, however, doesn't mean that he will be the sole player to replace Cassel. Haley wouldn't show his hand, but indicated the Chiefs have a game-planned Sunday in a way that involves each of their QBs, should Cassel be unavailable."
Duh. Guard Andy Alleman said that the Chiefs' offensive line feels good going into this game. Courtesy of the Arrowhead Pride blog.
"We feel good. This team works very hard. Coach stresses being well conditioned and working hard. We've had a good week of practice and it should be exciting getting ready to go this weekend."
Offensive – Larry Johnson has been the workhorse for the Chiefs over the years, rushing 1,243 times in 68 games. But he's also amassed 5,638 yards on the ground and 55 touchdowns. Johnson missed some time last year due to injury, but he still managed to finish ninth in the AFC with 874 rushing yards in only 12 contests, averaging 4.5 yards per carry.
Defensive – Linebacker Tamba Hali may have only finished with 55 stops in 2008, but he's being asked to do more this year under the 3-4 defense. An athletic specimen, Hali led the team in sacks a year ago with three.
As the third-overall selection in the 2009 draft, Tyson Jackson is going to be given every opportunity to succeed as a starter at defensive end. While at LSU, Jackson appeared in 53 games, posting 122 tackles (27 for a loss), 18.5 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures. Jackson also notched 1.5 sacks in the preseason.
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel
If Cassel plays, he'll have a healthy and rejuvenated Reed to deal with. The Ravens' safety led the NFL with nine interceptions last year, and he's looked impressive in the preseason. Reed has never faced Cassel before, but he simply has the knack to pick apart young quarterbacks.
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Chiefs RB Larry Johnson
Lewis is simply a tackling machine, and he won't be stopped getting after Johnson. It may be a matter of pride for both men, because Johnson cracked 100 yards two years ago, and Lewis obviously does not want that to happen again. Both players like contact, so expect some pads crunching.
Haley on how comfortable he is with the receiving corps:"I think that's another group that was shakier but, through hard work, they've kind of come together a bit and jelled. Guys are starting now to get it, which is what we want everybody to do: it's to understand what we want. I think we're starting to see that from that group also. Again, Sunday will be a great challenge for the entire team, special teams included because of all the work that we've put in will be put to the test against a very good team."
Cassel on his health:"There are times where we start a little earlier in the week taking most of our reps and as we get closer to game time I am taking more reps. We are making progress. It is one of those things that heal more each and every day."
Some analysts have picked the Ravens to go to the Super Bowl. Some have picked us to miss the playoffs. Odd, huh? It seems this team is pretty polarizing. That's fine here in Baltimore. To be honest, the Ravens would probably rather have more people count them out than anoint them the chosen club.
The feeling of being an underdog has always had strong motivations powers for the purple and black.
Well, I can attest from my time spent around the castle in Owings Mills, that this team believes it has Lombardi Trophy written all over it.
The Ravens are confident. You can tell by what some of the guys have been saying in the locker room. It's not about the Chiefs. It's about what the Raven do themselves. It's almost like the players place the blame squarely on their own shoulders after how they closed out their 2008 campaign.
I guess that's how it should be, though. The Raves admittedly are little sour after coming within five minutes of the Super Bowl last year.
That's why this game – and the first few that come after it – will be a good gauge on what you can expect from this Ravens team.
And as far as expectations go, let the pundits say what they will about the potential success or even failure of this team. It doesn't seem like anyone in the locker room is listening, anyway.
Only the Ravens themselves know how good they can be. And, it starts today.