Five thoughts on the Ravens' 9-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium:
Ravens Overcame Poor Performance For Two Reasons
Ravens safety Ed Reed put it the most succinctly after the game: "They did exactly what they wanted to do except win the game," he said of the Chiefs, who have a solid defense and one of the NFL's best rushing games and tried to ride those elements to the upset, as they did against the then-unbeaten Green Bay Packers late last season. The formula basically worked, as the Chiefs controlled the clock and knocked the Ravens offense badly off stride, but it didn't produce the desired result for a couple of reasons: 1) Way too many crucial turnovers and penalties by the Chiefs, including a fumble at the Baltimore 1-yard line and a late go-ahead touchdown nullified by a pick-play call, and 2) the Ravens' winning pedigree, which enables them to find a way to prevail more often than not, regardless of what is happening. "They're not always pretty around here," quarterback Joe Flacco said, "but I've been saying it for a while: 'We do what we have to do to win the game.'"
Let's Face It, Run Defense Vulnerable
It's no secret the Ravens run defense has been fraying a bit in recent years, but I can't remember it getting thrashed as badly as it did in the first half Sunday. It simply couldn't hold its ground against the Chiefs' zone-stretch scheme, which produced gaping holes for Jamaal Charles. Ray Lewis was getting pushed around. Haloti Ngata was not in on plays. The edge was frequently soft. But the run defense improved after the coaches made several adjustments at halftime, shifting the positioning of the nose tackle and bringing the linebackers closer to the front to eliminate open spaces. The unit's tackling also picked up after a rough start. Charles gained just 15 yards on 10 carries in the second half after picking up 125 on 20 carries in the first half. The win and the stronger finish might allay some concerns, but let's face it, the Ravens haven't been this vulnerable against the run in a long time.
Chiefs' Complaints Understandable
The Chiefs were spitting mad about the pick-play call that nullified what was likely a go-ahead touchdown for them in the final five minutes. I understand their frustrations. The rule is all about intent, i.e., a receiver can't intentionally impede a pass defender and keep him from covering his man. On that play, the Chiefs' Dexter McCluster was ruled to have intentionally impeded the Ravens' Jimmy Smith, allowing Dwayne Bowe to get open, catch a pass and score. But reviewing the play, it appeared Smith caused the contact as much as anything, running into McCluster without looking. On the weekly scorecard gauging whether the officials' calls helped or hurt you, I would say the Ravens came out ahead, mostly because of that crucial call. It was possible the Ravens didn't have it in them on this day to drive back down the field for a winning score, so the flag was decisive.
No-Huddle On Road Could Be Real Issue
The sample size is still a little small, but it looks like the Ravens might be dealing with a real issue in trying to operate their no-huddle offense on the road. It has looked potent and even close to unstoppable at times in the team's three home games, but replicating that in a hostile environment in front of pumped-up opposing fans has proved difficult in Philadelphia and Kansas City. Flacco struggled in Philly and his biggest play Sunday was not a pass but a 16-yard scramble for a first down on the game-ending drive. Ray Rice, who had another strong game, admitted afterward that deploying the up-tempo philosophy is "hard" on the road. But he also said it's a lot easier to contemplate such issues when you're 4-1 and in first place.
The Ravens' decision to go with Justin Tucker is looking like a no-brainer now that Billy Cundiff continues to miss relatively routine kicks for the Redskins. Cundiff's slump is a surprise to the Ravens, who did believe Cundiff would rebound well from his infamous playoff miss, even though they cut him. But at this point Cundiff is looking like damaged goods … Even though Flacco was sacked three times, they were more the fault of the receivers than the blockers. The Ravens' wideouts struggled to consistently gain separation from Kansas City's aggressive "press" defenders … Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger had his best game by far.