Ravens vs. Chiefs: Sketching out a Game Plan for Kansas City
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The Kansas City Chiefs are in desperate need of a win. Unfortunately, the Chiefs’ Week 5 opponent is one of the best teams in football, and that win will not come easy. The Baltimore Ravens boast the fifth-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense in the NFL in points per game. By comparison, the Chiefs have the 18th-ranked offense and the 31st-ranked defense in points.
To win, the Chiefs need to play their best football of the season in a year where they have played their best football for less than two quarters. The Chiefs need Matt Cassel to play like Tom Brady and Jamaal Charles to run like Bo Jackson.
Fortunately, this is the NFL and on any given Sunday any team can win. So what do the Chiefs need to do to pull off an improbable upset?
Feed Dwayne Bowe
The Baltimore Ravens are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry on the ground. That means the Chiefs can’t totally rely on Charles to grind out yards and set up the play action for Cassel. Cassel will have to throw the ball for the Chiefs to be successful against the Ravens.
The Ravens' biggest weakness on defense has been cornerback Cary Williams, who will line up across from Bowe on Sunday. Williams has been thrown at 31 times and allowed 22 receptions for 344 yards and a touchdown according to ProFootballFocus. Williams had a rebound game against the Cleveland Browns last week, but the previous three weeks he was picked on by opposing teams.
Bowe has been overshadowed by Charles so far this season because Cassel hasn’t been able to get Bowe the ball consistently. Bowe has still produced good numbers, but a lot of those numbers have come as the Chiefs have attempted to climb back into games they trail.
Should the Chiefs go pass-heavy and give Matt Cassel a chance to save his job?
Bowe can’t throw the ball to himself and will need Cassel to get it to him. Cassel is a poor performance away from being benched, and the Chiefs have nothing to lose at 1-3 on the season. It could be Cassel’s last chance, and it’s only fair to put the game on his shoulder and see if he can rise to the occasion with his back against the wall.
Although the Chiefs shouldn’t totally neglect the running game, they need a good mix of run and pass to keep an experienced Baltimore defense off balance. The Ravens defense is certainly beatable, and it’s as simple as feeding Bowe and knowing where Ed Reed is in the secondary.
Ground the Aerial Attack
The Ravens are no longer a run-first offense. The rise of Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith has made the Ravens a team that can win games through the air. Smith, through four games, has 16 receptions for 332 yards and three touchdowns and has made big plays in every game this season.
The Chiefs need to do everything possible to keep Smith from getting deep. That means giving safety help to Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt.
Eric Berry is the safety that can provide help, and he’s also the type of player the Chiefs need to step up and make plays. Berry has yet to have a breakout performance, and in many ways the Chiefs secondary needs him if it is going to live up to its lofty expectations this season.
Smith is the big-play threat, but Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta are the guys that can consistently move the chains for the Ravens. Rice leads the team with 22 receptions; Boldin has 19 and Pitta 18. Flacco has learned to use all his offensive weapons.
The Chiefs are not healthy enough on defense to match up with every weapon in Flacco’s arsenal, but there is another way to limit a passing game: rush the passer. The Chiefs have two good pass-rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, but the Ravens counter with a solid offensive line.
Houston is in the midst of a breakout season, but Hali is in the midst of a down year. Flacco is prone to throwing interceptions and fumbling when under pressure, so this would be a good time for the pass rush to show up and force Flacco to make mistakes.
The last time the Chiefs played a passing attack this balanced was against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. The Chiefs will need good performances from their best players on defense to win this game.
Rice, at 491 yards, is just 21 yards behind Charles, the league leader, in yards from scrimmage. Many of Rice’s yards have come in the passing game, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Ravens turn to the ground game in the absence of Derrick Johnson in the middle of the Chiefs defense.
Johnson did not participate in practice on Thursday per the official injury report and will probably need to practice in at least a limited fashion on Friday to play Sunday.
Then again, Johnson would also cover Rice in the passing game. The Chiefs will need to find an answer for Rice whether Johnson is able to play or not. That means Brandon Siler or Cory Greenwood will need to have good performances, and the defensive line needs to plug the gaps to give the linebackers a chance to make plays.
There’s an awful lot working against the Chiefs, and injuries are also taking a toll on the team. The Chiefs need to play fundamental football and get good performances from their best players to compete with the Ravens. If it gets ugly, don’t be surprised if the Chiefs bench Cassel to appease the fans.
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