Finally, the NFL season is officially about to begin.
The smell of bratwurst and football is in the air, and tailgating can officially begin outside of Arrowhead Stadium (well next week, anyway). This week, your Kansas City Chiefs are taking the trip up to Baltimore to face the Ravens.
B-more had a great turnaround season last year, going 11-5 after a disappointing 5-11 season in 2007. The key to this turnaround was the addition of rookie quarterback Joe Flacco. His steady play at QB, coupled with a reinvigorated running game, was just what the doctor ordered for them. This retooled offense stayed on the field, scored points, and allowed their feared defense to return to past form by keeping them fresh until the end of games.
With a full year under young QB Joe Flacco’s belt, Ravens fans this season are hoping for even bigger things than the AFC Championship game they got last year.
For the Chiefs, it is all about change this year. General manager “King” Carl Peterson is out, Scott Pioli is in; head coach Herm Edwards is out, and wide receiver genius Todd Haley is in. The biggest change in terms of personnel, however, is the offseason trade for quarterback Matt Cassel. Larry Johnson, once disgruntled, has taken a liking to the new regime and now seems primed for a return to star status.
Pioli and company have done almost everything they could to make this team competitive in 2009 and beyond—brought in a star QB, signed free agents to the offensive line, and created competition at every position.
The Ravens lost several key players on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. On the offensive line they lost center Jason Brown, who was one of the best young ones in the league, and tackle Willie Anderson.
On the defensive side, star linebacker Bart Scott was lost along with defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to the Jets, and cornerback Chris McAlister had his contract terminated. Long-time Ravens kicker, Matt Stover, was also lost this offseason.
The Chiefs biggest loss, by far, was the trade of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons. Also on the offensive side of the ball, former starting right tackle Damion McIntosh was released this past Saturday. Other losses include starting safety Bernard Pollard and key reserve defensive lineman Alphonso Boone.
Don’t be fooled by all of the losses, the Ravens did an excellent job of reloading and replacing those players that left, just like the great teams usually do. Losing OT Willie Anderson was negated by drafting Michael Oher in the first round of the draft. Oher looks promising and the Ravens and their fans have high expectations for him starting on the right side.
Drafting defensive end/outside linebacker Paul Kruger may not take the place of Bart Scott immediately, but he will be learning a lot from Terrell Suggs this year and has a lot of talent. The Ravens also signed center Matt Birk to counter the loss of Jason Brown.
The Chiefs did a lot of adding since the end of the 2008 season, and additions were made on every level. The most important additions, besides star quarterback Matt Cassel, were Scott Pioli and Todd Haley.
Bobby Engram was brought in as a slot receiver and a leader for the WRs. Safety Mike Brown was brought in from Chicago and has taken over Bernard Pollard’s starting spot. The Chiefs also brought in two linemen from the Dolphins for an undisclosed late-round draft pick.
Andy Alleman can play both guard and center, and Ike Ndukwe can play guard and tackle. By season’s end, both Alleman and Ndukwe may end up starting at guard and tackle, respectively, on the right side. Mike Goff was signed to fill the starting right guard spot but has shown his age during the preseason games.
First-round pick Tyson Jackson will be anchoring the defensive line at the left defensive end spot. Jackson is a crucial player in the switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4 defense, and has been playing well thus far.