A crushing defense with giant linemen, brutal linebackers and an opportunistic, turnover-forcing secondary is the Baltimore Ravens' backbone. However, Kansas City also faces the challenge of stopping an increasingly well-rounded Ravens offensive attack.
Transferring from Pitt to relatively anonymous Delaware, Joe Flacco was off a lot of radars prior to a strong showing in the 2008 Senior Bowl and the 2008 combine, after which he became the Ravens’ franchise quarterback with the 18th overall pick that year.
Baltimore management plugged in weapons at wide receiver, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, to match with Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap and running back Ray Rice to give Baltimore an offense it had long lacked.
Baltimore’s offensive production dropped drastically at the end of this season. The Ravens posted a season-low 199 yards of offense in their season finale against Cincinnati.
Over its last four games, Baltimore surrendered a sack for every eight pass attempts. At first glance, this looks like a career day for Kansas City pass rusher Tamba Hali, but it’s not that simple.
Weekly, Baltimore ran roughly 20 snaps from a one-back spread offense. Look for Baltimore to spread out Kansas City’s 3-4 defense and force Hali wide in coverage.
Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be forced into the nickel formation to cover all of Baltimore’s receiving options. Crennel will have to dial up a lot of blitz packages from the nickel to take advantage of Baltimore’s weak pass protection.
Expect nickel corner Javier Arenas to be key to Kansas City’s pass rush, and don’t be surprised to see Kansas City unleash safeties Eric Berry, Kendrick Lewis and Jon McGraw on some safety blitzes.
The big question is, can Kansas City stop the run from the nickel?
The chess match in this game will be personnel matchups. Baltimore can go with spread or power formations, which means the Chiefs will have to adapt with each snap.
The key to Kansas City’s success will be the ability of Glenn Dorsey to stop the run. Dorsey will be a factor regardless of defensive formation, and if he can marginalize Rice’s ability to break into the second level, much other discussion becomes moot.
Much to Kansas City's advantage, Baltimore’s offense is criticized for simply being “too plain.”
While some sneaky zone-blitz packages that bring pressure from the secondary Kansas City may rattle Flacco, Kansas City needs to be sure this doesn’t leave them vulnerable to the run.
Dorsey, Berry, Arenas and Flowers all have big days and Hali will have an impact, but will be held largely in check by Baltimore’s playcalling, if they venture to think outside the box.