There was little doubt going into Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Ravens (13-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-7) that Baltimore would struggle to come out of the AFC Wild Card round with a win. However, not many expected a young and talented Chiefs team to play so sloppily, especially in a stadium where the Chiefs went 7-1 during the 2010 NFL regular season.
Kansas City put forth what was easily their worst performance of the season, a 30-7 loss at the hands of a dangerous Ravens team—a team that’s quite possibly the most formidable contender in this year’s road to the Super Bowl.
After looking back at the Ravens blowout win in Kansas City on Sunday, we will analyze and make an argument as to why Baltimore has put themselves in perfect position to win it all in 2010, nearly 10 years to the date of the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl victory against the New York Giants.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Todd on Twitter! Twitter.com/ravens023
Ravens RB Willis McGahee celebrating his game-icing TD
This is one of the most important aspects of a team having a successful playoff run, and the Baltimore Ravens have been drastically improving in all areas of the game since the second half of the season started.
Baltimore’s monumental win in Kansas City on Sunday was a microcosm of their dedication to improve in areas that gave them significant problems earlier on in the 2010 season.
One specific area in which the Ravens recently made major improvements is the secondary. Despite all of the injuries Baltimore has suffered in the secondary, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison set in motion the best players the team had and stuck with them.
Many analysts sincerely doubted the strength of the Ravens secondary, but the unit only allowed five opposing quarterbacks to cross the 300 yard mark all year long—not too bad considering safety Ed Reed missed the entire first half of the season, along with two other top corners in Fabian Washington and Domonique Foxworth.
On Sunday in Kansas City, Baltimore’s secondary completely shut down Chiefs QB Matt Cassel and their deep threat in WR Dwayne Bowe. It was Cassel’s worst performance of his six year career, and the 19.1 quarterback rating Cassel posted was 30 points lower than any other outing (both starting and backup) in his past.
Bowe, Kansas City’s top receiver, wasn’t targeted once by Cassel during Sunday’s 30-7 loss to the Ravens. It was only the second time Bowe went without a reception in 2010, and the first time Bowe didn’t see the ball come his way.
Cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Josh Wilson played extremely well in man coverage, and both corners dared Cassel to beat them for the entire 60 minutes of the contest.
Cassel failed miserably.
With the Ravens defense competing at such a high level and finally forcing copious amounts of turnovers, this Baltimore team can ride their defense once again, all the way to the Super Bowl.
After successful offseason hip surgery, safety Ed Reed has returned to prime form. Many speculated whether Reed would even play a significant role in Baltimore’s defense this season. It’s safe to say Reed looks the part of a healthy veteran safety once again, and he’s making big plays in nearly every game he’s involved in.
Reed has snatched eight interceptions in 10 games since returning from the PUP list in Week 7, and has four picks in his last three starts.
Of course, Reed doesn’t need to touch the ball to be a big factor in football games. The mental game Reed often engages in with opposing quarterbacks is enough to drive offensive coordinators nuts.
The success Baltimore had against QB Matt Cassel and Co. is a prime example of what a healthy Reed can do to opposing teams, even without notching an interception.
It’s no secret the Baltimore Ravens start games slower than most teams in the NFL. However, the team’s ability to make crucial halftime adjustments, especially when the initial game plan isn’t working in their favor, is nothing short of brilliant.
Baltimore’s recent win over the Chiefs on Sunday is an excellent example of a successful change in game planning when both teams head into the locker room at halftime.
During the first quarter of Sunday’s game, we saw a Chiefs team who was having too much success running the football. RB Jamaal Charles was literally shredding the Ravens defense to the tune of eight yards per carry through the first quarter, including a 41 yard touchdown run by Charles.
Charles would rack up over 80 yards on the ground in the first quarter alone, but became a non-factor after halftime, due to the Ravens' sensational ability to tweak their game plan in the locker room.
Because of these changes, Charles was effectively bottled up throughout the second half and ended up costing his team five yards during that same period.
Head coach John Harbaugh and his assistants should be considered the best in the NFL at making these important decisions.
It’s important to note that Baltimore has not allowed a third quarter touchdown in 26 straight games—an NFL record that dates back to the 1930s.
Joe Flacco on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit
Stats usually speak for themselves in the NFL, and most of us use these stats to judge an athlete’s progression over the course of their respective career.
Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco was thrust into a starting role due to unforeseen circumstances at the start of the 2008 season. Flacco was expected to manage games and not make mistakes—two areas in which Flacco succeeded in during his first two years as starting quarterback for the Ravens.
In 2010, Flacco has become much more than a manager of the game. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn have done an excellent job in developing Flacco into one of the premier passers in the league within three short years.
One of the knocks on Flacco was his lack of flexibility in his hips, which has also affected his throwing motion. Thanks in part to Zorn working countless hours with the Ravens signal-caller during recent weeks to improve these slight deficits, Flacco’s mobility has improved markedly, and his newfound ability to extend plays has propelled his game to a new level.
Flacco is finally looking like the franchise quarterback the Ravens have been seeking for over 10 years, and the big improvements Flacco has made in recent weeks bode well for Baltimore as they continue their journey through the postseason.
Without a doubt, the 2010 playoffs have surprised many, with several upsets already in the books after the Wild Card round.
In the AFC, the opponents the Ravens are likely to pair-up with have familiar faces—and that can be a good thing for the road-tested Ravens.
As we all know, Baltimore will head to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in the divisional round of the playoffs Saturday afternoon. The Ravens beat the Steelers on their own turf back in Week 4 17-14, on a last-second touchdown pass from QB Joe Flacco to WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Both teams have improved since that contest, but it’s not unreasonable to think Baltimore can have similar success given the big strides of their own they’ve made this season.
If the Ravens can escape from Pittsburgh with a win, there’s a chance the team can host the AFC Championship game with a New York Jets win over New England on Sunday.
No matter how the Jets-Patriots game turns out, Baltimore has proven to be highly competitive when facing either of these teams.
The Ravens already own a Week 1 win over the Jets, and a tight 23-20 overtime loss to the Patriots in Week 6.
Given the above facts, all of Baltimore’s potential playoff foes can be seen as favorable matchups for a Ravens team that’s catching fire at the perfect time.
Let’s face it, most teams would rather host a playoff game instead of traveling to a hostile environment, away from adoring fans and the friendly confines of your own stadium.
The Ravens, however, remain indifferent when it comes to playing on the road, or at M&T Bank Stadium. This especially holds true when it’s time for the playoffs, as Baltimore has yet to host a home playoff game since the 2006 NFL season.
Baltimore, under the leadership of QB Joe Flacco, is 4-2 in road playoff games, and two of those road wins came during Flacco’s rookie year.
With a more seasoned receiving corps in 2010 and an always ferocious defense, it’s not unreasonable to think the Ravens will improve on their 4-2 postseason road record under Flacco and Co.
Ravens RB Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous backs in the NFL. Rice can tear through defenses both on the ground and through the air, and he does it on a weekly basis.
Rice becomes an even more dangerous player when the playoffs roll around. Rice’s yards-per-attempt increase by an average of nearly three yards in the postseason, and opponents rarely are able to stop him, especially during the latter half of contests.
Last Sunday, the Chiefs were able to hold Rice to 99 total yards from scrimmage, but Rice still managed to score a touchdown in the receiving game—an area where he always manages to succeed in.
As long as Baltimore commits to feeding Rice the football, this team can win it all on the shoulders of Rice alone.
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb securing an INT
Surprisingly, the turnover column was an area that Baltimore had a rough time filling during the earlier portion of the 2010 season.
The lack of turnovers Baltimore created at the beginning of the season put undue pressure on the defense to produce in other ways that weren’t conventional for a team built on forcing turnovers left and right.
Opponents would regularly march up and down the field on the prideful Baltimore defense, often pushing players to the brink of exhaustion.
Something had to change, and fast.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison started to simplify the defense by focusing on fundamentals and proven tactics. As a result, the Ravens defense finished the season eighth in the league with 19 interceptions and 12th in the NFL with 15 forced fumbles—the majority of these forced turnovers occurring between Weeks 10 and 17.
As for the postseason, the Ravens rank first in defense among all playoff teams, thanks to their squad holding the Chiefs to 161 yards in total offense.
The Philadelphia Eagles finished a distant second, allowing 309 yards of offense to the Green Bay Packers.
A stingy defense like Baltimore’s can travel a long way in the playoffs, and this defense is looking more reminiscent of the 2000 Super Bowl champion squad.
Super Bowl victory celebration in Baltimore, Maryland (2001)
If the Ravens indeed punch their ticket to Dallas this season, it will be 10 years to the day of Baltimore’s last Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.
Every Ravens fan understands the historical magnitude of winning another Super Bowl in the 2010-11 season, however, it’s the players that take the field who take this opportunity very seriously.
Perhaps LB Ray Lewis understands, more than anyone, just how important it is for the Ravens to walk away Super Bowl champions.
Lewis realizes his days in the NFL are limited, and that other areas of the team are starting to age. Lewis believes this is the best team he’s ever been with in his 15 years as a pro, but at the same time, recognizes the need to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore before his team undergoes serious changes.
Lewis and his teammates realize what’s at stake, and along with a little bit of history, should repeat what the same franchise accomplished 10 years ago.
Before the season started, many people slotted Philadelphia or New Orleans to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLV. Both the Eagles and Saints dropped Wild Card contests to teams perceived to be much weaker.
Although it’s highly unlikely the Seattle Seahawks will advance to the big game, there’s still an outside chance that Seattle could pull an upset next week in Chicago—yet another team from the NFC who’s shown signs of inconsistency throughout the year.
Most teams in the NFC have been difficult to figure out, and there’s no telling who will represent that conference in the Super Bowl.
The Atlanta Falcons have been the most consistent of all teams still left in the NFC playoff race, and stand a good chance to make it to Dallas with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Ravens suffered a heartbreaking 26-21 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta earlier in the year, but the game was highly competitive.
If, for some reason, the Falcons are eliminated by Green Bay this weekend, Baltimore could see another favorable matchup if they too make it to Dallas.
Of course, only time will tell how the Ravens will fare in this year’s playoff race, but if you follow the team to any extent, you have to like their chances this time around.