After coming so close to winning the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens must face a playoff game in Kansas City this weekend opposed to a week of practice at home.
The Ravens and Chiefs have similar identities as both teams rely on a destructive running game on offense with resolute defenses.
Neither passing offense is overwhelming for different reasons.
Matt Cassell, the Chiefs' quarterback, has shown that he has the ability to put up big numbers in the past filling in for Tom Brady in New England before moving to Kansas City. His situation in Kansas City is very different nowadays.
The Chiefs offense relies on the resilience of Thomas Jones and the elusiveness of Jamaal Charles to carry their offense. The passing game acts as a compliment to the running game due to the fact that their weapons at receiver and tight end are limited. Dwayne Bowe has had a monster season, 72 receptions for 1162 yards and 15 touchdowns, however his success has not been resembled by the rest of the team.
The Chiefs biggest threats outside of Bowe are both rookies, receiver Dexter McCluster and Tight End Tony Moeaki. Moeaki and McCluster have both made plays for the Chiefs this season but, typically for rookies, not on weekly basis. Together they have scored 4 receiving touchdowns and combined for only 68 receptions(4 less than Bowe's final total).
This game is going to be decided by Matt Cassell's ability to connect with his receivers. Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles are the best running back tandem in the league but the Ravens specialize in shutting down the oppositions rushing attack. They ranked 5th in the league this season, which is 3 or 4 places below what you expect from this team, but the lack of threat on the outside will allow them to fill the box on a regular basis.
The Ravens are likely to allow Ed Reed to cover the back end of the defense completely and use Dawan Landry as the 8th man in the box. If the Chiefs look to take advantage of this, they will most likely regret it. Reed leads the league in interceptions this season(8) without even playing in every game(10 starts). Ed Reeds chess match with Matt Cassell will be crucial to the outcome of this game.
The last time Reed was faced with this situation was two years ago in the first round of the playoffs against the Miami Dolphins and Chad Pennington. The Pennington of then and the Cassell of now share many traits most notably neither quarterback threw many interceptions in the regular season. In that game Reed had 2 interceptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens also possess two fantastic running backs; starter Ray Rice and short yardage expert Willis McGahee. Rice is similar to Charles as he relies on quickness and his ability to run away from defenders but significantly he won't be facing 8 man fronts on Sunday night. The difference between the two offenses is that the Ravens have 4 potential starters in their receiving corp.
Each of TJ Houshmandzadeh, Donte' Stallworth, Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin have been starters in this league at some point. They may not be the fastest of receivers(Stallworth being the exception) but they will cause matchup problems for the defenders lining up across from them forcing the Chiefs to keep both Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis in coverage.
The Chiefs best chance of stopping the Ravens offense is getting to quarterback Joe Flacco. The Chiefs have one of the best pure pass rushers in the league in Right outside Linebacker Tamba Hali. Hali recorded 14.5 sacks this season and forced 2 fumbles. The Chiefs are an above average blitzing team ranking 12th in the league with 38. The Chiefs will look to William Gilberry, who has 7 sacks, as well as Hali to get to Flacco and prevent him from finding his talented receivers.
Of course they have no hope of even pressurizing Flacco if they cannot stop the running game first.
When Flacco does get time to throw he will likely steer clear of Brandon Flowers. Flowers is one of the best cornerbacks in the league even though he does not get the recognition of stars such as Revis or Asamougha. Flowers matchup will dictate who Flacco looks to throw the ball to between Mason or Boldin as his first read. Either receiver should be able to take advantage of Flower's teammate, and namesake, Brandon Carr. Carr is not a bad cornerback but he receives a lot of attention from opposing offenses which highlights his flaws exponentially.
The Chiefs and Ravens should be a hard hitting tight affair in which both teams will feel that they can win the game. And they both can.
The Chiefs will look to Dwayne Bowe repeatedly while the Ravens will target Brandon Carr on the Chiefs side. This points out how similar these teams are that their strengths and weaknesses create similar key match-ups during this game.
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