Following a disappointing loss at home to the San Diego Chargers, the Chiefs will stay inKansas City again this Sunday, this time to square off against the Baltimore Ravens. Needless to say, with the way the Chiefs have been playing thus far, this game is likely an easy write-off for most Kansas City fans, but despite this (and after a two week hiatus), I’ve decided to soldier on in the Know Your Enemy series.
The Baltimore Ravens are currently ranked 5th in the NFL for scoring on the season, and are performing so well that some analysts and pundits have opined that the Ravens’ offensive performances have actually been exceeding its defensive performances (compared to the previous decade or so of being an indisputably defensive juggernaut).
The Ravens’ offense is steered by QB Joe Flacco. Flacco made some noise over the offseason, proclaiming himself as an “elite quarterback.” Most people chuckled to themselves upon hearing this, but he has put in a commendable season thus far. While I am not willing to label him as elite quite yet, Flacco has played with poise and engineered one fourth-quarter comeback on the year thus far (Week 3’s controversial win over the New England Patriots). In four games, Flacco has completed 63.5% of his passes for 1,269 YDs and 7 TDs, good for a passer rating of 95.8.
But what is a QB without a few good targets to throw to? Though I would not put the Ravens receivers on par with the Falcons receivers (Roddy, Julio, and Gonzo) they may well have the same amount of talent (or slightly more) spread across five players in WRs Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin, and Jacoby Jones, and TEs Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. The most notable of these five are Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta.
Though largely ineffective in last week’s game, Pitta has 18 catches for 188 YDs and 2 TDs on the season and appears to be a valuable target for Flacco in the red zone. Though not receiving quite the targets that Pitta is receiving, Ed Dickson also can contribute quite a bit at TE when called upon and should be perceived as something of a threat.
Meanwhile, Torrey Smith is looking to have a breakout year, having already registered 16 catches for 332 YDs and 3 TDs on the season. Some in-game commentators have sounded shocked by Torrey Smith’s on field production; however, I personally don’t find this too shocking considering that he put up pretty decent stats last season (50 catches for 841 YDs and 7 TDs) despite both having his rookie preseason shortened by the lockout and playing a significant chunk of the season with a hamstring injury.
Between Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones, you might think that Boldin is the bigger threat, which he may well be becoming, but up until last week Boldin has been relatively disappointing this season, not getting much separation (and, consequently, targets) during the first three games. No, after Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones looks to be the next biggest receiving threat on this Ravens offense. Having watched all of the Ravens’ games this season, I swear Jacoby Jones seems to be good for two to three HUGE catches per game thus far. Even if Jones doesn’t appear to be much of a factor during the first three quarters of the game, the Chiefs defense should not sleep on him because he has been showing week in and week out that he can be relied upon to make crucial, fourth quarter catches even if they’re among his only targets of the game.
As for the Ravens backfield, Ray Rice continues to impress both on ground and through the air. If Flacco and the passing offense didn’t step up their game this year, you might hear a lot more chatter about Rice. Instead, it seems like Rice’s consistently great play is so expected that the passing game is the new hot thing to talk about. Rice also factors into the passing game receiving and is currently topping the Ravens charts with the most receptions (though with, understandably, less yardage given where his routes take him).
As for their offensive line, the Ravens could be doing a little better. C Matt Birk is 36 years old, and while he’s still an excellent center, a lot of his excellence comes from his knowledge of the game as his physical abilities are in decline, and LT Michael Oher of “The Blind Side” fame is not quite as good on the blind side as you’d expect him to be. I know several Ravens fans griping about wanting the team to move him back to RT where he fares better and trying again on the drafting a LT front. RT Kelechi Osemele is a rookie, LG Ramon Harewood is in his second year (though it is his first year playing in games), and RG Marshall Yanda is in his fifth.season. Yanda has been elected to the Pro Bowl once and may be Baltimore’s best OL at the moment in terms of age, position and ability.
As previously stated, the Ravens defense is starting to get overshadowed by their offense; however, this does not mean their defense is bad or even average. As much as the Ravens defense has been underperforming compared to last year (when they were No. 2 Defense overall), they are still a top ten defense (coming in at No. 10 right now).
In case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t heard, the Ravens defense is anchored by timeless players MLB Ray Lewis and S Ed Reed. Though the good news is that these guys are a year older and a bit more of their age is showing, the bad news is (that like Tony Gonzalez) even a slightly less physically capable Lewis and Reed can still be counted among the elite at their positions. Also showing age is NT Ma’ake Kemoeatu who is actually starting to show greater signs of wear.
Besides Reed and Lewis,Baltimore’s next two greatest defenders are DE Haloti Ngata and S Bernard Pollard. You probably know Pollard from such KC snafus as “letting go of Bernard Pollard.” And if you don’t know who Ngata is or what he is capable of, you really should consider just getting rid of that aforementioned rock you’ve been living under.
One positive about facing the Ravens current defense is that they are fronting some lesser experienced players right now. The DE opposite Haloti Ngata is Pernell McPhee, a fifth round draft choice by the Ravens taken in last year’s draft. Due to the loss of LB Terrell Suggs to injury and the loss of LB Jarret Johnson to free agency, the Ravens have been forced to play with rookie Courtney Upshaw and 3rd year player Paul Kruger at OLB and second year player Albert McClellan at MLB..
CBs Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams flesh out the starting defense, and though capable backs, are overshadowed by the stellar safety play.
Baltimore’s kick returner duties are handled by rookie WR Deonte Thompson and the Punt Returner duties are handled by Jacoby Jones. The Ravens’ kick return game is currently slightly better than the Chiefs’, and their punt return game is slightly worse.
Both teams’ kickers and punters look to be about a wash thus far this season, with Ravens P Sam Koch posting similar stats to Colquitt, and rookie K Justin Tucker posting comparable stats to Succop. Justin Tucker replaces Billy Cundiff at kicker after Cundiff messed up what should have been an easy kick last season in the AFC championship which kept the Ravens from the Super Bowl. It is yet to be seen if Tucker can make such clutch kicks himself, with his only real opportunity to do so this season being during the Ravens win against the Patriots in Week 3. In the last seconds of the game, Tucker shanked a FG far right of center, but luckily it was high enough to go over the top of the goalpost rather than banking off the goal post and according to the NFL Rule Book over the post counts as between the posts and such a play is non-reviewable as only the official directly underneath the post was in any position to make the call. Whether this kick was Tucker experiencing very good luck masking non-clutch play, or whether he experienced bad (but not quite bad enough) luck to turn what would normally be a clutch kick into a near miss is anyone’s guess at this point. If the game’s on the line and the ball isn’t within the 25 yard line, I’d probably be holding my breath were I a Ravens fan until enough time and opportunity passes to determine whether or not my kicker could hit a clutch kick.
As a Chiefs fan, it is admittedly hard to go into this game with a positive outlook. If the Chiefs offense (and particularly Cassel) can play turnover-free football, there might be a fighting chance. And I don’t mean a zeroed out turnover differential where a Cassel INT is canceled out by the defense forcing a turnover. This offense, under Cassel, is likely to not be mentally tough enough to put up with one more turnover, even if it’s made up for by the defense later in the game.
But I will remain positive going into this game for one major reason: negativity is not helping this franchise succeed, and may very well be helping to make it worse.
A scientific study performed at California State University back in 2009 looked into what causes “choke” and “clutch” performances. In a nutshell, the study determined that when an individual first learns a skill, they learn it explicitly; the thought process is methodical, and the motion mechanical (slower and more awkward). After time and practice, these skills develop into becoming implicitly performed, quickly and smoothly. In the realm of pro sports, quick and smooth action tends to be paramount to success (if you telegraph a decision by going about it slower in thought and execution, bad stuff tends to happen). In studying what causes some people to choke and some to be clutch, it was determined that, as pressure to succeed gets higher, how the individual copes with the pressure has a lot to do with how they fare overall. The “chokers” allow the pressure of the situation to seep into their consciousness, they get so concerned with the implications of how they’ll perform their task that they’ll revert back to thinking of the task explicitly; their actions get slow and choppy and they tend to fail (which makes sense since they’ve basically reverted back to how they performed the task when they first learned, a/k/a when they sucked most at the task). Those capable of putting the gravity of the situation out of mind are more likely to be able to perform the task implicitly and, having refined thought and movement, are much more likely to succeed (“be clutch”).
Assuming the findings of this study are true (and I’m apt to believe them as they make perfect sense to me), being demonstratively loud and negative towards people you want to succeed appears to be counteractive to the results you want. Pressure to perform is increased, and the more pressure that mounts, the more likely the individual(s) will perform even poorer. If negativity is only going to exacerbate the problems, I’m not gonna be a part of that.
All this being said, do what you like in showing either your support or dissent, but if you do approach the situation negatively, don’t be the least bit surprised if your actions garner negative results; and not just negative results in the form of current players’ performances, but negative results in the form of luring talented people to the team to perpetuate an upgrade. If Pioli does get fired, Double D may be right in predicting Marty to be his successor; no good person without pre-existing ties to this franchise will likely want to step into such a volatile and hostile environment.
Here’s hoping for a win on Sunday. Go Chiefs.