It’s time for your favorite part of the week: Saturday morning. Saturday is the first official day of the weekend, big college games around the country, and, of course, your weekly ‘Getting to know’ post.* This week, the Chiefs face perhaps their toughest challenge all season in the Baltimore Ravens.
*Also, it’s the day of the weekend where we don’t have to endure the woes of being Chiefs fans.
Chiefs fans will remember the last time these two teams met. It was a cold January morning, and it was the Chiefs’ first home playoff game since 2003. Unfortunately, it ended the way Chiefs fans have become accustomed to games ending. After a promising halftime score, the next two quarters were unbearable and the Chiefs were blown out of their own stadium.*
*Par for the course in 2012.
But, that was two years ago. Both teams have changed since then, so let’s begin.
In 2010, Joe Flacco was viewed as a game manager, and in some cases, a liability. In fact, in 2010, football fans weren’t even sure who they’d rather have on their team, Flacco, or Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. In those two years, Flacco has emerged as an unquestioned reason for his team’s success* while Sanchez is constantly looking over his shoulder for a bare-chested Tebow running at him with a tire.
*Although Bill Barnwell from Grantland would disagree. Which means he’s probably right.
In 2012, Flacco has helped lead the Ravens to a 3-1 record 99/156 passes (63.5%) for 1,269 yards, 7 TDs and 3 INTs. The Ravens organizations, much like the Chiefs, have surrounded their quarterback with talent, whether it be through free agency or the draft. That talent includes one of the league’s best running backs, Ray Rice, wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta, and a big offensive line.
Rice happens to be one of the most dangerous backs in the game right now, but is currently 13th in the league rushing with 64 carries for 317 yards. Under-utilized if you ask most fans,* Rice is perpetually compared to Marshall Faulk because of his size, speed, and running style. But with the emergence of Flacco, the Ravens offense has transformed into more of a passing attack – fourth in the NFL in passing yards per game at 310.2 – than a rushing attack – 12th in the NFL at 113.8 yards per game. Still, you have to love the balanced approach that’s good for the NFL’s second most prolific offense averaging 424 yards per game.*
*But when has offensive coordinator Cam Cameron cared what fans thought?
**Of course, stats don’t necessarily tell the whole story. Example: Chiefs average 418.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL.
Anquan Boldin leads a good receiving group for the Ravens, but one that has seen its fair share of failed veterans in the past; T.J. Houshmanzadah, and Lee Evans show how veteran wide receivers aren’t always the answer. Ozzie Newsome, the general manager of the Ravens, saw the misses and decided to take a chance on second-round receiver Torrey Smith* out of Maryland in 2011. Taken 32 picks after the Chiefs’ own Jonathan Baldwin in that same Draft, Smith has gone on to look like one of the next-big-things at the receiver position, leading his team in receiving yards and touchdowns.** Another receiver is Jacoby Jones, whom the Ravens signed in May from the Texans but could have been working for the Ravens as soon as January. Jones also returns punts.
*Who isn’t afraid of anything … except earthquakes.
**While Chiefs fans feel good about Baldwin just getting increased playing time.
The last time the Chiefs and Ravens played, it was Todd Heap the Chiefs defense couldn’t stop. This time around, they will be dealing with third-year player, Dennis Pitta, out of BYU and third-year player, Ed Dickson, out of Oregon. It will be interesting to see how these tight ends matchup with the Chiefs defense, but if the season has been any indication, my guess is not well.
The Ravens offensive line helps bolster this already strong offense. At left tackle, you have a blockbuster hit that won Sandra Bullock an Academy Award for Best Actress,* and the talent continues all down the line. From left to right, Michael Oher, Ramon Harewood, six-time Pro Bowler Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda, and rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele at right tackle. Even former left tackle anchor, Bryant “Mount” McKinnie, serves as a backup tackle on the line. And while the offensive line doesn’t agree with everything their teammates do or say, we can all agree they are some of the best in the business.
*And had to win some sort of Razzie for worst performance by Tim McGraw
When you think of the Ravens, you think of defense. Between the future Hall of Famers on the roster to the statistics that back up the dominance of this unit, the Ravens are proof that defense can still win ball games in this record-breaking new age offense. And there are few to no positions on defense that could be considered weak, which must allow new defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, sleep sound at night.
The defense all starts up front with 2006 first round pick, Haloti Ngata, and his 6’4” 340 lbs frame. The three-time Pro Bowler, who’s first sport of choice wasn’t football, is accompanied by 10 year veteran Maake Kemoeatu at nose tackle and the second year defensive end Pernell McPhee. Kemoeatu is starting in place of third-year player Terrence Cody, whose performance in 2010 prompted the Ravens to release Kelly Gregg before the 2011 season. Gregg then, as we remember, found his way into the starting job with the Chiefs before his retirement/Chiefs decision not to re-sign.
With the linebackers, it begins and ends with Ray Lewis.* The ageless wonder who also does a part-time gig giving inspirational speeches before the NIT College Basketball Championship, is the heart and soul of the defense. But although Lewis’ presence is a given, the rest of the linebackers haven’t been so much this season. We all know reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs,* injured his Achilles’ playing basketball this offseason and his return is in no way secure. 2012 first-round pick, Courtney Upshaw, has yet to fill that void, only being brought in during sub-packages and behind Albert McClellan, the second year player out of Marshall, on the depth chart. Paul Kroger, who hadn’t started a game since his one in 2009, is now the outside linebacker opposite McClellan after losing Jarret Johnson to the Chargers in free agency, while fifth-year player Jameel McClain, who entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, fills the last linebacker position.
*13-time Pro Bowler and Old Spice salesman
**Who is NOT a fan of Tebowmania.
And if the Ravens linebacker position seems unusually down, the defensive backfield is exceptionally good. Like always, the Ravens have eight-time Pro Bowler Ed Reed at doing his thing at free safety. And former Chief Bernard Pollard is a threat to hit you really hard, possibly illegally,* anytime he’s on the field. And the Ravens, without question, have one of the best if not the best groups of corners in all of football. 2009 third round pick, Lardarius Webb, looks like a future Pro Bowler, possibly even this year, Cary Williams has been good over the last two seasons, and 2011 first-round pick out of Colorado, Jimmy Smith, is in the hunt for a starting job but is currently just a really good nickel.
*Although his best known hit was legal at the time.
Despite this talented backfield, teams have had success passing on the Ravens, with the team being ranked 29th in the league in passing yards allowed (295.8 yards per game) compared to 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (94.5). The team’s only loss this season came on the one-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in week two.
Justin Tucker: Kicker – 8/9 on field goals*
*Although Bill Belichick had a question about one of those field goals.
Sam Koch: Punter – 36.6 net punt average
This game has potential. For what? I guess we’ll find out.