Pressing Questions  

C-Spire  

Young quarterbacks could determine Ravens-Chiefs matchup

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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In many ways, the Ravens and Chiefs are similar in structure. Both have solid 3-4 defensive packages and a desire to run the ball offensively.

Each team will start out trying to impose its run game on the other. Even against the Chiefs' top-ranked ground attack, the Ravens are capable of slowing them down with Ray Lewis leading the fifth-ranked rushing defense. Kansas City is respectable against the run, but there's a chance Ray Rice could crack the 100-yard mark.

Both teams have enough tools to win, and this should be a low-scoring game with a test of wills going down to the end.

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Here are four pressing questions heading into the matchup.

1. Which quarterback can step up?

Joe Flacco and Matt Cassel really are two of the emerging stars at quarterback. Flacco finished with 25 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions, while Cassel had 27 TDs and just seven picks. Interestingly enough, both quarterbacks were sacked too much over the final four games, and their touchdown production dropped. Flacco threw six touchdowns and was sacked once every eight pass attempts. Cassel connected on just five scores and was sacked once every 12.5 attempts. Cassel's completion percentage dropped to an alarming 52.8 percent while Flacco's stayed up at 63.7 percent.

Each coach would love to get out of a game like this with 20-25 pass plays, but it's more likely both signal-callers will be well over 35 attempts. That puts the heat directly on their shoulders. Flacco has a 3-2 postseason record, but has just one touchdown pass in 120 playoff throws. Cassel has never thrown a pass in the playoffs.

2. Which defense will apply pressure?

The stats say the Chiefs have a better pass rush than the Ravens. Kansas City has 38 sacks to just 27 for Baltimore. Last week, the Ravens didn't get to Carson Palmer in 45 pass plays. The Bengals, who are one of the worst pass rush teams, got to Flacco four times in 23 pass plays, which has to be worrisome for the Ravens. The Chiefs' quarterbacks were pounded by the Raiders in Week 17, giving up seven sacks.

Both defensive staffs have to feel pretty good about getting to the passer. Flacco has done a pretty good job in the postseason when it comes to getting rid of the ball (four sacks in five games). Can Michael Oher block Tamba Hali better than Branden Albert does with Terrell Suggs?

3. Can the Ravens' corners cover Bowe?

Dwayne Bowe was the NFL's leader in touchdown receptions with 15, but he only had one in his last five games. There is little doubt Cassel will throw in Bowe's direction 10 to 12 times in this game because the Ravens' corners have been targets all year long.

With the run game keeping the front seven honest, and Jamaal Charles being a threat out of the backfield occupying a safety, there will be opportunities to throw outside the numbers and away from ball-hawking safety Ed Reed. Any throws inside will immediately put the passing game in danger, with Reed having eight interceptions in 10 games. Reed has seven interceptions in seven postseason games, and Cassel has to always remind himself of Reed's presence in the deep middle.

4. Should Baltimore run spread offense?

When the Ravens acquired Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadah to go along with Todd Heap and Derrick Mason, they really had the makings of a fine spread offense. When playing against Kansas City's 3-4 defense, it might be a good idea to use that spread, especially if they flex Heap out and force Tamba Hali to walk out on a receiver.

Almost every week the Ravens will give you 20 snaps of some form of spread and usually generate a touchdown or two from the set. I would not be surprised to see an increase in the spread set in this game with an emphasis on the one-back run game if the Chiefs walk Hali out to a receiver. If he comes in tight, then it's an easy check to the pass with Ray Rice helping block the tackle.

The Chiefs are one of the feel-good stories of 2010, and Todd Haley should be up for Coach of the Year honors, as well as Scott Pioli up for Executive of the Year, but the Chiefs were just 1-2 against teams that finished with winning records. The Ravens were 4-3 against teams with winning records, with wins over New Orleans, Pittsburgh, New York Jets, and Tampa Bay. The Ravens are too battle-tested to go against at this time.

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