Entering the Wild Card Play-Off Round against the Kansas City Chiefs, I wish I had a pulse on what the Ravens are capable of offensively. Week 17 against the Bengals was another clunker. Fortunately, the Bengals seem to give the Ravens and QB Joe Flacco more trouble defensively than most other teams. I feel like last week was a case of a team having another’s number, but I uncertain that an underachieving group can right itself for the play-offs. The Ravens can either open things up and attack on offense, or they can limp through one, maybe two games on offense. Does this team have what it takes to make the plays they will need on offense? It is a question we have been asking all season. It is finally time for some answers.
On the Ground: The Ravens have renewed their commitment to the run game since week 15 against the New Orleans Saints. When their offense is working well, the Ravens can attack teams in different ways and that starts by getting Ray Rice going on the ground. The Chiefs are relatively middle of the road on defense according to the statistics. Numbers do not always tell the story, but 16 weeks of evidence does not lie either. The Chiefs 3-4 defense is somewhat under sized up front. They do have athletic players on the line and among their linebackers, but a key to this game will be the ability of the Ravens offensive line to move the Chiefs defensive front off the line of scrimmage. It is possible that the Chiefs will give the Ravens more 4-3 looks with an extra d-lineman int he game looking to stop the Ravens run game. The Chiefs do allow teams to rush for 4.3 yards per carry, a stat that plays in the Ravens favor, but the Ravens line has been very inconsistent about opening up holes and sustaining blocks down-field. The Ravens need big games out of Matt Birk, Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester on the interior line. If this happens and Rice is able to gash the Chiefs defense it will be a long day for the Kansas City faithful. The Chiefs should be motivated to stop a run game after surrendering 209 yards on the ground to Oakland, but are they capable?
Through the Air: With all of their receiving options, the Ravens seem more well equipped to attack the Chiefs with the passing game. Flacco has put together his best season and with Rice, Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, TJ Housmanzadeh and Donte Stallworth there should be openings against an Chiefs secondary that has good measurables, but is still inexperienced. The Chiefs surrendered 23 touchdown passes in 2010, a number the Ravens need to add too. The main concern for the Ravens passing attack is the ability of the Chiefs to pressure opposing QB’s. The Chiefs have tallied 38 sacks this season, with 14.5 coming from end/OLB Tamba Hali. Conversely, the Ravens have surrendered 40 sacks this year. In order to keep Flacco on his feet, three things need to happen: 1) T Michael Oher needs to be healthy and play well along with the rest of the line, 2) Flacco needs to read and throw quickly and 3) Cam Cameron needs to move the pocket some and get Flacco in more shotgun looks. Against the Bengals, Flacco looked slow with his reads and held the ball far too long. Flacco needs to be more decisive and confident in his decision making. Flacco also needs to find Boldin. Over the last 3 games, Boldin has only 5 catches for 26 yards. Flacco has seemed to have settled into finding his favorite targets in Mason and Heap, but he needs to look to get the ball to his best play-maker.
The Chiefs at home will be a tough math-up for the Ravens. They are young and should have more left in their legs at this point in the season. But the Chiefs are also inconsistent and do not have many impressive wins. It is play-off time and if the Ravens were waiting to turn it on, now is the time. I think we will see the a more aggressive offensive game plan and Ravens win against a Chiefs team that is improving, but not ready for pirme-time yet.