On paper, a meeting between the NFL’s second-ranked offense (Chiefs) with the league’s 23rd-ranked defense (Ravens) wouldn’t seem like much of a match-up at all.
Yet, one of those teams takes a 3-1 record into Sunday’s game while the other is 1-3 and a significant underdog.
The Ravens rode their high-flying offense and a defense with a penchant for stops at the right moments to their hot start. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have been unable to turn impressive yardage gains into gaudy points totals because of an inability to hold onto the ball.
Kansas City might be accumulating 418.5 yards per game, but it stands just 17th in the NFL with 22 points per contest. That’s because the Chiefs have the worst turnover differential in the league, an unsightly minus-13.
Quarterback Matt Cassel has had difficulty so far, ranking 29th in the league in quarterback rating and 14th in passing yards. He has put up just five touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions.
Running back Jamaal Charles is the main reason the Chiefs’ offense has posted such impressive yardage numbers. Charles is second in the NFL with 411 rushing yards, to go with two touchdowns. His 5.7 yards per rush is first among players with at least 50 carries.
The Ravens are aware he should be a handful.
“Straight speed man - one of those guys that are home-run hitters,” linebacker Ray Lewis told reporters. “If you let him get in the open field - you saw it last week against the Saints - you jump out of a gap here or there, one seam, and he’s out of the gate. We saw this guy before, we’ve played him before, and we know what we’re up (against). So it’s going to be a big test for us.”
Said defensive coordinator Dean Pees of the Kansas City running game: “They have a system, and they really don’t deviate from that system very much. It’s not like it’s real, real complicated. They just do a great job of blocking it. Now, when you add the fact that Charles is really a dynamic back, and they have two really good backs behind him, but especially him - he’s got it all. The guy can pounce it outside, he can cut it back, and he can stick his foot in the ground and make a one-cut. There are some backs in some of the zone systems that are just a one-cut, downhill - that’s what they are. This guy really has it all.”
On the other side of the ball, Baltimore’s offense could be a mismatch for the Chiefs’ defense. The Ravens are averaging the second-most yards and fifth-most points in the NFL while Kansas City is giving up 34 points per game, second-most in the league.
However, the Chiefs have had some success against the pass - Baltimore’s bread and butter this year.
“I like the way they’re aggressive. Most teams that can play bump-and-run man-to-man play Cover 1, they can give you some problems,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron told reporters.
Arrowhead Stadium is notorious for crowd noise, which is something that gave the Ravens’ offense some trouble at Philadelphia. In the no-huddle, the team relies on quick communication, and a trip to Kansas City should reveal whether that has improved in recent weeks.
Coach John Harbaugh hopes his offense isn’t the only unit bothered by the decibels.
“You have to communicate things really clearly. But the other side of that coin is that it is really tough on the defense,” Harbaugh told reporters. “The defense has to communicate, too. So they’re getting a call in, they’re making checks, they’re adjusting to motions and things like that. And if the crowd is really loud, it challenges the defense as well. So we’d like to say we could use that to our advantage as well.”