The Kansas City Chiefs take on the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium. The games finally count and that means the players to watch are those that will make an impact on the game instead of trying to win a job.
The following are three players (Offense, Defense and Special Teams) from each team to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Larry Johnson
As the last player to rush for 100 yards against the Baltimore defense — in 2006 — Johnson will need to put up a similar effort if the Chiefs are going to have a chance for the upset. Against most teams this season I expect Jamaal Charles to get his fair share of carries, but against a physical defense like the Ravens it will have to be a heavy dose of LJ. No matter who lines up behind center for Kansas City, Johnson will have to find a way to hit back just as hard as the Ravens defense hits him. As history has shown, not many players in the league have been up to that task.
Defense: Tyson Jackson
Both teams are going to try and pound the ball on the ground, meaning Chiefs rookie — and starting defensive end — Tyson Jackson won’t have any time to act like a rookie. Defensive linemen are notoriously slow starters, but that won’t be an option if Kansas City is going to improve on last year’s 30th ranked rushing defense.
Jackson only registered 3 tackles and 1.5 sacks during the preseason. Far from impressive numbers, but at times he was extremely disruptive at the line of scrimmage opening things up for the Chiefs linebackers. Jackson could be the most important person to watch because his stat line will not tell the whole story. Keep an eye on how often — if at all — Jackson takes on two blockers.
Special Teams: Ryan Succop
Justin Medlock, Justin Medlock, Justin Medlock… Every time I start to think Succop could be the Chiefs kicker for years to come, all I hear in the back of my mind is Medlock’s name. Succop was much more impressive in camp than Medlock was his rookie season but I know I won’t be able to shake the nerves until I know Succop has shaken his. For the Chiefs to beat the Ravens it will have to be a close, low scoring game and if that happens Succop will be right in the middle of helping to decide it at the end.
Offense: Ray Rice
The Baltimore running game is usually referred to as a “three headed monster” after Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Rice split carries last season. This year it’s Rice’s show and he will be on full display Sunday. Not only will he get the majority of the carries, but he will also be utilized in the passing game. In the Ravens third preseason game, Rice — who had 33 receptions as a rookie — caught eight passes for 67 yards.
Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, will look to use Rice the same way he used LaDanian Tomlinson in San Diego and Ronnie Brown in Miami. The Chiefs new defense will get quite the workout not only trying to stop the running game, but also keeping tabs on Rice when he comes out of the backfield.
Defense: Haloti Ngata
With the Chiefs focusing on pounding the ball on the ground, the first line of defense for the Ravens in Ngata. He’s been nursing a sprained ankle, but claims it won’t limit him on Sunday. And if that’s the case, Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles could be in for a long day. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed get the attention — and rightfully so — but Ngata is the one to watch at the point of attack.
Special Teams: Steve Hauschka
The Ravens, like the Chiefs, have a new kicker. The difference for Baltimore is they are replacing the only kicker their franchise has ever known: Matt Stover. So while every team in the league that has an untested kicker wants to see if their guy can handle the big time, the Ravens have to be a little extra nervous after parting ways with one of the best kickers the NFL has seen in recent years. Hauschka was 6/7 during the preseason, but if Kansas City’s defense can keep the game close he could be forced to kick his first career pressure kick.