The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium, as they try to shake off an embarrassing blowout at the hands of the San Diego Chargers last weekend.
The Ravens come to town finally well rested after playing three games over an 12 day stretch. Being given such little rest over that short of a span almost came back to bite Baltimore in their last game, a 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns that came down to the final play. Head coach John Harbaugh’s crew has now had nine days of rest and will be ready to roll when they hit the field on Sunday.
After getting beaten down in three of their four games this season, the Chiefs probably wish they could go and hide for nine days or so. Their 1-3 record and 15 turnovers (most in the NFL) has put QB Matt Cassel on the hot seat, with questions surrounding his job security dominating coverage of the team this week.
If the Chiefs are looking for some hope, there’s always the Ravens weak showing against the winless Browns. Also, Baltimore’s only loss of the season came at Philadelphia against the Eagles, giving the Arrowhead crowd a chance to slow down the Ravens no-huddle offense.
It should be noted, however, that Joe Flacco’s offense had no trouble managing the Kansas City crowd the last time they came to town, for a Wild Card playoff game after the 2010 season. And that was when the crowd was much more raucous than the one likely greeting the Ravens offense Sunday.
Here are three players to keep your eyes on as the Chiefs look to pull off the upset.
Offense: Matt Cassel
Even if there’s nothing better on the depth chart behind him, if Cassel puts up another stinker, Crennel will have no choice but to make a change at quarterback. Cassel hasn’t been the only reason for the Chiefs struggles, but few have been worse at the position this season.
It’s hard to remember now, but Cassel has proven he can be an adequate starter in the NFL before while playing with less talent than he has right now. That doesn’t mean the Chiefs should ever feel like Cassel will carry them to victory, but if he can stop handing the ball to the other team, Kansas City will have a chance to get their season back on track.
It seems simple, but if Cassel doesn’t turn the ball over, there will be a game at Arrowhead Sunday afternoon. If it’s more of the same? Well, we’ll see more of the same from a last place team.
Defense: Eric Berry
The Chiefs safety is back from the ACL injury that cost him most of last season, but he’s not really back. That much is clear through four games, as he’s constantly been a step slow both in coverage and in run support.
Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will try to slow down Flacco with a pass rush that has been inconsistent so far this season, but it’s hard to get any sort of rhythm going up front when the secondary doesn’t do their job.
Berry was abused by Antonio Gates last week and while Ravens TE Dennis Pitta isn’t at the same level, he shouldn’t be counted out. Pitta has more catches, yards and touchdowns than Gates, posing another challenge for Berry.
Special Teams: Javier Arenas
It may seem like ages since the Chiefs had a return touchdown so it may come as a surprise that Arenas’ punt return average is seventh best in the league. He’s managed that despite not posting a return longer than 24 yards.
He’ll get a chance to improve on his average and turn in his first touchdown against a Ravens squad that gave up a 40-yard return last week to Browns WR Travis Benjamin.
Offense: Ray Rice
No Baltimore player was seemingly slowed more by their crazy schedule more than the dangerous Rice. He managed just 49 yards on 18 carries against the Browns, but that was on the heels of a 101 yard, 20 carry performance the week before.
For the season, Rice is averaging five yards a carry and is the Ravens leading receiver with 22 catches. The Chiefs linebackers will have fun trying to chase him around all day long.
Defense: Haloti Ngata
At 6-4, 330, the All-Pro defensive lineman is a headache for every line he faces. But with the shuffling the Chiefs have had to do at center and guard, his presence will be impossible to miss.
Ngata is second on the Ravens in sacks and anything he puts in the books Sunday will be an improvement over his last trip to Arrowhead. In that Ravens Wild Card victory, the big man wasn’t credited with single tackle, sack or any other statistic.
Special Teams: Justin Tucker
The undrafted free agent out of Texas has turned plenty of heads since beating out veteran Billy Cundiff to be the Ravens kicker. He hit on his first eight field goals of his career, including kicks of 56 and 52 yards.
Last week was his first hiccup, missing from 47 yards against the Browns. Then there is also the game-winner against the New England Patriots from 27 yards that very well could have been no-good if there weren’t replacement refs on the field.
Tucker has a huge leg and could be dangerous from any distance Sunday, but all kickers are fragile, especially rookies, so it bears watching to see if his first “official” miss gets inside his head.