By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
7:20 PM EDT, October 5, 2012
RAVENS PASSING GAME: Behind quarterback Joe Flacco and a multidimensional group of receivers highlighted by Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, the Ravens are averaging 310.3 passing yards per game, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. Six players have eight catches or more. The Ravens have produced an NFL-best 24 passing plays of 20 yards or more. Flacco, who has gotten just about everybody involved, has thrown three interceptions compared with seven touchdown passes.
CHIEFS PASS DEFENSE: Outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston (four sacks) bolster the pass rush while cornerback Brandon Flowers and safety Eric Berry are the standouts in the secondary. Despite the individual talent within this group, the results have been uneven. The Chiefs have allowed a respectable 216 yards per game through the air, but they've surrendered 10 passing touchdowns. Opposing teams have scored touchdowns 72.2 percent of the time that they've reached the red zone. Only two defenses have fared worse.
RAVENS RUNNING GAME: Ray Rice is 13th in the NFL with 317 rushing yards, though all but one of the players ahead of him has more carries than he does. The Pro Bowl running back's touches have gone up every week to the season-high 26 he got against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 27. Rice's 491 all-purpose yards put him second in the NFL to the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles (512). Bernard Pierce had the best game of his rookie season against the Browns with 48 yards on six carries.
CHIEFS RUSH DEFENSE: Kansas City is allowing 118 rushing yards per game, which ranks 20th in the NFL. However, that number is slightly skewed by the fact that the Buffalo Bills rushed for 203 yards against them in Week 2. The other three games, the Chiefs' run defense, backed by linebacker and leading tackler Derrick Johnson, has been solid. Rookie defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who drew comparisons to Haloti Ngata coming out of the draft, has just six tackles and has yet to make much of an impact.
RAVENS RUSH DEFENSE: If there were any concerns about the Ravens' run defense, those are probably gone, though this week will be another big test. The Ravens have allowed just 2.7 yards per carry the past three games and are giving up 94.5 rushing yards per game. That is despite surrendering 129 to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1. Some of the improvements can be credited to young outside linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan doing a better job setting the edge.
CHIEFS RUNNING GAME: Jamaal Charles appears fully recovered from the serious knee injury that ended his 2011 season. In his past two games, Charles has rushed for 325 yards and two touchdowns and caught nine balls for 78 yards and one touchdown. The Chiefs, who have also leaned on former Brown Peyton Hillis and rookie Shaun Draughn, average 173.5 rushing yards per game, the second-highest total in the NFL. Charles is second in the NFL in rushing with 415 yards.
RAVENS PASS DEFENSE: The Ravens had their moments last week against Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, including Cary Williams' interception return for a touchdown. But they still allowed the rookie to throw for 320 yards and sacked him just once. They are ranked 29th in the league against the pass, permitting 295.8 yards per game. Their problems include communication breakdowns, an inconsistent pass rush and the struggles of Williams and Jimmy Smith in coverage.
CHIEFS PASSING GAME: Matt Cassel might be playing for his starting job. The veteran quarterback has come to symbolize the fumbling Chiefs as he has completed just 58.4 percent of his passes and has committed a league-leading 10 of Kansas City's 15 turnovers (three on fumbles and seven on interceptions). He's also been sacked 13 times. Backup Brady Quinn could play if Cassel falters early. Cassel does have weapons, including Dwayne Bowe who is fourth in the AFC with 342 receiving yards.
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS: Rookie Justin Tucker missed a field-goal attempt last week, but he has made eight of nine and his long kickoffs have neutralized the opponents' return game. The Ravens have allowed an average of 20.4 yards on kickoff returns and 11.8 yards on punt returns. Only four teams have been stingier on kickoff returns. Jacoby Jones has handled all but one punt return, and rookie Deonte Thompson has been the primary kick returner. Thompson's longest return this season is 49 yards.
CHIEFS SPECIAL TEAMS: Ryan Succop has made eight of nine field-goal attempts, including a 31-yarder in overtime to beat the New Orleans Saints. Dustin Colquitt is tied for third in the NFL with 10 punts inside the opposing 20. Javier Arenas' 13.3-yard average on punt returns is seventh in the NFL. Former Raven Edgar Jones leads the Chiefs with four special teams tackles. Kansas City's punt coverage has been spotty and was victimized by an 88-yard touchdown in Week 2by the Bills' Leodis McKelvin.
RAVENS INTANGIBLES: An Achilles' heel for the Ravens the past two seasons has been their struggles on the road, particularly against subpar teams. The Ravens have lost six of their past 10 road games, including games last year against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. However, the Ravens are 10 days removed from their last game and as healthy as they've been all season. They are 7-1 against the AFC West under John Harbaugh, and 2-0 against the Chiefs.
CHIEFS INTANGIBLES: The Chiefs rank fourth in total offense and 13th in total defense. However, turnovers and poor quarterback play have doomed them and prompted fans and media members to call for the jobs of general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel. Only two teams in NFL history had a worse turnover ratio than the minus-13 the Chiefs had. Kansas City has been outscored 77-44 at Arrowhead Stadium, a place that has traditionally been tough for opponents.
PREDICTION: With their recent struggles on the road in mind, it would probably be foolish to expect anything but another tight game for the Ravens. But they seemingly have too much in their favor to slip up here. They are rested and healthy, and their offense is playing with a lot of confidence. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have been a mess. I don't expect a blowout, but I'm sure the Ravens would be just fine with a grind-it-out road victory and they should be able to get it to improve to 4-1 for the third straight year.
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