No more dress rehearsals. The Ravens will play defense for real today. The offense will take off its wraps and flex its muscle. In fact, it's time to find out just what kind of team John Harbaugh has this season. Kansas City may not afford the best indication of whether the Ravens are on track for a Super Bowl, but the Chiefs don't figure to be the pushovers of their recent past.
These are a few big-picture themes that will start to unfold today at M&T Bank Stadium:
-- Defense without Rex Ryan: So much was made of the team's defensive chemistry under Ryan, but clearly, the tone is established on the field, not on the sideline. Ryan's best trait was that he knew how to take advantage of his players' best assets. Greg Mattison doesn't have Ryan's bombast, but he has a very solid set of credentials. We will learn more about how Mattison plans to improve the defense today -- blitz or no blitz, four-man front or three? Should be fun to watch.
-- Tackle to tackle: The Ravens lost two starters and still improved their offensive line this offseason. The addition of veteran center Matt Birk made Jason Brown an afterthought, and rookie right tackle Michael Oher will be a huge upgrade over Willie Anderson. Think the Ravens won't be able to run the ball this season? This will be a smashmouth offense, whether protecting Joe Flacco or drive-blocking for the running backs.
-- The other Ray: That would be Ray Rice, the diminutive running back who took the starting job from Willis McGahee this summer. Rice added five pounds to his muscular, 5-foot-8 frame, but still got quicker. Look for him to make a lot of plays in the passing game with his fast feet and good hands. Keeping him healthy will be a priority.
-- Defending deep: Cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington are fast, Reed is the most dangerous safety in the game, and Dawan Landry is solid. But the Ravens need better nickel play than they got last season. Chris Carr gets the first shot at the nickel, in addition to his return duties. Frank Walker, next man in, had his issues in the preseason. The arrival of the Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe will provide an early test.
-- Hero's return: Look for tight end Todd Heap to return to the passing game in a big way. He was a blocker first and receiver second last season, when the Ravens needed to protect Flacco with as many men as they could. The new offensive line should allow Heap to get in the middle of the defense for big plays once more.