First Impressions – Chiefs @ Ravens

| August 20, 2011

If you like defenses that can stop the run and like seeing passes end up on the ground instead of in receivers’ hands, you would have enjoyed watching this game. Both were playoff teams last year, but neither offense could find a rhythm. The teams stayed away from their ground game strengths and tried instead to get their passing games going, but too many balls were a little off target.
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Changes to each defense in the offseason will require replacements to step up. Games like this – that wound up being very much in favor of the D – are encouraging in that they offer a hint of the pieces fitting together.
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Kansas City Chiefs – Three Things of Note
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●  The Chiefs featured Dwayne Bowe and Tony Moeaki as their top receiving targets last year. The preseason should be a good time to test some of the others that may see significant playing time in the coming year, but the Chiefs went against this approach early. On their first three possessions, each of Matt Cassel’s throws went to either Bowe or Moeaki. The passing game generally looked to be very much off: Cassel threw a pass too low to Bowe, one too high, and another behind him and the attempt in Moeaki’s direction was dropped. These were followed by a ball thrown behind Thomas Jones, and two quick slants to Jerheme Urban that failed to connect. Cassel ended with a few very short completions to pad his statistics, but none of it led  to points. More play like that from the Chiefs’ passing game and there’s no hope for a return trip to the playoffs.
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● Based on how the Chiefs used their running backs in this game, the days of complaining about the Thomas Jones’ playing time might be over. The Chiefs added Le’Ron McClain in free agency and went to him once as a rusher and once again as a receiver. They also gave converted wide receiver Dexter McCluster a number of snaps as he also got a run and a catch with the first team offense. Neither found much success, but it’s hard to play well against the Baltimore’s run defense; not even Jamaal Charles could get much of anything going. The one time Cassel was sacked, McCluster looked terrible in blitz pick-up – something he will need to work on in order to get a regular sniff at passing downs work. McClain and McCluster do look like they’ll take some of Jones’ action. Jones, whose average yards per run of 3.6 last year was just slightly ahead of Jamaal Charles’ yards after contact average of 3.2.
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● One of the Chiefs’ strengths in 2010 turned out to be their defensive line’s specialization. On run plays, Glenn Dorsey, Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith all saw positive run defense ratings while Wallace Gilberry would come in and Tamba Hali would move to the defensive line when passing downs came about. Since last season, Kansas City has lost both Edwards and Smith to free agency which might present a problem when it comes to stopping the run. They, however, brought in Kelly Gregg who was a big help against his former team in this game with a tackle for a loss and three other tackles for small gains. Able to keep the Ravens to under three yards per carry until Ray Rice’s touchdown run (at that point the Chiefs had gone to their bench while Baltimore was still running their first team), the Chiefs’ run D was certainly up to the task.
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Baltimore Ravens – Three Things of Note
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● With the release of Derrick Mason and Todd Heap and the addition of Lee Evans and Torrey Smith, the Ravens’ passing game gave the fans something to keep an eye on. Baltimore didn’t look any better than the Chiefs in this aspect of the game. It seemed the timing of Joe Flacco was off all night as he completed just half of his passes. On the plus side, we saw three first down catches by Lee Evans in his Ravens debut. On the down side, rookie receiver Torrey Smith and new starting tight end Ed Dickson never got a chance to succeed. They each had a few targets, but those rarely came on well-placed passes or put them in situations to do anything after the catch. On a player-usage note, it looks like Smith has secured the other outside receiving spot on three receiver sets while Boldin goes to the slot.
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● Because Marshal Yanda was unavailable, Oniel Cousins moved over to right guard and rookie Jah Reid got the start at right tackle. When the Ravens ran the ball, it was typically to the left behind their more experienced blockers, but when given the chance, both looked solid in run blocking. The problem came in pass protection, where Reid regularly saw players get past him, and at times bring pressure to Flacco. It wasn’t even the more dangerous pass rushers Tamba Hali or Wallace Gilberry bringing the pressure, it was Tyson Jackson and Andy Studebaker. Both Jackson and Studebaker had negative pass rush ratings in 2011; allowing them to consistently get pressure is clearly a problem. I would not expect Reid to be starting come the beginning of the season.
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● With the loss of Josh Wilson and Dawan Landry, I expected the Ravens secondary to get taken advantage of by players like Bowe. I was wrong. The combination of rookie first round pick Jimmy Smith and inexperience Cary Williams played very well. The Chiefs went after Smith early and often, with four of the first five throws to Bowe while Smith covered him. Though he allowed two catches for first downs, the other two passes fell incomplete. I would expect the Ravens to give Smith a little more help in the regular season if he is asked to cover someone of Bowe’s calibre. Making the most of his three chances, Williams broke up a pass to Bowe, nearly intercepted the first slant to Urban, and prevented another quick slant from being completed. Not bad at all for someone with 59 career defensive snaps.
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Both of these teams have the potential to have great offenses. They have two of the best running backs in the league, average to above average quarterbacks, at least one star receiver, and solid offensive lines. Unfortunately, we probably won’t glimpse this potential until the regular season starts.
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Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke and check out our main Twitter feed too: @ProFootbalFocus
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