Ravens 30, Chiefs 7: Ten things we learned
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 08, 2011
By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Edgar Allen Poe of Pigskin
After the thrills of wildcard Saturday, there was something oddly soothing and satisfying about the Raven's predictable handling of the Chiefs Sunday, 30-7. Baltimore's playoff experience showed against the green Chiefs, and the poor Arrowhead faithful had to sit through the franchise's NFL-record-setting seventh straight playoff loss dating back to 1993.
Ten things we learned:
1. Kansas City's weak schedule left them unprepared for the rock-solid Ravens. The Chiefs played the fewest Quality Teams of anyone this year (three), and went 1-2 with a point differential of -11.3. That certainly seemed fitting after watching them crumble in the face of the veteran Ravens, who just did a little bit of everything right in systematically taking down the Chiefs.
Baltimore is like no other team in the league – there's never a week where they come out and lay a complete egg. Whether it's offense, defense or special teams, at least one phase of the game is strong and it enables them to stay in every game.
We've mentioned this a few times this year, but under John Harbaugh the Ravens have only lost decisively two times, and not since Week 11 of 2008.
And when they're clicking everywhere, as they were Sunday, you'd have to play a lot better than the Chiefs did to hold out hopes for winning.
2. Matt Cassel's return to 2008 form came at the worst time possible. It was easy to forget just how bad Matt Cassel looked in his first year with Kansas City in 2009. He finished with a 69.9 rating, fumbled 14 times, and generally looked unworthy of his long-term deal.
That Cassel seemed to be gone after a brilliant 2010, but he had his worst game of the regular season in Week 17 (19.1 rating) and then followed it up with Sunday's struggles vs. Baltimore.
The mistakes he made Sunday had little to do with the Ravens' pressure or scheme, and everything to do with mental hiccups by the quarterback. With Charlie Weis departing for Florida and KC's wideouts still a fairly sketchy bunch, they'll need Cassel to show a lot more if they want to get past this level in 2011.
3. Matt Birk: As underrated as it gets. Baltimore center Matt Birk isn't exactly a big name (he wouldn't get you many points on a Scrabble board, either). But he's a six-time Pro Bowler who should have earned a seventh nod this year for the Ravens.
Since he broke into the starting lineup with Minnesota in 2000, he's been as solid as they come, and really anchored this Ravens line in 2010. The Vikings have missed him dearly, and he's helped the Ravens' young linemen really step forward since signing with Baltimore in 2009.
There's no way to quantify it, but it's a Cold, Hard Football Fact: Matt Birk is the type of guy you need to win Super Bowls. It might not be a coincidence that the four teams left in the AFC all feature Pro Bowl centers past or present (Dan Koppen, Nick Mangold, Maurkice Pouncey and Birk).
4. Kansas City's whiff in the 2009 draft is still haunting them. The Chiefs' star players have mostly come out of their last five drafts – Jamaal Charles, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hali in particular.
But in 2009, they really whiffed with DE Tyson Jackson as the No. 3 overall pick. They traded their No. 2 pick to the Patriots for Cassel and Mike Vrabel, and didn't add anyone else of note that season.
It wasn't totally GM Scott Pioli's fault – that happened to be the worst top-10 draft maybe of the last three decades. Two years in, and you have to go down to No. 13 Brian Orakpo to see someone who's even close to being a star.
None of the top 12, including Jackson, has put any serious success together, and a young team like the Chiefs has to have good drafts every year to really contend for anything past "glad to be here" success.
5. Dwayne Bowe's season of streaks ended on a bad one. It was hard to be much more productive than the Chiefs receiver was from Week 6-12 this year. He caught 49 passes for 733 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven weeks, and was one of the reasons that the Chiefs held off the Chargers to win the West.
But he had only 14 grabs for 277 yards over the final five games with one touchdown, and couldn't even get close to making an impact Sunday – zero catches on zero balls thrown his way.
Ouch. Enjoy that Pro Bowl visit.
6. The Ravens didn't enjoy their forays onto Flowers Island. Baltimore's game plan was a winner – run for a couple on first down, do a lot of play action on second down and attack the middle of the field.
The sides certainly weren't a good place to be, as Kansas City's Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers enhanced their reputation as the league's best young CB combo with some excellent coverage on anything Flacco tried deep outside the hashmarks.
The Raven wide receivers were held to seven catches and 113 yards by the Chiefs' DBs.
7. Next year's Harbaugh Bowl is going to be must-see TV. Brothers have been head coaches in the NFL at the same time, and next year thanks to the vagaries of an NFL schedule they'll face each other when San Francisco and Baltimore go head to head.
The Harbaughs now control 6.3 percent of all head coaching jobs in the league. So non-Harbaughs everywhere will surely tune into what might otherwise be a clunker of a game to see just which Harbaugh is best. Handsome John Harbaugh, or handsome Jim Harbaugh? The former small-college defensive back (John), or the former NFL QB (Jim).
They both have the same square-jawed demeanor on the sideline, with Jim a little more fiery but John a little more experienced. Will they hug at midfield after the game? Cry tears of brotherly joy? Threaten to tell Mom that the other broke that expensive crystal glass vase?
We'll be watching.
8. The Steelers can't have been too happy with this result. Since Joe Flacco and Harbaugh teamed up in 2008 for Baltimore, the Ravens and Steelers have played seven times – and six of them have been decided by four points or fewer. The Steelers have managed to win five of them, but they know that no matter what the Ravens will have a chance to beat them when they face off Saturday.
The same couldn't be said of the Chiefs, who the Steelers certainly must have been rooting for vs. Baltimore Sunday. Watching the Chiefs struggle against a similar Ravens team was a taste of what might have been for the Steelers.
9. It's time to really start reflecting on the greatness of Ray Lewis. Watching Lewis miss tackles early against the blinding speed of Charles was a reminder of how remarkable it is to see him still leading playoff defenses at his age – but also that his age has to be catching up with him.
Lewis still has the passion for football, it's clear to see, and even if his play was off a bit this year it was still some pretty good stuff. But he'll turn 36 this summer and will be in the last year of his contract in 2011.
If we're seeing the last few games of his career, it's worth an argument that he's the best linebacker of all time.
Baltimore's defense has been near the top of the league in all but one of his full seasons, and only Reggie White had more Pro Bowl appearances as a defensive player (13 to Lewis' 12). In an era where you're competing against 15 other teams for Hawaii trips, that's amazing.
10. Ray Rice's stats weren't there, but his impact was. Rice averaged only 3.4 YPA, but 11 of his 17 carries came on first down, where he got what he could against a game KC front seven and left those play-action options available for Flacco on second and third downs.
During the season Rice amassed 712 yards and 4.3 YPA on first down, and he adds solid blocking and some extremely good hands to the mix. He had 370 touches doing the dirty work for the Ravens, and while he'll never average a Jamaal Charles-ian amount per carry (6.4 YPA this year) it's easy to see over the course of the game why Baltimore leans on him so heavily.
He didn't turn the ball over once this year despite all that work.
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