Ravens' talent, experience too much for Chiefs to overcome

January 06, 2011|By Mike Preston

Four weeks into the NFL season, the AFC postseason was already shaping up. It hasn't changed much since then with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the New York Jets, Indianapolis and New England still being the teams to beat.

Kansas City was the surprise team this season, replacing San Diego as the best in the AFC West. But the Chiefs status among the conference's elite will come to an end Sunday because they won't beat the Ravens.

We've all heard the expression about what can happen on any given Sunday, but there will be no upset this Sunday when the Ravens travel to Arrowhead Stadium.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh can talk up Kansas City all he wants, but the Ravens have too much talent, leadership and experience to lose, and more importantly, they have more tough guys.

Look at the Chiefs. They've got some talented and explosive players such as receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers, running back Jamaal Charles and rookie strong safety Eric Berry. They've got outside linebacker Tamba Hali, but nobody who is going to intimidate you.

There is no one to fear.

They've got guard Brian Waters and outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. Big deal. No one is losing any sleep over those guys at The Castle.

But the Ravens counter with Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Jarret Johnson, Marshal Yanda and Ed Reed. They're tough dudes, and experienced as well.

Harbaugh has often said this team was built for this time of year, and experience is immeasurable. The Ravens have been to the playoffs three straight years, and they are the fifth-oldest team in the NFL with veterans such as Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg, Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Matt Birk.

They've been in this situation before.

Kansas City?

After a run of success in the 1990s, the Chiefs have been to the playoffs only two times: after the 2003 and 2006 seasons.

"Playoff experience is simply a chess match, and that's what happens with experience," said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. "Talent is one thing. Your first, second, third quarter, talent is doing great, but then that fourth quarter, experience and playoff knowledge on what you do in these tight situations and what you do against this or against that, that's where it all clicks in at.

"So for us coming in, we understand that we're a veteran ballclub, that we have the right pieces in the right places that have been there."

A year ago, Kansas City finished 4-12. This year, the Chiefs are 10-6, but the record is misleading.

The only playoff team the Chiefs beat was 7-9 Seattle. They lost to San Diego, 31-0, in a statement game on Dec. 12, and got smacked around by Oakland, 31-10, last week.

Now ask yourself: If a team is jockeying for playoff position and playing its top rival at home, does it turn in a stinker like Kansas City did last week?

They might be pretending more than contending.

Everyone is aware that Kansas City has the NFL's top rushing attack, and they have great runners who can score from anywhere on the field in Thomas Jones and Charles

I'm also aware that the Ravens have struggled at times against the run, and certainly aren't what they used to be in shutting down the opposition.

But veterans like Ngata, Gregg and Lewis have another gear. They'll turn it up a notch in the postseason. They'll maintain gap control and stymie the Chiefs' running game, and once that happens, the Ravens will smother Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel.

Chambers and Bowe are big receivers who can give the Ravens trouble, but you can't complete passes from the seat of your pants. Cassel found that out last Sunday when the Raiders sacked him seven times.

"They are a great running team," said Ngata. "I think everybody knows that. Their offensive linemen, they're experienced. They do well moving guys around. They've got a great receiver in Bowe and a great quarterback, so they're pretty much, offensively, a complete offense. Hopefully, we can do what we want to do in stopping the run first and making them a one-dimensional team, and hopefully when we do that, we can pin our ears back and get to Cassel."

Offensively, the Ravens will struggle as usual. That's just the way they play. Coordinator Cam Cameron has found out in the past two weeks that the running game isn't as dominant as it was two years ago.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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