The questions run rampant for the Ravens’ Week 15 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Who’s starting at quarterback?
What will the secondary look like?
Does Sunday represent the Ravens’ last best chance to win another game before the most disappointing season in franchise history mercifully comes to an end?
Meanwhile, Kansas City comes to town having won seven in a row to erase a 1-5 start and enter Sunday holding the first of two wild-card spots in the AFC. Simply put, the Chiefs are exactly what the Ravens wanted to be after the worst start in franchise history, but it simply hasn’t happened for the latter.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Kansas City for the seventh time in their regular-season history with the series tied 3-3. Baltimore has lost three of the four meetings between the teams at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens won the last of those home contests back in 2009. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have won their last four meetings with the Chiefs.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to avoid the first five-loss home schedule in the 20-year history of the franchise …
1. The Chiefs will hold a plus-two turnover advantage in a microcosm of the season for both teams. Though their list of injuries isn’t quite as extensive, the Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season in October and has been without All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston since late November. Andy Reid’s team has kept ticking by forcing turnovers on defense and committing few with an efficient offense. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 30th in takeaways (11) and 24th in giveaways (23). Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith won’t wow you with ability, but he’s thrown just four interceptions all year. Baltimore will be turning to Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, who both struggle to protect the football. If both teams follow their 2015 scripts, the Chiefs will capitalize on the Ravens’ mistakes.
2. Elvis Dumervil will exploit former teammate Jah Reid for two quarterback sacks. As bizarre as it was to read that Reid received a three-year contract extension earlier this week, Pro Football Focus has graded the former Raven 73rd of 77 offensive tackles in the NFL this season. On top of that, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft, left tackle Eric Fisher, has graded only 37th overall, according to PFF. This should help Dumervil, who has been limited to just six sacks without a viable edge rusher playing on the opposite side. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to run some stunts to take advantage of an offensive line that’s allowed 41 sacks, fourth worst in the NFL. The Ravens defense ranks 20th in the league with only 28 sacks, but Dumervil will turn in a 2014-like performance on Sunday.
3. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch a touchdown pass and collect over 80 receiving yards. Kansas City sports the league’s 27th-ranked passing game, but Smith has effectively used his tight end to the tune of 59 catches for 749 yards and four touchdowns this season. Whether trying to use linebackers or safeties, Baltimore has struggled to cover tight ends and Kelce will effectively move the chains to continue drives for the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens try to cover Kelce as inside linebacker Daryl Smith has been replaced more and more by Zach Orr in the nickel in recent weeks. And with Lardarius Webb now factoring into the rotation at safety, you wonder if even more communication issues are inevitable. Kelce will be ready to take advantage on Sunday.
4. The Baltimore secondary will offer new looks, but Alex Smith will throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that it was time for young defensive backs such as 2015 fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker, second-year safety Terrence Brooks, and former Houston Texans cornerback Jumal Rolle to receive more opportunities. While it will be important to evaluate the aforementioned players in the final three weeks of the season, the results probably won’t be pretty for a defense that has repeatedly failed to be on the same page even with veterans on the field. Smith carries the dreaded “game manager” label, but he will take advantage of Baltimore mistakes to find Kelce and top receiver Jeremy Maclin for several big plays on Sunday.
5. The Ravens will rebound cosmetically from the Week 14 blowout loss, but Kansas City won’t provide enough help in a 23-14 defeat. Even while carrying a louder tone of resignation this week following an embarrassing loss to Seattle, Baltimore will return to its pattern of competing more like it did in the first 12 games of the season that were all decided by one possession. However, the injury-ravaged Ravens aren’t talented enough to beat a quality team without substantial help from the opposition. The Chiefs won’t figure to provide that assistance as they’ve committed just 12 turnovers all season, third fewest in the NFL. Either Jimmy Clausen or Matt Schaub will facilitate a couple scoring drives against the NFL’s 15th-ranked pass defense, but a couple Ravens mistakes will be the difference.