Since the beginning of the 2012 season, the Baltimore Ravens have been rolling through opponents, posting a 3-1 record through four weeks. The defense has been stellar despite playing without defensive stud Terrell Suggs, and the offense has seemingly caught up, as a matured Joe Flacco has been playing better than he ever has before.
On the other side of the NFL spectrum, the Kansas City Chiefs have had a season to forget so far. After the first month of the season, the Chiefs have 1-3 record, largely due to the loathsome play of quarterback Matt Cassel. The defense has struggled, and the offense hasn't played well enough to bail them out when needed.
Now, after comparing the two teams, not many would expect this game to be a competitive one, but it was quite the hard fought game. It certainly raises questions for both teams. Are the Chiefs tougher than we thought? Are the Ravens not as together as they seemed? Did the Chiefs expose an aspect of the Ravens gameplan that other teams can capitalize on down the road?
Well, let's see what we learned:
1. Jamaal Charles is the Chiefs' best player
The former first round pick from the University of Texas has played well his whole career, but has really come into his own in recent years. After missing all of 2011 with a torn ACL, Charles looked to make a strong comeback in 2012, and he has done just that.
Although he isn't getting into the end zone as much, Charles churns out yards with ease and has quickly become one of the brightest spots on a dim Chiefs offense. He's almost reminiscent of former Kansas City running back Priest Holmes. His home-run hitting ability and knack for gaining yards when he shouldn't has payed great dividends for the Chiefs, and I am confident that he will go down as one of the best players to ever lace 'em up in Arrowhead.
Although the Chiefs didn't win, Charles rushed for 140 yards on arguably the best front seven in football, and that is certainly saying something. With Matt Cassel not getting it done for the Chiefs offense, I think they should focus the gameplan around Charles and make sure he gets 25-30 touches a game if they want to have a shot at winning.
However, there is one knock on Charles; he has a slight fumbling problem. After two fumbles last week and one this week, it might be cause for concern for Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. However, if they can get that taken care of, then I believe Charles will be amongst the elite in the NFL.
Now, you may say, "Charles did have thirty carries, why didn't they win?". The Chiefs need a lot more than a good running game right now. They simply don't have the necessary pieces to win these tough games against even tougher opponents.
But, I do think Chiefs fans can come away from this game with a glimmer of hope for the remainder of the season. Just as the Ravens defense kept the Chiefs out of the end zone, the Chiefs defense kept the Ravens usually explosive offense out of the endzone.
Many people consider Baltimore a Super Bowl favorite. For the Chiefs to keep it as close as they did, that shows that they may have finally found some structure in their gameplan, and may actually win a few more games this seasons.
2. Kickers are people too: Justin Tucker should have been drafted
The Ravens' rookie kicker from Texas has played as well as just about any kicker in the NFL this season. After going undrafted in last April's draft, Tucker was brought into the Ravens' camp as a rookie free agent to compete with incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff.
Through preseason, Tucker played extremely well and eventually beat out Cundiff for the starting job. Ever since Cundiff has packed his bags, Tucker has been a consistent cog in the Ravens' machine, and was much needed in this game.
In what became a defensive battle, neither team was able to score a touchdown. Tucker had to make every kick in order to keep momentum from swaying the Chiefs' way, and that's exactly what he did, just like he has done all season.
Tucker has made 8/9 field goals on the year, three of which coming in this game against the Chiefs. Tucker has also been 13-13 on extra points, and has made seven field goals of 40+ yards. I'm sure some teams are kicking themselves (pun intended) while the Ravens are patting themselves on the back. Good job, Ozzie.
3. Matt Cassel needs to go ASAP
Matt Cassel failed to make a case for himself again this week, as it looks like the Chiefs may be turning elsewhere for better quarterback play sooner than later.
After three and a half quarters of struggles for Cassel, he left the game in the middle of the fourth with what was described as a head injury. Cassel was 9-15 for only 92 yards, along with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
Cassel now has 11 total turnovers on the year, and is reportedly in a competition with Michael Vick to see who can give the ball away to the other team more. Okay, that may be stretching the truth a bit, although it sure seems like they are.
After Cassel left with injury, Brady Quinn came in and played well. Quinn was 3-3 for 32 yards, and even threw a touchdown before it was nullified by a penalty on the Chiefs. I don't know where the Chiefs will go from here, but I don't see Cassel in the red and white for much longer. I'd start packing my bags, Matt.
4. Dontari Poe may be headed towards "bust" status
The legend of Dontari Poe is an interesting one. In college, Poe drew more attention for his performance in the weight room, than his performance on the field, not many people knew of Poe for his play, as much as they knew him for being able to lift a lot of weight.
In his last season at Memphis, Poe played all 12 games, yet only tallied 33 tackles, 19 of which were solo. He wasn't a highly touted guy coming out of college, but given his natural ability, many thought he could blossom into a star given the right coaching staff.
After his junior season at Memphis, he decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He was originally projected as a late first, early second round pick, but after a blazing performance at the NFL combine, Poe shot up draft boards and was drafted 11th overall by Kansas City.
Since then, Poe has had little to no buzz about him; he had a quiet preseason and has not played up to expectations in the regular season. Through five games, Poe has only been able to post seven tackles, abysmal numbers for a top-15 pick.
I know every coach thinks they can bring out the best in a player, but it looks like the Chiefs may have been wrong. Although it is still extremely early in Poe's NFL career, he isn't off to the best start. Don't feel bad for him though, if his career in the NFL doesn't work out, he could probably become a professional strong man.
Just a thought.
5. The Ravens have the deepest defense in the NFL
Lewis. Reed. Ngata. Suggs. What do all four of those players have in common? They all play defense for Baltimore, they're all guys I would hate to meet in a dark alley, and they were all pro bowlers in 2012. Four pro bowlers on one defensive unit is a rare thing to come across in the NFL today.
Along with those four superstars, the Ravens have plenty more studs on their defense. The Ravens' defensive line's rotation is one of the best in the league. Between Ngata, Upshaw, Cody, Kemoeatu, Kruger, and Jones, Baltimore has six players that could all start on almost any team's defense.
Along with Ed Reed on the back end of the defense, fellow safety Bernard Pollard has been playing at a pro bowl level this season, tallying 30 tackles, a sack, and an interception through five games. Surprisingly, those are better numbers than even Ed Reed has posted.
Cornerbacks Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith, and Lardarius Webb have all played at a high level this season, combining for 56 tackles, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. It's hard to find a weak spot on this defense, and so far many teams haven't had an answer for the Ravens' purple pass-rush.
This is the best Baltimore has been on defense since 2000, when they won the Super Bowl. And you know what they say about defense winning championships...