Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011
By John Mullin
One more time around for Ray Lewis.
The Baltimore middle linebacker has willed his teams to epic heights in the past and the best guess now is that hell do it this one more time.
Hell have help.
Joe Flacco burst on the NFL with a splash in 2008 and has been a winning quarterback in at least one playoff game in each of his first two seasons. His passer rating has improved significantly every year, from 80.3 as a rookie to 88.9 in 2009 and 93.6 this season.
But the key to the offense has unquestionably been running back Ray Rice, and in a game against a Kansas City team with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, the role of Rice in keeping the Chiefs offense off the field looms even larger.
When Ravens got away from Ray Rice, they broke down, said ESPN analyst Herman Edwards. When you do that, it hurts your defense. Your defense is built to play so many plays and you dont want to be stopping the clock when your offense is on the field.
We always say its a passing league but heres the deal: You pass to score, you run to win.
The surprise will be if the Chiefs can run against Baltimore well enough to win. Flacco and Matt Cassel are a virtual wash at quarterback, with Cassel holding a slight edge in TDs and INTs. Charles finished No. 2 in the NFL with 1,467 rushing yards and a stratospheric 6.4 yards per carry. No other rusher in the Top 20 averaged more than 5.2. Jones added 896 yards.
No team rushed for more than the Chiefs 2,627 yards and their 4.7 yards per carry is second only to Philadelphias 5.5 among playoff teams.
But four of the five best teams against the run (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Jets, Baltimore) are in the playoffs for a reason. No team allowed fewer than the 5 rushing touchdowns given up by the Steelers and Ravens.
Four of Kansas Citys six defeats were by double digits, including blowout losses to division rivals Oakland and San Diego in the span of the final four games.
Baltimore 17 Kansas City 14