Offensive, defensive and special teams keys for the Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) in Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens (4-9) at M&T Bank Stadium.
In the last two games, the Chiefs offense has not been as efficient and productive as they were in the first five of the seven straight victories. There were four turnovers and six sacks given up against Oakland and San Diego, the No. 25 and No. 24 defenses in the league.
Part of the explanation is the division-nature of those games and the understanding that each team has of their twice-a-year opponent. That’s not the case with Baltimore; the Chiefs and Ravens have not met since the 2012 season.
In the not for long league, that’s an eternity, so there’s not a lot of carryover for this game in offensive or defensive knowledge. The Chiefs need to return to the script that was so useful for them early in the win streak: ball security, improved pass protection, balanced offense and touchdowns, not field goals.
The Chiefs are No. 23 in offensive yards (340 yards per game) and No. 8 in points produced (331.) Baltimore’s injury-depleted defense is ranked No. 15 in yards allowed (348) and No. 23 in points allowed (326.) The Ravens have trouble producing turnovers (just 11 takeaways) and sacks (28.)
The strength-vs.-strength competition will be the Chiefs running game (123 rushing yards per game, No. 7 in the league) against the Baltimore-run defense (99 rushing yards allowed, ranked No. 11.)
The Chiefs have held their position as a top-10 defense in the league, sitting at No. 8 in yards allowed and No. 4 in points given up.
The Ravens are working down the final weeks of what’s been an injury-riddled season that’s really hit their offense. They’ve lost starting quarterback Joe Flacco (knee), No. 1 running back Justin Forsett (broken arm), No. 1 wide receiver Steve Smith (Achilles) and No. 1 tight end Dennis Pitta (hip.)
In their place against the Chiefs will be either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen at quarterback (a combined three TD passes/four interceptions), running back Javorius Allen (381 yards on 101 carries), wide receiver Kamar Aiken (54 catches for 674 yards) and tight end Maxx Williams (19 balls for 168 yards).
Baltimore quarterbacks have thrown 17 interceptions, so if the K.C. pass rush can get after Schaub/Clausen, the Chiefs secondary may be able to pad their takeaway stats in this game. Despite having 3/5 of its offensive line chewed up over the year by injury, the Ravens pass protection has allowed just 20 sacks.
The Chiefs are coming off their worst kicking-game performance of the season. Last Sunday against San Diego, they botched another field goal attempt, fumbled the ball away on a punt return and wiped out a 58-yard punt return with an illegal block penalty.
The first priority for Dave Toub must be putting together an efficient operation from the PAT/FG trio of Winchester/Colquitt/Santos. If the trend continues, those mistakes will eventually catch up to the Chiefs.
This Sunday they’ll face what is one of the best kicking tandems in the NFL. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker is tied for the league lead in touchbacks at 55 (Santos has 39.) Tucker has made 28 of 35 field goals, a rather pedestrian 80 percent rate of success. But six of his seven misses came from 50 yards or more; he’s missed just once inside the 50, and he’s hit all 24 of his PAT kicks.
Punter Sam Koch is third in the league in gross punting average at 48 yards and No. 1 in net punt average at 44.2 yards. The Ravens are first in the league in punt returns, with a 13.2-yard average and an 82-yard touchdown. They are No. 9 in kickoff returns, averaging 25.5 yards a return. Right now, rookie wide receiver Kaelin Clay is handling both return duties.
The Chiefs have now gone a calendar year without a return touchdown and badly need to get De’Anthony Thomas (concussion) back on the field for at least punt returns.