When speaking to the fans of the Baltimore Ravens first game opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs, the common thread I've seen is their desire to throw out anything negative from their 2-14 season record in 2008. Chalk that up to injuries, a stagnant offense, unaggressive defense and the need for the infusion of new leadership both on and off the field.
The new Chiefs feature a new GM, head coach and QB. GM Scott Pioli comes over from the New England Patriots and brought QB Matt Cassel with him. Head Coach Todd Haley was running the offense for the Arizona Cardinals and hopes to infuse high octane into the Kansas City gameplan.
More on the "new" Chiefs after the "Jump."
After the pre-season, there are still questions remaining only days before the season opener. Is QB Matt Cassel healthy enough to start in Baltimore against the stout Ravens defense. Perhaps the Chiefs braintrust might want to protect him by keeping him on the sidelines and playing his backup and last year's starter, Tyler Thigpen instead? However, a Chiefs' fan will point out, they play three of the league's tougher defenses in the first four games in Baltimore, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, so there's no hiding for Matt Cassel. Besides, he'll probably have to be restrained in order to keep him off the field Sunday. Coach Haley will be calling the plays for the offense, after releasing Offensive Coordinator Chan Gailey recently.
When discussing the Chiefs' offense, the talk always turns to RB Larry Johnson. Johnson was injured part or most of the 2007 and 2008 seasons and only totaled just over 1,400 yards combined in both seasons after posting two straight seasons of over 1,700 yards in 2005 and 2006. According to Chiefs' sources, Johnson is in as good shape as they have seen him recently and a return to being one of the top picks in most people's fantasy drafts is forthcoming in 2009. However, starting off against the Ravens' #2 ranked run defense makes his start to the 2009 season a tall task.
QB Matt Cassel begins his fifth season in the NFL and prior to last season in New England, he had never thrown more than six passes in an NFL season and hadn't started a game since high school. However, Cassel proved that he belonged in the NFL by taking the reins under center after the season ending injury to All Pro Tom Brady, throwing for almost 3,700 yards and 21 TD passes, and leading the Patriots to an 11-5 record but just missing out on the final Wild Card playoff spot, ironically to our Baltimore Ravens.
The Chiefs will try to protect Cassel behind an offensive line that is strong on the left side, but suspect on the right. They are admittedly better at run blocking than pass protection, which doesn't bode well in this week's matchup in Baltimore. They also lost their All Pro and future Hall of Fame tight end with Tony Gonzalez being traded to the Atlanta Falcons.
Defensively, the Chiefs improved in the latter point of the 2008 season, but still finished 31 out of 32 teams in the league. Tomba Hali leads them in the trenches and 2008 first round draft pick Glenn Dorsey just didn't seem to make the impact he was expected to in his transition from college to the pros. The team drafted Dorsey's college teammate DE Tyson Jackson to shore up the defensive line and put more pressure on the QB, which was a problem last year.
Despite the Chiefs poor showing in 2008, they play in what may the NFL's weakest division in the AFC West. While the San Diego Chargers look to be the clear leader coming into the 2009 season, anything can happen and they would just love to continue their winning ways in Baltimore, beating the Ravens all three times they've visited this city in the Ravens' tenure here.However, being almost two touchdown underdogs will make this game a tough way to start the season but would make a huge statement if the Chiefs could pull of the upset of week one.