Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick spent last week's bye week gaining a better understanding of what his team is, and is not, capable of doing. There were no great revelations, just a firmer grasp of the team's limitations and possibilities.
His starting quarterback is inexperienced. None of his wide receivers appear to be dependable deep threats. His defense is the strongest unit. And although injuries have ravaged the offensive line, his rushing attack is solid.
"The question is, 'Now what?' " Billick said.
He'll begin finding out tonight, when the Ravens play the Kansas City Chiefs (3-2) at PSINet Stadium.
Despite Billick's pedigree--coordinator of the NFL's most prolific offense last season in Minnesota--his game plans in Baltimore have had to be more Woody Hayes than Bill Walsh. Some of his peers have been surprised by the way Billick has adapted his offense to fit his personnel.
"Brian shocked me," Kansas City Coach Gunther Cunningham said. "When I looked at the statistics prior to looking at the film, I thought he had turned into a wishbone coach. I knew I had it in my personality. I didn't know he did."
For the time being, Baltimore (2-3) will look to run the ball, limit turnovers and play tough defense. That's the same plan the Ravens likely will face tonight from Kansas City.
The Chiefs' "whole mentality is to play good defense, not turn the ball over, run the ball, run the ball and when you get tired of that, run the ball some more," Billick said.
With former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Alexander slowed by a rib injury and quarterback Elvis Grbac's recent penchant for throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes (five interceptions, one touchdown pass in two road games), Kansas City is relying heavily on its running game. The Chiefs are second in the NFL in rushing at 135 yards per game.
However, run defense has been the Ravens' strength this season. Baltimore ranks eighth in the NFL against the run, holding its opponents to 83.2 rushing yards per game.
"They're going to be tough to move the ball on," Cunningham said. "We feel like we can run the football. How effective we can be is what we're going to have to find out."
Kansas City also has been successful stopping the run. The Chiefs have limited their opponents to 77.8 rushing yards per game, seventh in the league.
That doesn't bother running back Errict Rhett, who had his string of three consecutive 100-yard rushing games halted against Tennessee on Oct. 10.
"It doesn't matter to me," said Rhett, who was limited to 59 yards rushing on 21 carries by the Titans. "If they're going to drop that many people [near the line of scrimmage], we should have a great passing day. . . . There's still no excuses. I still have to get my job done."
Rhett will have a tougher time doing his job behind a depleted offensive line. Right tackle Harry Swayne is not expected to play because of a leg contusion. Backup tackle Spencer Folau is out at least two weeks with a knee injury. James Atkins is likely to be pressed into duty even though he hasn't played this season because of a strained hamstring. The Ravens hope left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has missed parts of the past two games with a cervical strain, can stay healthy throughout the night.
Ravens quarterback Stoney Case will be the player under the most scrutiny. If he can beat the Chiefs with a few passes early, it could force the Chiefs to pay more attention to Baltimore's receivers and less to stopping Rhett. If he doesn't, it could be a repeat of the game against Tennessee. The Ravens' only points on offense that day came from Matt Stover field goals.
"If they bring eight or nine [players near the line of scrimmage], that'll excite me because that's when the big plays come," Case said. "Sure they're going to make you look bad at times. You're going to make some bad throws just because you might get a little pressure, but there's going to be that one instance when all of a sudden something is wide open down the field."
Since the two teams resemble each other so much, Cunningham expects a low-scoring game.
"I think it's going to be a slug-it-out affair," he said. "And whoever has the toughest run offense and plays the best defense and special teams is going to win."