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Baltimore Take Five

Posted Aug 18, 2011

Five to watch as the Chiefs square off against the Ravens Friday night

BALTIMORE, MD – Settled into the team hotel for the first road trip of 2011, it’s time for a Charm City edition of Take Five. We’re already at the mid-way point of the preseason. Can you believe it?

Last Friday’s goose egg might not have been an accurate portrait of Kansas City’s 2011 roster, but the Chiefs certainly want to execute much more efficiently in this Friday’s rematch of last year’s AFC Wild Card  Game.

Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley was quick to point out missed tackles and turnovers as primary culprits for Kansas City’s 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay. We’ll be looking for improvement in both of those areas at M&T Bank Stadium, but there’s also much more to watch for in Week Two.

Baltimore Take Five

1)      Front Line Performance

We don’t know how long the Chiefs plan on playing their starters, but we know it will be more than last week. Matt Cassel is likely to attempt a pass and Jamaal Charles will probably get his hands on the football. Defensively, we’re likely to see many of the starters make their preseason debut as well.

In Baltimore, Ravens starters played several series in the exhibition opener and are expected to do so once again Friday night.

Whether it’s for 15 plays or for an entire quarter, we’re expecting to see front line players from both teams square off against one another. Even with diluted playbooks, Friday night provides an excellent preseason measuring stick for the Chiefs.

How will the Chiefs top performers fare against the Ravens’ best? Have the Chiefs been able to close the gap on the team that ended their 2010 season?

We should get our first real taste of where the Chiefs stand in their progress towards September 11th.

2)      Eye On The Line

The first question involves the overall health of Kansas City’s offensive tackles. How many will be playing against the Ravens?

Jared Gaither and Ryan O’Callaghan both missed the Chiefs final practice in St. Joseph, while Barry Richardson was forced to leave the workout early. That’s three tackles with starting experience sitting on the sideline as the Chiefs broke training camp. Branden Albert is the only other tackle on the roster with any game experience.

Enter the Chiefs rookie free agents.

When Richardson exited, undrafted rookie Butch Lewis stepped in to take the remainder of first-team snaps at right tackle.  Whether or not Lewis sees extended action remains to be seen, but Kansas City’s young offensive lineman all need to show significant progress from their first-week performance.

Matt Cassel may not have attempted a pass against the Bucs, but a botched snap with Darryl Harris still setup an easy Tampa Bay score. Once the second and third units entered the game, backup QBs Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi faced heavy pressure nearly every time they dropped back.

Despite some impressive escape routes, Chiefs quarterbacks were sacked six times. One of those takedowns resulted in a safety.

3)      Get Your Return Men Ready

Baltimore K Billy Cundiff tied the NFL record for touchbacks in a season last year. Move the kickoff line up five yards and prepare for another long night of touchbacks, right?

Wrong.

Cundiff may very well set a new touchback mark in 2011, but Chiefs returners should get a chance to make a few plays Friday night. After Cundiff banged all three of his kickoffs into the end zone in Baltimore’s preseason opener, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh instructed his thunder-footed kicker to place kickoffs higher and shorter against the Chiefs.

Harbaugh’s decision isn’t a reaction to Kansas City’s return personnel. He simply wants Baltimore’s coverage units to get in some preseason work covering kickoffs. Harbaugh even went as far as calling the new kickoff rules “a yawner” – a stance which most fans seem to agree.

Kickoff returners prepare; opportunities to return kicks will be present Friday night.

4)      Rookie Standouts

The Chiefs rookie class received its first dose of NFL football last week. Against Tampa, each of Kansas City’s nine draft picks played extensive snaps and a load of undrafted free agents got on the field as well.

There were some notable debuts. Jalil Brown appeared to be one of the few bright spots in the 25-0 loss, Jerrell Powe’s pursuit of Josh Johnson was a fan favorite and Allen Bailey tallied a sack. But now that the anxiety of strapping on a Chiefs helmet for the first time has passed, who is ready to take the next step?

Which rookie will find the end zone? Who will force a turnover? Who is ready to turn in the first standout performance of the preseason?

This week, we’re looking for rookie difference makers.

5) The Backup Quarterbacks

The Chiefs backup quarterback situation remains one of the most discussed topics of the preseason.

Not much has changed since Tyler Palko and Ricky Stanzi posted near-identical stat lines against Tampa Bay. Palko has handled the majority of second-team reps thus far, but neither quarterback has been able to take ownership of the No. 2 job.

Will either quarterback be able to differentiate themselves in Baltimore? The Chiefs are giving both plaeyrs a long look this preseason, but the club has yet to rule out bringing in an experienced veteran to backup Matt Cassel.

Palko and Stanzi aren’t just competing against each other. They’re competing against the league’s pool of available quarterbacks as well.

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