OWINGS MILLS — The Kansas City Chiefs’ chaotic offensive situation offers little clarity at this point.
Starting quarterback Matt Cassel remains a question mark for Sunday’s season opener against the Baltimore Ravens as he returned to practice Monday with a brace on his left knee to protect his sprained medial collateral ligament.
The alternatives behind Cassel, whose mobility figures to be limited if he’s allowed to play, are coming off shaky preseason performances with Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen inspiring little confidence in Kansas City.
Plus, it has only been a week since coach Todd Haley fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.
As negative as all of that sounds for a football team reeling from a 2-14 season that triggered the ouster of coach Herm Edwards and general manager Carl Peterson and the arrival of Haley and general manager Scott Pioli, the Chiefs could actually build a strategic edge from all of the uncertainty surrounding them.
"I think one good thing about what we have here is we do what we do, week in and week out, no matter what, who we’re playing against or what’s going on in their locker room or their team," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I think we’re one of the more stable teams defensively. I think that’s one of the advantages that we normally have is we’re really smart and we prepare for the games well defensively.
“And it’s tough to try to watch film on a coordinator who’s somewhere else and a quarterback you don’t really know who’s going to play. It’s going to make it a little bit more difficult, but you’re going to get the Ravens."
For the Ravens, it’s a bit of a mystery whether Cassel will play or not.
Cassel, who also sprained his ankle when he suffered the knee injury during the preseason against the Seattle Seahawks, is regarded as questionable for the game. Will he be too hobbled to elude the Ravens’ pass rush?
“I think as the week goes on we’ll know a little bit more with Matt,’’ Haley told Kansas City reporters. “It was good that he was out there and he was able to get through some things. I think it was positive he was on the field.”
The Chiefs are banking on Cassel energizing their passing game after acquiring him via a trade from the New England Patriots and signing him to a six-year, $63 million contract that included $28 million in guaranteed money.
Last season, Cassel displayed a deft passing touch in place of Tom Brady when Brady tore his anterior cruciate ligament. He wound up passing for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Chiefs’ offense is a lot more formidable with Cassel in the lineup.
"What he did last year with the Patriots was amazing," Foxworth said. "Just to see that he has that ability, it garners a tremendous amount of respect. We respect him, and we look forward to the opportunity to match up against him."
Deciphering the Chiefs’ strategy involves filtering through the unknown aspects of their game plans.
It figures that Haley will try to implement some of the schemes he ran with success when he was the Arizona Cardinals’ offensive coordinator.
And wide receiver Derrick Mason noted that it might be worth referencing the Patriots’ approach because of Pioli’s New England background.
"They’re going to try and implement some of that, maybe not all of it, but some of it," Mason said. "You take a little bit of both and combine them together with the tape that you’ve seen in preseason. Of course, they’re going to throw some things at you that you haven’t seen.
"We are a good enough offense that we can make adjustments on the run. So, you take a little bit from Arizona, watch some tape from them and then watch some tape of New England. It’s a new coaching staff, but these guys have been around, just like the players.”
The Ravens utilized an unpredictable nature a year ago as John Harbaugh was a rookie head coach.
And opponents undoubtedly studied Philadelphia Eagles games as well as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s past work with the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers.
“It’s a big advantage when you’re a new staff," Harbaugh said. "We had that advantage last year, if you remember. Your opponent isn’t exactly sure what you’re going to do. We don’t know what they’re going to do. I think their coach has made that pretty clear, that that is something they’re going to use to their full advantage, as well they should.
"It’s going to be a guessing game as far as what they’re going to run and who they’re going to put on the field in what situations, and we’re just going to have to do the best we can with it.”
For the Ravens, who engineered a major turnaround last season to win 13 games on their road to the AFC championship game one year removed from a 5-11 campaign that cost coach Brian Billick his job, overconfidence doesn’t figure to be a problem.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Ravens were a perpetual underdog.
"No, not for one second," Harbaugh said when asked if he was worried about the Ravens taking the Chiefs lightly. "Our guys know that they face a huge challenge this weekend against a team that’s going to come in here and prove themselves just like our team did last year in the opener.
"We’ve got a lot of respect for the Kansas City Chiefs. All you’ve got to do is turn on the tape and watch their players play, and you know what kind of coaches they have. We know what we’re up against. It’s going to be a huge challenge."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.