1. Will the Baltimore Ravens’ intimidating defense shut down Kansas City Chiefs running back Larry Johnson?
The Ravens haven’t allowed an opposing runner to eclipse the 100-yard mark in 35 games, the longest streak in the league. And Johnson was the last back to hit that mark against Baltimore with a 120-yard game on Dec. 10, 2006. So, the Ravens are hungry for another shot at Johnson.
"We don’t believe in 100-yard rushers," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Something has got to give. As a defense, you don’t let anybody come run the ball on you. That’s all in your heart and in your will."
2. Will the Ravens’ running game be more potent with Ray Rice as the starter?
Rice has the capability to generate big plays as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield. The former Rutgers star gained some bulk in the offseason to be able to withstand hits and has maintained his mobility and elusiveness. The Ravens have plenty of weapons in the backfield between Rice, former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee and Pro Bowl fullback Le’Ron McClain. Plus, quarterback Joe Flacco’s calm presence and powerful arm should provide some breathing room for the backs.
3. Are the Ravens deep enough at wide receiver?
The Ravens can ill afford to have any injuries at receiver since they’re only carrying four currently on the roster. Plus, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams have experienced significant durability issues recently. The Chiefs aren’t known as a particularly hard-hitting secondary. However, Clayton is coming off a hamstring injury and Williams missed the majority of last season with an Achilles’ tendon problem. Clayton is slated to start, but will be relieved by Williams and Kelley Washington. Two-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Mason seems ready to go after undergoing offseason surgery to repair his scapula and labrum.
4. Is kicker Steve Hauschka ready?
There’s a lot of pressure on Hauschka as the successor to popular veteran Matt Stover. Hauschka clearly earned the job during the preseason, but hasn’t been truly put to the test yet. Hauschka has solid range and accuracy and excels on kickoffs. However, this isn’t the preseason anymore.
5. How does cornerback Domonique Foxworth match up with Chiefs wideout Dwayne Bowe?
Bowe is an imposing downfield target with size, speed and moves. Foxworth is one of the faster cornerbacks in the NFL and has the cover skills to shadow Bowe. Foxworth will have help over the top from Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed, who will attempt to bait whomever’s playing quarterback for the Chiefs — Matt Cassel, Brodie Croyle or Tyler Thigpen — into a crucial mistake.
Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs vs. Chiefs LT Branden Albert
Suggs’ combination of speed, aggressiveness and pass rush moves should provide a severe test for Albert’s capabilities as a blocker. Suggs was signed to a six-year, $62.5 million contract this offseason and is eager to give the Ravens an appropriate return on that investment. Albert is a nimble, technically sound lineman with strong hands and a powerful base. The Glen Burnie native will be extremely motivated to not be embarrassed against his hometown team.
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers
Flacco had a commanding preseason and is looking for a big year after a promising rookie season where he established himself as one of the league’s better young quarterbacks. Flacco doesn’t have flashy downfield targets to throw to, but is a selective, accurate passer who’s capable of striking deep if the matchup is there. Against Flowers, veteran Derrick Mason should have an edge as he competes against a slightly undersized, intense young cornerback who’s questionable with a shoulder injury. Mason has caught 79 passes in six of the past seven seasons.
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Kansas Chiefs running back Larry Johnson
1. On being the last back to rush for 100 yards against Baltimore: "I take it as a great honor, because that’s a great defense that I was playing against. As long as they have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, then I still have a certain respect for them. It was obviously a great game for me, but it still hurt me more after the game because of the fact that those guys didn’t give me an inch and they hit me almost every play.”
2. On if this season feels like a fresh start with a new coach and general manager: "Yeah, I think it’s a fresh start for me. Those guys came in with the understanding that they were going to go off of my work ethic. Me working in the offseason was enough to have me still be a part of this football team.”
3. On if he expects Baltimore to crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Kansas City to throw: “I expect it. At the same time, I expect to do what I have to do. This isn’t the first time I’ve played against eight or nine boxed guys and been successful, especially when I carried the ball 416 times that season. I was seeing eight or nine in the box against almost all the great rush defenses and was still able to put up a good amount of numbers. So, it’s something I prepare myself for.”
THREE DOWNS WITH …
Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs
1. On if he’s ready to play an entire game: "Yeah, I think the coaches and the training staff did a good job making sure I was in game shape. So, yeah, I think I’m ready to go. I hope it’s hot.”
2. On playing against Larry Johnson: "You always want to go up against a good back, because then that’s where you see how good you are. The simple fact that he’s a great back and we have tremendous backs in this division. So, every week you’re going to face a good back, or you’re going to face a great quarterback or a receiver."
3. On being given a $62.5 million contract as one of the highest-paid players in the league: "They paid me like a defensive end. Everybody wants to see me play, especially in these colors. So, that’s why we agreed on a contract. Don’t use that word like that again.”