Beating Baltimore will mean confusing Lamar Jackson and attacking the running game. The Ravens don’t usually let opponents dictate things, and John Harbaugh’s men could bully Patrick Mahomes and his prolific offense.
Here’s what both teams must do on Monday night, starting with Kansas City’s keys for victory:
Smother the underneath routes
Jackson identified throwing deep as an area he needs to improve this season. The Chiefs need to test Jackson’s progress by forcing him to go long to win.
The Chiefs can clamp down on these passes by smothering the underneath routes. Playing a three-deep coverage shell will leave four players underneath to occupy the short zones.
KC defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo can get to a three-deep look in a variety of ways. He can show Cover 2 and have one of the safeties, probably Tryann Mathieu play robber after the snap.
Tyrann Mathieu: Air Controller🚫
Those LSU DBs…
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 20, 2020
Alternatively, Spags could flip the script by having an underneath safety bail deep and restore the Cover 2 shell once Jackson has read three deep. Spagnuolo loves to confuse quarterbacks with disguised zones and combination coverage.
His best combination might be something more straightforward. Playing a 2-man defense, two safeties deep and man coverage underneath, would challenge Jackson’s accuracy and force him to go long.
Blitz the run
Spagnuolo usually saves his sophisticated fire-zone blitzes for obvious passing downs. He’ll need to push the pressure button earlier this week if the Chiefs are going to control Baltimore’s brutal running game.
The Chiefs aren’t tough on the ground, even with big Chris Jones anchoring the middle of the D-line. Reggie Ragland joining the Detriot Lions in free agency removed the only true thumper from the linebacker level.
Chris Jones was disruptive on Sunday. The RG was worried about a power move from Jones and fired out to match that, but the swim move was a perfect counter. The RG had some weight forward in his stance, a key to Jones a swim would throw him to the ground. @ArrowheadLive pic.twitter.com/4gK6CyeffL
— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) September 23, 2020
KC will need to send extra bodies to attack the line of scrimmage. Blitzing both edges can keep Jackson in the pocket and prevent him from making gains on read-option plays.
Spagnuolo should also send players through the A gaps to stuff bruising Mark Ingram in the backfield. Slanting Jones and letting the rest of the line stunt will disrupt runs at the source.
It’s a risky way to travel since Ingram or Gus Edwards will break long gains if they beat the blitz. But the Chiefs can’t afford to be passive and let Baltimore chew up the clock and keep Mahomes off the field.
Stay away from Marcus Peters
Mahomes usually trusts his arm to beat any coverage, but testing Peters is hazardous to the health of an offense.
Marcus Peters won defensive rookie of the year season in 2015.
Since 2015, Marcus Peters has amassed 28 interceptions. No other player in the NFL has 20 interceptions in that span.
Lesson for QBs: Don't throw near @marcuspeters 🚫
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) September 20, 2020
Peters thrives by baiting quarterbacks. He’s not a press corner but one who excels in off coverage. Yet Peters will never give a receiver too big of a cushion pre-snap.
It’ll be safer for Mahomes to look for weaknesses in the rest of the Ravens’ secondary.
The Chiefs know what to do and what not to do. Here’s how the Ravens can win:
Run to daylight
The Chiefs might sell out to stop the run, but keeping the ball on the ground is still Baltimore’s best way to win. Greater depth and versatility has made an already talented backfield downright scary.
Ingram is still a sledgehammer between the tackles, while Jackson keeps defenses guessing and afraid of his speed. Edwards chips in, and rookie J.K. Dobbins has added his own big-play dimension.
Combining this array of talent with a scheme expertly crafted by underrated play-caller Greg Roman has created a nightmare for defenses.
Ingram’s touchdown out of a Wildcat look against the Houston Texans in Week 2 summed up Baltimore’s ingenuity in the running game:
📺: Next, Monday night 8:15 p.m. vs Kansas City on ESPN pic.twitter.com/qEIf6RbelJ
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 22, 2020
The Ravens amassed 230 rushing yards against a normally stingy defense. Anything close to a repeat will guarantee a win over the Chiefs.
More touches for J.K. Dobbins
Giving Dobbins more touches will help generate similar production. He only carried the ball twice against the Texans but still ripped off 48 yards to go with 13 more from a solitary catch.
Baltimore needs to get Dobbins more involved. The 55th-overall pick in this year’s draft has the agility and elusiveness in space great runners possess.
J.K. Dobbins giving Cunningham the business in the open field
— PFF (@PFF) September 20, 2020
Establishing Dobbins in both phases will help Jackson get the ball out quickly and avoid the Chiefs’ traps in deeper coverage.
Double Tyreek Hill Everywhere
Clyde Edwards-Helaire‘s fast start to life in the NFL means teams can’t sit back in soft zones and try to take away Mahomes’ big plays through the air. Keep two safeties deep and Edwards-Helaire will dominate seven-man fronts the way he did against the Texans in Week 1.
A brave defensive coordinator lets his players challenge Kansas City’s receivers in man coverage. It makes sense for Baltimore’s aggressive defense, but Tyreek Hill still needs to see double coverage everywhere he goes.
Press coverage with a safety over the top will deter Mahomes from looking Hill’s way. Don “Wink” Martindale can mix things up by having Peters or Marlon Humphrey line up in off coverage then sending a safety or Nickelback to bracket Hill underneath.
Can’t stop watching Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters’ turnovers on back-to-back drives.
Just a couple of All-Pros doing All-Pro things pic.twitter.com/8y9ORdKaB8
— Sarah Ellison (@sgellison) September 21, 2020
Shutting Hill down eliminates the quick-strike capability that makes the Chiefs offense the best in the league. The Ravens have the playmakers to take the ball away from Mahomes and Co. and let Jackson and his ground game dominate the sticks.