Three keys for Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens on MNF

Patrick Mahomes Lamar Jackson
Two of the best quarterbacks in the league - who comes out on top? Photo by ESPN.

Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Buffalo Bills may not like it, but the two best teams in the AFC meet on Monday Night Football in Week 3.

Defending Super Bowl champions the Kansas City Chiefs take on a Baltimore Ravens team loaded enough on both sides of the ball to snatch their crown.

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.

He’s averaging 9.8 yards per pass, according to ESPN. Take away any yards after the catch and the average distance Jackson’s passes are traveling is 8.7 yards.

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.


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.

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

The best cornerback in the NFL isn’t Stephon Gilmore nor Jalen Ramsey. It’s Marcus Peters. He’s the man Mahomes must avoid on Monday night.

Mahomes usually trusts his arm to beat any coverage, but testing Peters is hazardous to the health of an offense.

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:

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.

The Chiefs have struggled to track receivers out of the backfield this season. Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley combined for six grabs for 104 yards for the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2.

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.

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.

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