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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The most anticipated meeting of Week 3 may not produce the offensive fireworks many anticipated as the undefeated Ravens go on the road to take on the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs.

The weather could be a lingering factor as heavy rain fell throughout the night and morning in Kansas City with a light shower or thunderstorm still possible during the game. The field at Arrowhead Stadium was covered for the most significant precipitation, but it remains to be seen how the natural grass surface holds up. Temperatures will approach the mid-70s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

The field conditions will make ball security more critical than usual for both Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in this showdown of talented, young quarterbacks in the AFC.

Despite some concerns about a lingering foot injury, tight end Mark Andrews is active and will play. The 2018 third-round pick leads Baltimore in receptions and recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games to begin the season, a product of the great chemistry he’s developed with Jackson. Andrews’ effectiveness on a wet field will be worth monitoring as fellow second-year tight end Hayden Hurst could step into a larger role if necessary.

Fullback and defensive tackle Patrick Ricard (back) is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) and safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) are inactive after being officially ruled out Friday.

Hoping to repeat last December’s effort in which Mahomes was hit 15 times in the 27-24 overtime loss, the Ravens have activated rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson to give them an additional pass-rushing option. Ferguson was a healthy scratch for each of the first two games, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has remained complimentary of his progress since the start of training camp.

Kansas City will be without Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder) and starting left tackle Eric Fisher (groin) against the Ravens, but veteran running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) is active for Sunday’s game. Claimed off waivers by the Chiefs earlier this week, former Ravens offensive tackle Greg Senat is inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is John Hussey.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for their home opener.

Sunday marks the ninth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 5-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is 3-1 in four trips to Arrowhead, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff win.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Jimmy Smith
S Brynden Trawick
ILB Otaro Alaka
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

KANSAS CITY
WR Tyreek Hill
RB Damien Williams
OT Greg Senat
OT Eric Fisher
C Nick Allegretti
OT Martinas Rankin
DL Khalen Saunders

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 September 2019 by Luke Jones

What more could you ask for in Week 3?

Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale suggested we could be seeing the next Brady-Manning rivalry as Lamar Jackson and Baltimore travel to Kansas City to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s an exciting thought after last December’s 27-24 classic in which the Chiefs narrowly prevailed in overtime.

In his second season, Jackson has taken a gigantic leap to draw comparisons to Mahomes, whom no one expected to be the 2018 NFL MVP at this time a year ago in his first full season as a starter. These two will be exciting to watch for years to come, and these teams meeting again in January wouldn’t be surprising, regardless of Sunday’s outcome.

It’s time to go on the record as these 2018 division winners meet for the ninth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 5-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won two of the three regular-season games played at Arrowhead Stadium as well as the 2010 wild-card playoff game.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Willie Snead will be more involved with 75 receiving yards and a touchdown. With rookie Marquise Brown among the league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns, the lack of production from the other wide receivers — six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns in two games — hasn’t been an issue so far. However, as opponents focus more on slowing Brown as well as tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson will need to turn to others with Snead’s ability over the middle making him a logical choice. The veteran slot receiver had five catches for 61 yards against the Chiefs last year and will provide an effective safety net for Jackson playing in front of his first raucous road crowd of the season.

2. Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones will record two sacks. The Chiefs may not have too many defensive players who scare you, but Jones is among the best inside pass rushers in the NFL, posing a problem for center Matt Skura and left guard Bradley Bozeman. Inside pressure gave the Ravens major problems in last year’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Jones’ 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame regularly disrupts passing lanes. Controlling the pass rush will be a critical objective for both teams as the Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but Jones has the ability to wreck a game inside if you don’t have a good plan to account for him.

3. Jackson and Mahomes will each throw their first interception of 2019 in otherwise strong performances. The early-season comparisons between the two are striking as the young quarterbacks have each thrown seven touchdowns and haven’t thrown a single pick in a combined 134 pass attempts. In fact, Jackson’s last interception in the regular season came against Oakland last Nov. 25 while Mahomes has thrown only one since Ravens safety Chuck Clark picked him off last Dec. 9. With rain in Sunday’s forecast and both quarterbacks eager to put on a show in a big game early in the season, we’ll see a couple turnovers mixed into impressive games from Mahomes and Jackson.

4. Travis Kelce will have over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. The Baltimore defense mixed up its coverages last December as the All-Pro tight end caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, but Kelce also drew a pass interference call to set up an easy 1-yard touchdown. Tony Jefferson missed last year’s meeting with the Chiefs and figures to match up against Kelce at times, but I just don’t see a particularly encouraging solution to slowing him, a problem Kansas City could also face with Andrews. With Tyreek Hill out this time around and the Ravens focused on limiting big plays, Mahomes will turn to Kelce frequently in the intermediate portion of the field.

5. The Chiefs will pull out a 31-27 win in a close game that lives up to the hype. I like the Ravens’ chances in this one more than I did last year with the improvement of Jackson and the passing game, but there was some leaky coverage Miami wasn’t capable of exploiting in Week 1 and more breakdowns against Arizona last week, a concerning trend when playing Andy Reid’s dynamic passing game on the road. I expect the Ravens to use some ball control like last year to try to keep the Chiefs offense off the field, but the between-the-tackles running game hasn’t been as consistent early on, which will leave the ball in Jackson’s hands more frequently. The 22-year-old quarterback will have a good day, but I’m just not sure the Baltimore defense is on the 2018 group’s level or that a talented but young offense is quite ready yet for a full-blown shootout if that’s what happens Sunday. I’ll give a slight nod to Kansas City, but the Ravens will have no reason to feel discouraged about their efforts in this one.

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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers are very good for the Ravens defense so far.

Through two games, Baltimore is second in total defense, first in rush defense, fourth in points allowed, fifth in third-down defense, and tied for ninth inside the red zone. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive profile over the course of the season with few concerns.

But what have we truly learned about the Ravens defense watching games against what could be the worst team in modern NFL history (Miami) and a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start (Arizona)? Appropriately praising Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense for setting franchise records in Week 1 is one thing, but how do you judge a defense that does about what you’d expect of any good unit against such competition?

The Baltimore defense was always going to be good, but it’s a matter of just how good, a relevant question when you’re traveling to Arrowhead Stadium for the best game of Week 3.

“Miami was Miami. They’re struggling this year,” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas about the unit’s performance through two games. “But last week [against Arizona], we kind of felt a little type of way because we didn’t dominate like we wanted to dominate. It was a lot of well-schemed-up plays. We got to watch the tape, and we learned from those mistakes.

“Hopefully, we get them corrected once we get out there against Kansas City because it’s a copycat league.”

Yes, the Ravens were without cornerback Jimmy Smith — and will be again Sunday — and were already dealing with the loss of nickel corner Tavon Young, but surrendering 349 passing yards, 6.5 yards per play, and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals don’t look like harbingers for success against 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s difficult to expect the same results on third down and inside the red zone against an offense that scored just over 35 points per game last year and has averaged nearly as many (34.0) in two road wins to begin 2019.

Still, the Ravens were that close to knocking off the Chiefs in a 27-24 overtime loss last December, which should give them plenty of confident going into Sunday.

It’s a different year, of course, with the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle out of the picture, but the formula for success remains as the defense allowed just 24 points in regulation in that Week 14 clash, the Chiefs’ lowest output of the 2018 season. The Chiefs won’t have star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but there’s still four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and no shortage of speed at wide receiver.

Most importantly, they have Mahomes, whose sensational 48-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 kept his team alive and allowed them to tie the game late in the fourth quarter last year.

“You have to handle the series of events,” defensive coordiantor Wink Martindale said. “He’s going to make plays. We know that going in. But what we can’t do is let him make too many plays, and then we have to play great red-zone defense.”

The Ravens did that for long stretches of last year’s game, holding Kansas City scoreless on four of five possessions in the third and fourth quarters and forcing field goals on two of five trips inside the red zone. With Jackson and the offense confident and playing at a higher level than last year, you’d love the Ravens’ chances to win with a comparable defensive performance. But if this one turns into a full-blown shootout, is the Ravens offense truly ready to go toe to toe with an proven heavyweight in a hostile environment for 60 minutes?

Keeping the Chiefs in the mid-20s on the scoreboard is easier said than done with their offense already completing 14 passes of 20 or more yards, two more than the explosive Ravens. That’s with the speedy Hill having played just 12 snaps before injuring his shoulder in the season opener, forcing the Chiefs to turn to veteran Sammy Watkins and younger options Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Thomas believes he’s just the guy to limit those offensive explosions, something the Ravens didn’t do on Mahomes’ game-saving play to Hill last season. It’s a big reason why general manager Eric DeCosta made the four-year, $55 million investment in the former Seattle Seahawk’s services.

“I think that comes down to personnel,” Thomas said. “Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

It isn’t just about the vertical passing game as Kelce can frustrate defenses in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field and Kansas City uses its running backs as receivers out of the backfield as effectively as anyone. That creates quite the challenge for strong safety Tony Jefferson and Ravens linebackers, who all experienced hiccups in pass coverage last week. As head coach John Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will throw enough coverage looks at Kelce to “try to keep the batting average down just a little bit,” understanding he’s going to make his share of plays.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ll truly find out about the pass rush that was scrutinized throughout the spring and summer. Thanks to promising starts by Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens lead the league with 20 quarterback hits over the first two weeks, but Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona 30th and Miami 32nd in its offensive line rankings entering the season. It’s nothing for which to apologize, of course, but drawing conclusions against that level of competition would be premature.

The good news for the Ravens is that the Chiefs will be depending on former Cleveland first-round bust Cam Erving at left tackle to protect Mahomes’ blind side. If Martindale’s defense wants to approach the 15 quarterback hits registered in Kansas City last December, that matchup will be one to exploit.

Amid the hype for Mahomes-Jackson II, the Ravens have a great opportunity to avenge last December’s loss while proclaiming themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a win. It’s the kind of game in which we used to ask if the offense would be able to do enough, but times are certainly changing and a younger defense is aiming to prove its standard remains high in matchups such as these.

If the defense can again keep Mahomes and the Chiefs from lighting up the scoreboard, there’s no reason to think Jackson and an improved offense won’t get the job done. And if it again come down to the ball being in Mahomes’ hands late, there’s experience from which to draw.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play — smart guy, big arm, strong arm. You’ve got to lock in each and every down. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication, and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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Lamar Jackson has quickly changed who is in those purple seats downtown

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

I am usually the guy that local folks seek out to discuss Ravens game strategy or the mood around the locker room or the stats and the history of the franchise.

Needless to say, it’s a good time to put the purple flamingo back on the lawn in the Charm City. And, yes, I am working on Purple Reign 3 as we speak…

The Baltimore Ravens are 2-0. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins are 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season. And I am headed to Kansas City to get my hands soaked in BBQ and my breathe wet with craft beer to watch the greatest show in the NFL right now with Patrick Mahomes and the looming game (and rematch) of the week.

And all of that has put me in a wonderful mood but there is only one story and one discussion around the Baltimore Ravens right now – and that’s Lamar Jackson.

(This is the part where I call him, “Mr. Jackson, if you’re Nasty!”)

Forget Janet and The Jackson 5 – this is The Jackson 53 here in Baltimore.

We all watched No. 8 run around last winter and excite us with the possibilities of a spread offense and a quarterback who is the fastest guy on the field. It saved the job of a head coach and rapidly got a Super Bowl MVP and parade leader benched, traded and (now somehow) quickly forgotten.

Joe Cool became Joe Who?

For eight months of an offseason fraught with massive changes and debate about the merits of our quarterback running into linebackers 15 times a game, we all said “Lamar Jackson needs to improve at throwing the football.”

Well…he has improved. That much is clear.

And even after a home win and the “feel goods” in the locker room after the game, it was also clear to anyone within breathing space of Lamar Jackson that he was not real pleased with his effort. He missed a few passes. He misread some things. His frustration was evident. And without throwing that over-the-shoulder dime to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with the game on the line, it might’ve turned out differently.

He knew that and didn’t like it.

You might’ve been happy after the Ravens 23-17 victory but Lamar Jackson was fairly dissatisfied.

A few us saw him wait out Mark Ingram and talk at length with him at their locker. It was clear that Lamar wanted to climb in the backseat of Ingram’s car and go home with him to talk more football and watch more film but instead departed the stadium solo.

Tens minutes later, as I departed the stadium to walk home, I saw him creating this madness outside the media exit:

And then the video surfaced of him pulling over to sign more autographs for fans.

As a lifer PSL holder, my observations about Sunday didn’t have as much to do with the football team as they did the climate inside the

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional-round weekend

Posted on 14 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL divisional round now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The league’s top four scoring offenses advanced to the conference championship games with only one of those teams — New England — ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. Remember that as Eric DeCosta weighs tough defensive roster decisions against the need to build an offense around 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson.

2. Since the 2012 Ravens, no team playing in the wild-card round has made the Super Bowl. In fact, no team even playing a road playoff game since then has made it. Rest and home-field advantage remain way more important than being the hot upstart “nobody wants to see in January.”

3. After dominating Baltimore last week, the Chargers’ “quarter” defense had no answers for New England using big personnel and running right at them. The Patriots carving up Los Angeles didn’t make former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or the rest of the Baltimore offensive staff look any better.

4. Fans and even a player or two predictably suggested the Ravens would have put up a better fight against the Patriots. I’ll hear that with Baltimore’s defense, but Bill Belichick having an extra week to prepare for a rookie quarterback and a limited offense? That may not have been pretty.

5. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas continued a remarkable 125-catch regular season with 12 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia. He was selected five spots after Kamalei Correa in the 2016 draft. Sorry for ruining your day.

6. Watching the divisional round reiterated how badly the Ravens need more talented pass catchers who can gain yards after the catch. They ranked 27th in the NFL in yards after the catch this season after their wide receivers ranked 31st in that category in 2017.

7. I couldn’t help but wonder if Haloti Ngata was playing his final NFL game with Philadelphia on Sunday. His star faded a long time ago, but a 340-pound defensive tackle lasting 13 seasons is really impressive. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is an instant shoo-in for the Ring of Honor.

8. The Patriots are the last team Ravens fans want to see winning the Super Bowl, but Albert McClellan was one of the most respected players in the Baltimore locker room for a long time. His special-teams prowess has fit well in New England as he recovered a fumble on Sunday.

9. Jared Goff going to the NFC Championship two years after an awful rookie season should be all the evidence needed to see why it’s unfair to draw strong conclusions about a quarterback so quickly. I’m fascinated to see how Jackson looks after a full offseason to refine his passing ability.

10. Having already announced plans to retire, former Raven Benjamin Watson will accomplish a rare feat if the Saints win the Super Bowl. The 38-year-old spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, but he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots that year. Those would be quite the bookends.

11. Speaking of long careers, Joe Flacco arrived in Baltimore eight years after Tom Brady in New England, had a memorable 11-year-run that included a Super Bowl MVP award and a couple playoff wins in Foxboro, and will depart while the 41-year-old is still standing. How is that possible?

12. This isn’t related to the Ravens, but the video below tells my favorite story of the weekend.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The irresistible force meets the immovable object — or something like that.

The Ravens continue to fight the good fight in today’s offense-driven NFL and will test out their top-ranked defense in Kansas City. The 10-2 Chiefs own the league’s No. 1 scoring offense and rank fourth or better in total offense, passing offense, third-down offense, fourth-down offense, and red-zone offense.

After passing an important road test against Atlanta in impressive fashion last week, Baltimore will now see how its reliance on a revamped running game and stingy defense — a formula considered outdated by some — fares against the best team in the AFC. Sunday represents an opportunity for the Ravens to show they can be as dangerous as anyone in January.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 4-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won both regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium as well as a 2010 wild-card playoff game on the road. The Chiefs won the most recent meeting between these teams in 2015, a 34-14 final in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens defense will intercept its first pass since early October, but pressure in the pocket will be rare. Yes, it’s been more than two months since Tavon Young intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss in Cleveland. However, Patrick Mahomes is facing a disguise-heavy Baltimore defense for the first time in his career and has thrown 10 interceptions, proving he can occasionally be erratic despite his outstanding body of work. The problem will be getting to the young quarterback against an offensive line that’s surrendered only 20 sacks this season.

2. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch two touchdowns. Questions about Marlon Humphrey’s health complicate this topic as I believe a full-strength Ravens secondary would be wise to use Jimmy Smith or Humphrey to cover Kelce since he lines up plenty as a slot receiver. Baltimore has given up just 31 pass plays of 20 or more yards and two passes of 40 or more yards all season, so Wink Martindale will do everything he can to prevent the speedy Tyreek Hill from wrecking the game. That will leave the Ravens vulnerable underneath, however, with Kelce doing much of the damage.

3. Mark Andrews will continue to show chemistry with Lamar Jackson by catching a touchdown. The rookie tight end’s five catches for 140 yards over the last three games are nothing special at first glance, but that production has come on five targets, meaning Marty Mornhinweg and Jackson would be wise to utilize this connection more frequently. The Chiefs are vulnerable over the middle and have struggled to cover tight ends even more than Baltimore has this season, which should allow the Ravens to find some success through the air in that portion of the field.

4. Jackson will crack 190 passing yards for the first time in his career with underwhelming results. The Ravens will run the ball effectively against another bad rush defense, but a strong ground game isn’t as valuable as a prolific passing attack, making it inevitable that Jackson will need to make plays with his arm, something he was rarely able to do in Atlanta. The Chiefs defense carries one of the NFL’s worst overall statistical profiles, but eight of its 11 interceptions and 21 of its 39 sacks have come in just five home games, which is bad news if Baltimore falls behind.

5. Red-zone efficiency will be the difference as the Chiefs pull away in a 31-16 final. A convincing road win over the Falcons offers hope that the revamped Ravens might be able to upset Kansas City, but Atlanta has been going nowhere fast for much of the season while the Chiefs are on the fast track to the No. 1 seed. Much has been made about a running game that’s rushed for over 700 yards the last three weeks, but the Ravens have netted just five offensive touchdowns in 17 drives reaching the opponent’s 30-yard line. Running the ball and controlling the clock to try to limit scoring opportunities for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is a sound strategy, but that only works when you’re finishing those long drives with touchdowns, something the Ravens haven’t done consistently enough to like their chances in this one. I’ll take the No. 1 offense over the No. 1 defense every time in today’s NFL, but the Ravens will still battle for large stretches of this one.

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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