1. Throw from power sets: The Chiefs are gunning for the run, especially after being dismantled by the Oakland ground attack last Sunday. The Ravens should show run, only to pass against the Kansas City base defense.
In 2009, the Ravens started their game against Kansas City by showing run-action, only to throw off of the play-fake. It’s not just a matter of using a fake while the line is stationary. The illusion of run-action goes to the way the guards may pull seemingly to block for a run and how the backs carry out the fake.
If the Ravens are able to adeptly setup their play-action looks, they should be able to hit on some completions downfield. Although the Kansas City defensive backfield is talented, they are young, and they may bite hard on a well-designed set of play-action plays.
2. Slow down the rush: Led by Tambi Hali, the Kansas City pass rushers can get after it. They registered 38 sacks, which was a significant improvement from a year ago, when they notched 22. The key to their success is disguise and speed. Led by defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, this is a group that forces the opposing quarterback to make the right post-snap reads.
Against an aggressive front, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron should employ more screens and quick-hitting pass plays. Quarterback Joe Flacco will need to be aware of which backers are coming and which backers are bluffing. Based on the linebackers’ keys, Flacco should be able to find the right mismatches to exploit.
On the ground, the delay trap play should be in full effect. This run design was used perfectly against the Saints, to cut off their aggressive edge rushers from flying off the backside. A pulling guard is given a little more time to get on top of a second level defender. When the back hits the first level crease, he’ll have more open space at the second level. Given the delayed action of the play, it is the type of run that can cripple fast fronts.
Also watch out for a few misdirection plays that test the Kansas City edge defenders.
3. Play aggressively: Now that the playoffs have officially started, the mantra for this offense should be to attack with abandon. The offense has to play with a greater sense of purpose and urgency if it is to succeed in the big show.
Clearly, the Ravens have to be smart with the football, but they should also take some chances. Playing conservatively will not work against the offenses in the AFC. The Baltimore defense is no longer good enough to force consistent three-and-outs.
The offense should look to score early and often, and not depend on the defense to close teams out.
1. Man coverage: The bottom line – as Ray Lewis is prone to say – is to find a way to disrupt quarterback Matt Cassel. Cassel has been outstanding all year. But one could argue that he has yet to face a defense that is as physical and tough as the Ravens.
Cassel is not the type of quarterback who will hurt with you his big arm. He is precise in the intermediate passing game, and he does a good job exploiting zone coverage.
The Ravens have to play aggressively at the line to disrupt the timing of Cassel’s throws. If the corners are able to win at the line-of-scrimmage, Cassel will hold the ball longer and he force the issue.
Downfield, the coverage should be man across the board, as the defense should challenge Cassel to throw deep.
2. Gap integrity: The Chiefs will test the Ravens’ ability to play fundamentally sound defense. They will use an assortment of misdirection plays that start to the play-side, only to bounce off the backside.
The Baltimore front seven has been overaggressive at times, as they have pursued hard inside, only for the play to go off-tackle. Given the speed of the Kansas City playmakers, if the Ravens misplay their gaps, they will get burned on the perimeter.
Overall, the defense will need to play intelligently, knowing that the offensive staff of Charlie Weiss and head coach Todd Haley will look to sneak a big play or two due to blown assignments.
3. Defending the edges: In defending the electric Jamaal Charles, the onus will be on the corners, safeties and outside linebackers to tackle and chase hard. If they are not up to the task, Charles will burn the Baltimore defense.
Charles’ strength is his ability to get outside, and the Chiefs use an assortment of pitches, tosses, and other off-tackle runs to get him going. Given how athletic the Kansas City blockers are in space, it is not easy to slow down Charles.
Usually, if a defense plays well on the edges, the corners are doing a good job of taking on blocks and making tackles. This game against Kansas City is no exception. The corners have to hug the sidelines, and make every effort to funnel Charles back to the inside, where they will receive help.
The ultimate goal is to force the Chiefs to run inside, where they are not nearly as explosive.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch
Michael Oher versus Tamba Hali: As mentioned before, Hali is the focal point of the Kansas City pass rush. He is a big, relentless rusher with a tremendous motor. He is tough to deal with because he can win inside just as easily as he can win outside. Oher has had an up-and-down season as the blindside blocker. He is a terrific athlete but his technique is often inconsistent.