1. Get ahead in the pitch count
In honor of the Baltimore Orioles’ first postseason berth in 15 (long) years, we use a baseball reference for winning the down-and-distance battle. For the Ravens to succeed on Sunday, they need to keep the Kansas City rushers from teeing off in third-and-long situations.
Specifically, pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston form a formidable duo that can bend the edge. The tackle duo of Michael Oher and Kelechi Osmele struggled against Cleveland’s duo of Juqua Parker and Jabaal Sheard. If the first down offensive efficiency isn’t where it needs to be, the offensive line could be in for another long day.
2. Paint the edges
This could be a game where back-shoulder stop routes and fades are a big part of the passing attack. The Chiefs will take some chances in coverage and single up their corners, but Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt are struggling to defend the sidelines.
As a consequence, both corners could be vulnerable moving out of their backpedal, and they’ll struggle to recover against hard stops and timing routes. Flacco has gotten his timing down on these throws to Smith, Boldin and Jones, so expect more of the same on Sunday.
3. Wear out the front
If the Ravens keep pounding the middle enough times, the dam should break loose, especially in the second half of the game. The Chiefs have been worn out by opposing runners all season, as the interior triangle composed of the NT and the inside backers have been overmatched.
Although the Ravens struggled to pound the ball consistently up the gut against Cleveland last Thursday, they were able to spring enough plays using tailback Bernard Pierce as a changeup. Look for a more consistent attack against the Chiefs, especially if the Ravens stick with the ground attack.
1. Stay in your lanes
Gap integrity will need to be at all-time high against Jamaal Charles: arguably the deadliest tailback in the league. For the Ravens, the approach should be similar to when they faced Philadelphia tailback LeSean McCoy. Backside pursuit from the edge setters must be controlled to prevent from leaving the back alleys open.
Moreover, defenders cannot get caught out of their gaps. If defenders fill the wrong gaps, Charles will find the cutback lane and take it to the house—just as he did against the Ravens during the 2010 playoffs.
2. Keep your eyes on your man
One of the biggest struggles of the Baltimore secondary has been their inability to stay disciplined. Corners, safeties and linebackers have been influenced by play-fakes and the quarterback’s movement in and out of the pocket. When the defenders have taken the bait upfield, they’ve left gaping windows wide open for the quarterback to make plays.
The Chiefs present an interesting challenge given the threat of Charles and Matt Cassel’s ability to improvise out of the pocket. When the Chiefs fake to Charles, the safeties need to remain the deepest of the deep. Also, when Cassel scrambles around, defenders need to chase him with caution. If a mistake is made in coverage, Kansas City’s receivers are more than capable of taking advantage downfield.
3. Watch the screen game
With Charles, Shaun Draughn, and former tailback Dexter McCluster, the Chiefs have a nice mix of underneath pass catchers that can turn a short pass into serious real estate.
Given the Ravens’ propensity to call all-out blitzes—especially on third down—there is a definite danger in the screen game coming alive. The outside defenders need to be aware of where these backs motion and come up to make the tackle right away, especially in obvious passing situations.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Courtney Upshaw versus Eric Winston
Although Upshaw, Albert McClellan and Paul Kruger will rotate quite a bit at the strong side position, it’ll be interesting to see how the rookie fares against one of the better run blockers in the game. It’ll be vital for Upshaw to play the run first against Kansas City and disengage consistently from Winston off-tackle.