OWINGS MILLS – The truth is on the video screen, and it reveals serious danger for opposing defenses.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ running back tandem of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones is as formidable as it gets.
Charles glides across the grass, eluding linebackers with his superior speed and cutting ability. And Jones is a throwback, a pound-it-on-the ground type who thrives on collisions.
Between them, they spell major trouble for opposing defenses as the top-ranked rushing attack in the league.
Heading into Sunday’s AFC wild-card playoff game, the Chiefs’ running game has commanded the Baltimore Ravens’ attention.
The Ravens’ fifth-ranked rushing defense has regained its old, stingy style lately, and the Chiefs feature an elite running game. Something has to give.
“We love when teams like to run,” Ravens Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “We’ll see how it goes during the game. If we can take away their best thing, then that’s an advantage for us. “
The Ravens aren’t easily impressed, but they are admirers of Charles’ multi-dimensional skills and his ability to change gears and sprint away from defenders.
The former University of Texas star ranks second in the NFL behind Arian Foster with 1,467 rushing yards and has scored five touchdowns, and is averaging a robust 6.4 yards per carry.
As far as the Ravens are concerned, they’ve seen Charles before only he was wearing Tennessee Titans star running back Chris Johnson’s uniform.
“First thing I thought was Chris Johnson,” outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “He’s a one-cut speed guy, will hit any corner. We were watching him and they ran a toss to the open side.
“He reversed it and ran 40 yards to the closed side. He’ll take it anywhere, ton of talent. I’m very impressed with the guy in space. He’s very tough, a big challenge.”
The Ravens have never allowed a 100-yard rusher in their entire postseason history, which includes 13 playoff games.
The Chiefs, though, are averaging 164.2 rushing yards per contest.
Charles and Thomas are polar opposites in terms of running styles, but work effectively together.
They outgained the New York Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, rushing for 2,263 yards for the most by any running back combination in the league this season.
Against the Chiefs, the Ravens have to protect the middle and the perimeter.
“Containment is always a big deal, no edge, no chance,” inside linebacker Jameel McClain said. “When you have a dynamic running back, it’s something that you really want to emphasize. It’s definitely important for us to stay disciplined.
“It’s obvious when you have two 1,000-yard rushers, they’re pretty good at running the ball. They know that their running game is good, and everybody else knows that it’s good. For us, I think it’s just guys being in the right place and doing the right things, staying disciplined and flying around, playing with passion and getting after the ball.”
When the Ravens faced Johnson in the playoffs two years ago, he was on his way to eclipsing the century mark with over 75 rushing yards in the first half before leaving the game with an ankle injury.
Now, the Ravens are about to encounter some serious speed once again in the playoffs.
“Pure explosive,” All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said of Charles. “That’s the way they draw up his schemes. That’s what they like to do with him. He’s just one of those talents that they love in Kansas City.
“If you watch him, you see why. He’s one of those guys that really controls the tempo of the game. Then you bring in a veteran like Thomas Jones, so that one-two punch.”
Punch is a good way to characterize Jones.
He’s about as subtle as a haymaker to the chin.
He runs like a human sledgehammer, pounding into the line with little finesse.
The sculpted 5-foot-10, 212-pounder plays like he weighs 240 pounds.
The 11-year veteran rushed for 896 yards this season, doing the dirty work inside.
“Jones is a little bigger, so I think he’s able to hit it in between the tackles a little bit better,” Ngata said. “He’s just a little older, and he’s a little bit more patient, I think, than Charles. Charles, man, once he hits that hole and sees it, he does a great job of just hitting it and getting some yards after that. He’s just so fast and quick.”
The Ravens have improved over the past two months, moving from 17th in the NFL in rushing defense to fifth.
They’re surrendering just 93.9 yards per contest on the ground and shut down Peyton Hillis and Cedric Benson over the past two games of the regular season.
A two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Lewis said the Ravens have no intentions of changing their hard-nosed approach now.
“Let’s be us, you don’t have to create nothing,” Lewis said. “Rushing yards don’t mean nothing, how many times you did this don’t mean nothing. The only thing that means something right now is if we come play through our identity and hopefully they play through theirs.”