Control the Clock
When Lamar Jackson took over as the starting QB of the Baltimore Ravens during the 2018 season, there was more talk about the new offense’s ability to control the clock than just about anything else surrounding the team. With Gus Edwards & Jackson leading the way, the Ravens led the NFL in rushing yards & time of possession. Controlling the clock with a dominant rushing attack & methodical drives allows a team to tire out the opposing defense, keep their own defense fresh & keep elite offenses off the field. That formula was the foundation for the complete team turnaround that ended with a playoff appearance.
Through two games in the 2019 season, the Ravens are once again leading the NFL in rushing yards & time of possession. While it’s true that they’ve played two of the NFL’s worst teams & subsequently have yet to need to score a quick TD to win, they’re still on track to lead the league in those two categories once again.
Against the reigning NFL MVP & one of the best offenses in the league, the best defense on Sunday might just be a slow offense. Even though the Ravens have displayed a much improved offense so far in 2019, they should try their best to avoid getting into a shootout against the best arm in the league. Greg Roman should call a game that sees the Ravens establish a methodical rushing attack that picks up a lot of first downs & keeps “three & outs” to an absolute minimum. Controlling the clock & keeping the score low could go a long way to keeping it close late in Kansas City.
Take Shots to Hollywood Brown
When the Chiefs took on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, Jags QBs Nick Foles & Gardner Minshew found success hitting their WRs on the deep ball. On the play that he suffered the collarbone injury that landed him on injured reserve, Foles hit former LSU WR D.J. Chark for a 35-yard TD pass in the back corner of the end zone. Chark, known mostly for his speed, beat Chiefs slot CB Kendall Fuller one-on-one for the score. After coming in for Foles, the rookie Minshew was able to find Chark & former Chief Chris Conley for gains on 20 or more yards a total of five more times.
While the Chiefs are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the NFL, CB play is not one of their strengths. Highly-regarded slot CB Fuller can more than hold his own inside, but Kansas City starts Bashaud Breeland & second-year, former undrafted free agent Charvarius Ward on the outside.
If Minshew can connect with his WRs for big yardage, then Lamar Jackson should certainly be able to hit Hollywood Brown & his other targets for chunk plays. Half a dozen deep shots from Jackson to Brown should be the absolute minimum on Sunday. In a game that has real potential to turn into a shootout, a few long completions could be the Ravens ticket towards pulling out a tough victory in Kansas City this weekend.
Don’t Give Up on Running the Ball
If you take a glance at the box score for the Chiefs’ Week 2 contest against the Oakland Raiders, you’ll see a 28-10 final score. After that, you’ll notice that the Chiefs scored all 28 of their points on the day in the second quarter. While scoring 28 points in the span of about 14 minutes & 30 seconds speaks to a certain lack of consistency from their offense, it also speaks to their ability to put up points in a hurry.
While I don’t believe that the Ravens defense will give up so many points in such a short period of time, there is always the chance that an offense as explosive as Kansas City’s could get hot & go on a run at some point. A lot of teams have the tendency to go off script when they go down a few scores. The Ravens cannot afford to fall into that trap on Sunday.
Kansas City is susceptible to a good running game. Against the Chiefs in Week 2, Raiders rookie RB Josh Jacobs posted a phenomenal 8.2 yards per rush on 12 carries for 99 yards. The Alabama product found particular success on his rushes to the right side of the offense. In fact, all six of Jacobs’ rushes of five or more yards, including a 51-yard scamper, were behind the right side of his offensive line. The Ravens dedication to their running game keeps defenses honest, sets up the play action pass & leads to a lot of one-on-one coverage on the outside.
No matter what happens with the score & flow of the game on Sunday, it’s important that the Ravens don’t abandon who they are as an offense.
Allow Earl Thomas to Play Centerfield
Arguably Eric DeCosta’s biggest move so far as Baltimore’s General Manager was signing Earl Thomas to replace Eric Weddle as the Ravens’ Free Safety. Although Thomas has occasionally struggled with freak injuries (two seasons ended by broken legs), he’s also a six-time Pro Bowler & a three-time first team All – Pro.
In a time where safeties around the league are increasingly asked to be versatile enough to play both Free & Strong Safety, Thomas is arguably the best pure Free Safety in the NFL. Thomas is at his absolute best when he’s allowed to play as a deep “centerfielder” in a Cover 1. He brings elite range from his deep safety spot & seems to regularly impact plays that he should have no business getting to. Thomas also makes the players around him better when he’s roaming his deep middle zone. CBs in underneath coverage are more confident & able to take more risks jumping routes with the knowledge that Thomas has their back.
In 2018, Mahomes and the Chiefs had plenty of success with the deep ball. Throwing to Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson and rookie speedster Mecole Hardman in 2019, Mahomes has had similar success with the deep ball early this season. The Ravens would be smart to deploy Thomas almost exclusively as a single high Free Safety against the Chiefs. He shouldn’t be asked to support too much in the run game. He shouldn’t be asked to play in split safety coverage that changes his responsibilities.
Against the Chiefs, Thomas should be tasked with doing what he does best & focus primarily on preventing the deep shots that Patrick Mahomes takes from turning into big plays.
(Try to) Take Away Travis Kelce
Ravens fans watching Mark Andrews week after week are quickly becoming accustomed to what a quality NFL Tight End looks like. Fans of the Chiefs have known what an elite NFL Tight End looks like for the last seven years. Since being drafted in the third round out of the University of Cincinnati, Travis Kelce has made the Pro Bowl four times & earned himself three All-Pro distinctions. Kelce, who is averaging 12.9 yards per reception over his career, is a capable blocker & the best receiving TE in the NFL.
Bill Belichick’s Patriots teams are known for identifying the opponent’s most dangerous offensive weapon & doing absolutely everything they can to take that player out of the game. The Ravens should take that approach with Kelce on Sunday. The Chiefs will be without Tyreek Hill & their starting LT, Eric Fisher. On top of that, their top two options at RB are banged up & questionable to play. There is no question that besides the man pulling the trigger, Kelce is the biggest threat to the Ravens defense.
Taking Kelce out of the game starts with being physical with him at the line of scrimmage. If he happens to line up as an in-line TE, the DL across from him should hit him hard to disrupt the timing of his route. When he’s flexed out wide, that becomes the job of the defensive back. Allowing Kelce to get a free release would mean allowing him to build momentum down the field & to maintain good timing with Mahomes. Beyond being physical at the line of scrimmage, I’d suggest that the Ravens should regularly double team Kelce. Double teaming him with some combination of a LB, S or CB takes a defender away from the running game, but it’s worth it when considering that the Ravens are likely to be far more worried about Kelce than about the Kansas City rushing attack. The Chiefs have a potent offense that is going to score points on Sunday. Selling out to limit Travis Kelce, though, will seriously disrupt the Chiefs plans on offense.
If you haven’t heard it yet, Patrick Mahomes is pretty good. He has the best arm in the NFL, makes throws that most QBs in the NFL wouldn’t even dream of attempting & possesses an above average level of athleticism that allows him to succeed outside the pocket. Blitzing Mahomes is an interesting proposition. If the defense rushes four & drops seven into coverage, Mahomes can sit comfortably in the pocket & pick apart run of the mill coverages. If the defense brings a blitz & misses, they now have fewer players in coverage to defend against the pass.
When the time comes to blitz, showing five rushers & bringing those same five rushers simply isn’t going to cut it. Against Mahomes on Sunday, Wink Martindale & the Ravens should deploy all the disguised blitzes that they have in their arsenal. In the past, Martindale has shown plenty of creativity with how he has deployed blitzers. We’ve seen him used delayed blitzes from the ILB position, bring a CB off the edge, put eight men on the line of scrimmage to disguise who’s blitzing & much more. The reigning NFL MVP is going to have success against the Ravens on Sunday, but bringing plenty of disguised blitzes & keeping Mahomes uncomfortable may be the best way the Ravens have to get him off his game.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Chiefs DT Chris Jones versus Ravens C Matt Skura
In my mind, Chiefs DT Chris Jones is one of the more underrated players in the NFL. The fourth year player from Mississippi State was number 36 on the NFL’s “Top 100 Players of 2019”, but is nowhere near a household name around the league. Jones finished third in the NFL in sacks in 2018 with 15.5 & was the top interior pass rusher in the world not named Aaron Donald. Ravens C Matt Skura has a long day ahead of him on Sunday. If Jones is allowed to have a big day, his penetrating style could disrupt the flow of the Ravens run game & make it tough for Lamar Jackson to stay in the pocket to make big throws.
Expect the Ravens to give Skura lots of assistance from Marshal Yanda & Co. on Sunday in an attempt to slow Jones down.