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Five things to watch as the Chiefs host the Ravens

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Two undefeated AFC contenders will face off at Arrowhead Stadium with plenty to look for while you watch.

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Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

The home opener is here — a little more than eight months after the last time Kansas City Chiefs fans gathered for a meaningful football game in Arrowhead Stadium. We’re all hoping this one has a better result than that last one.

There are plenty of storylines to watch for in the Week 3 matchup with the 2-0 Baltimore Ravens. I narrowed it down to five things:

1. Chiefs run defense

NFL: DEC 09 Ravens at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While it seemed like the Chiefs coverage performed better last week in Oakland, the run defense still had its struggles. The Raiders were able to run for 6.8 yards per carry. In the first two games combined, the Chiefs have surrendered 6 yards per carry — the worst rate in the league coming into Week 3. Those stats are obviously bad, but there were still good reps from the front seven.

The problem is that stopping the run won’t get any easier in the upcoming battle with the Ravens. Baltimore leads the league in rushing attempts and rushing yards — and is fifth in the league with a rate of 5.7 yards per carry. Running back Mark Ingram signed with Baltimore in free agency and is the leader of the rushing attack — but they have multiple ways to attack on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson led the team with 120 rushing yards in their Week 2 game. He’s been great through the air, but his running ability is still the most dangerous aspect of his skillset.

In last season’s matchup between these two teams, Baltimore found success in the run game and didn’t go away from it until they had to towards the end of the game. They accumulated 194 rushing yards on 40 carries. If they’re able to produce like that on Sunday and have the advantage of time of possession, this game may be lower scoring than Chiefs fans would feel comfortable with. Look to see if the run defense can limit the Ravens’ ground game and force long conversion attempts on third down.

2. The Arrowhead Advantage

NFL: SEP 23 49ers at Chiefs Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a second consecutive year of starting the season with two road games, the Chiefs will finally play on their home field and in front of an assuredly electric Arrowhead Stadium crowd. To make matters even more exciting, it looks like the team will be acknowledging the NFL’s 100th season by giving the field design a throwback look.

The Chiefs went 7-1 last season in Arrowhead and haven’t lost more than two regular-season games at home since 2013. They are 4-2 in home openers since head coach Andy Reid got here, and they have won the past three.

Yes, there have been some recent home playoff losses that have led to national pundits downplaying the advantage of playing at Arrowhead, but the statistics show that the crowd does make a difference. Chiefs fans know how bad the 2018 defense was. They gave up an average of 26.3 points per game — but that number reduced to 18 in home games. Opposing offenses averaged 405.5 total yards per game last season — but only 354.8 yards per game at Arrowhead. The defense forced 27 turnovers in 2018 — and 17 of them came in home games.

First-year Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu is ready to play in front of the Sea of Red.

“Really, [I’m] just excited,” Mathieu stated in his time with the media this week. “Heard a lot of good things about the fans here, so we got off to a pretty good start as a team. So to come back home 2-0 with our fans, it should be exciting.”

Watch for false start penalties and the opposing offense having trouble calling audibles at the line — both good indicators that the home crowd is affecting the game.

3. Running back Darwin Thompson

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Some of the most important stories to follow this week have dealt with the Chiefs injury report. Both of the Chiefs leading rushers so far this season suffered minor injuries in the Week 2 win over the Raiders. Running back Damien Williams is dealing with a knee issue that will keep him out of the game. Running back LeSean McCoy tweaked his ankle and is questionable to play.

Rookie Darwin Thompson received a ton of hype in the preseason because of some big, exciting plays and the fact that the team moved on from running back Carlos Hyde. The organization then decided to bring in McCoy, and now Thompson has only had two regular-season touches — neither of them coming in meaningful situations. With the other two backs banged up, the Ravens game may be the first time we see Thompson play a significant role in the offense. Even if Williams and McCoy are able to suit up, it would be smart to limit their exposure and avoid re-aggravating their injuries by letting Thompson fill in more often than he has.

Thompson averaged 6.5 yards per touch in the preseason and had the memorable 29-yard touchdown reception in the first exhibition game. He’s exciting with the ball in his hand, but he also showed flashes of good ability in pass protection.

Look for Thompson to have an increased role in Week 3.

4. Safety Earl Thomas

Baltimore Ravens v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Leading up to the game this week, one Baltimore Ravens player has been particularly talkative in the media. All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is seemingly amped up to take on the challenge of the Chiefs offense and their deep threat ability.

Chiefs fans are probably familiar with Thomas because of this offseason. It has been reported and confirmed that Kansas City was ready to bring Thomas in on a short-term deal in March. Thomas even had a conversation with head coach Andy Reid the night before he agreed to the deal in Baltimore. The Chiefs rebounded and signed another former All-Pro — starting safety Tyrann Mathieu — but Thomas’ ability to cover sideline to sideline on the back end is second to none in the league.

Thomas has picked up right where he left off when he broke his leg early in the 2018 season. He already has an interception and has only allowed a single catch in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. He has the ninth-highest defensive PFF grade at his position in the NFL — and the eighth-highest coverage grade among safeties.

Watch for his effect on the Chiefs deep passing game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes may be wise to not test Thomas too frequently.

5. Left tackle Cam Erving

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

I mentioned how the injury report has been one of the more significant stories to follow this week. The offense has more players banged up than just the running backs. Left tackle Eric Fisher left the game very early in Week 2 and needed surgery to repair a core muscle. Fisher has been the model of durability in his career. Week 3 will be the first game he won’t start due to injury since the beginning of the 2015 season.

His replacement — swing tackle Cam Erving — is no stranger to starting for the Chiefs. He was the starter at left guard for most of the 2018 season. He had a polarizing performance filling in for Fisher in Week 2.

Erving’s performance will be vital to the success of the Chiefs offense in this game. The Ravens defensive front is talented and has played well so far this season. They have allowed a mind-blowing 1.8 yards per carry in their first two games. The offensive line as a whole will have its work cut out for them on Sunday — but Erving will need to perform especially well this week and for the rest of the time Fisher is sidelined.