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Chiefs need to clean up their play if they want to beat the Ravens

The Chiefs survived a sloppy performance in Week 2. They can’t expect to beat Baltimore with a similar effort

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Fans had to be pleasantly surprised with the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 1 victory over the Houston Texans. With a shortened offseason program and no preseason, it was fair to expect sloppy play — but the Chiefs mostly negated that narrative. They only had one penalty, didn’t commit any turnovers and had the game put away by the first minutes of the fourth quarter.

They may have bucked that narrative for the opener, but it caught up with the Chiefs when they traveled to face the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 2. The Chiefs could only score nine points in the first three quarters, committed 11 penalties throughout the game and showed bad, sloppy play on both sides of the ball.

I looked at negative themes from the Week 2 win and explained how they could be exploited even more by the Ravens.

Effort in defensive pursuit

The sloppiness started on the first defensive drive of the game. After a couple 9-yard runs, the Chiefs defense allowed a dump-off pass to go for 35 yards and set the Chargers up 26 yards away from the end zone.

Starting linebacker Damien Wilson — on the fourth play of the entire game — seems to have a decent angle on the running back if he’s in a full sprint. Instead, he appears to jog as he closes in on the ballcarrier, doesn’t reach out or dive and watches him gain another 20 yards. He even tilts his head back in frustration as it happens.

Of course, there were a lot of bad tackle attempts by the Chiefs. There were too many to show, but this play is discouraging because of what looks like a lack of effort.

As impressive as Chargers’ fourth-round rookie Joshua Kelley has been so far this season, the Ravens will present more explosive, dangerous rushing weapons like quarterback Lamar Jackson or running backs Mark Ingram and rookie J.K. Dobbins.

Creating turnovers

A few plays later, on third down, the defense had a chance to right the previous wrongs and take the ball away.

Safety Juan Thornhill seems to play the wheel route from running back Austin Ekeler perfectly, putting himself in good position to make a play on the ball. Instead, he allows Ekeler to jump up and high-point the ball while Thornhill fades away — expecting the ball to get through to him. Maybe Thornhill doesn’t see the ball right away, but it was a missed opportunity to at least force a fourth down, if not create a turnover.

The Chiefs defense must be opportunistic against the Ravens. Baltimore leads the NFL in turnover differential with plus-4. They have only turned the ball over once this season — a fumble by fullback Patrick Ricard. In the last two matchups combined, the Chiefs have only forced one turnover from the Ravens and still won both times — but they cannot miss opportunities to create turnovers when they’re available.

Wasted offensive drives

The defense allowed an opening drive touchdown, but that’s not the end of the world. The offense had a chance to answer immediately. On the ensuing drive, the offense got themselves in a third down with five yards to convert.

The play opens up perfectly for a quick completion to wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The throw might have been a little off, but the ball bounces off Hill’s hands and falls incomplete. Hill had two drops — two of the four dropped passes by Chiefs receivers in Week 2.

The Chiefs could have afforded to waste a possession against the Chargers, who score on only 35% of their offensive drives so far this year. Coming up against the Ravens — who have scored on 60% of their possessions in 2020 — a non-scoring drive down seven points could turn into a 14-point hole. That would be playing right into Baltimore’s plan, a team that performs at its peak when they have a lead early in the game.

Dealing with the blitz

The Chargers were very effective at getting pressure on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes with four pass rushers. When they did decide to blitz — specifically on a third-down play with a minute left in the first half — the heightened pressure made Mahomes uncomfortable.

Tight end Travis Kelce had leverage on his defender on a route breaking across the middle, but pressure makes Mahomes fade away as he throws. The ball is behind, and the Chiefs are forced to punt rather than get one more score before halftime.

The Ravens blitzed on 55% of their defensive plays during the 2019 season — the highest rate in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference. The next closest rate was 43%. This year, Baltimore is sticking to that trend with a rate of 47% so far this year.

Of course, the pass protection will need to be ready to face this — but Mahomes has some cleaning up to do himself. For the most part, he did not handle edge pressure well against the Chargers. His drop back was getting too deep, allowing edge rushers to have a better angle to get to him. He will have to maneuver a cluttered pocket better — and likely more often — in Week 3.

Negating big plays with penalties

As I mentioned earlier, the Chiefs were called for 11 penalties against the Chargers. There were multiple flags that came on a big play for Kansas City, canceling out the successful result.

A couple significant plays were called back for holding in the first half, but it became even more crucial in the fourth quarter.

Down three with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Mahomes rifled an intermediate pass to running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to get down to the 10-yard line. However, a hold on right guard Andrew Wylie was called. Later on the same possession, a second holding call on left guard Kelechi Osemele pushed the team back out of the red zone — preventing a go-ahead touchdown in regulation.

The biggest penalty of the day ended up not costing the Chiefs anything — but it could have. Reserve offensive lineman Nick Allegretti false started on the game-winning field goal attempt in overtime, pushing the distance back from 53 yards to 58.

Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker made the kick look easy anyways — but it isn’t. It will be even tougher to make in an outdoor stadium, with weather to factor in. The five yards of difference between kicks is a much bigger problem if conditions are worse, and that false start could have cost the Chiefs a win if it wasn’t in an indoor stadium.

As messy as the game was at times, the Chiefs emerged victorious and learned what they need to fix. Head coach Andy Reid can be trusted to correct these mistakes and get his team ready for — possibly — the biggest game of the year.

If he can’t, and the Chiefs play similarly to Week 2, the game will be decided well before overtime.

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