By the conventional wisdom, Monday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium could be each team’s most difficult test of the season. Never mind that the conventional wisdom if often revised by season’s end; in the here and now, these two teams come into the game 2-0, each with a recent league MVP quarterback and plentiful offensive weapons.
For Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, there’s not even much comfort in the fact that he’s already familiar with what they do.
“I don’t think the scheme has changed all that much,” he told reporters on Friday. “It’s downhill power football with some finesse in there — because we all know what No. 8 (quarterback Lamar Jackson) can do. They’ve added little pieces to it — like everybody does in the offseason — to make it a little bit more dynamic and tougher to defend.
But Spagnuolo knew he wasn’t kidding anyone.
“Listen... I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep this week,” he acknowledged. “Let’s just say that. They’re tough to defend.”
Most fans would tell you that the Ravens offense begins with Jackson — but in Spagnuolo’s mind, the problem is that it doesn’t end there.
“He’s a dynamic running back.” he said of Jackson. “But let’s not forget about those three running backs they throw at you [and] the tight end that can catch the football. I’ll start with the running backs: it’s a downhill power running game. If your eyes keep worrying about No. 8 having it, that’s not going to be a good day; he’ll never have it. They’ll just hand it off to the three backs.”
“So we’re going to work this thing inside-out,” continued Spagnuolo, “[and] try to keep pushing it out, if we can — and when [Jackson] does tuck it and go, we’ve got to find more than one guy around him to tackle him, because we know what he can do: he’ll make the first guy miss. You’ve just got to have that the second and third guy there.”
Spagnuolo said that to make matters worse, the Baltimore offense is difficult for other teams to model in practice.
“It’s hard to simulate what they do,” he explained. “It’s hard to simulate their blocking up front. It’s hard to simulate all the pulls and all the motions and shifts that they do. And that’s part of coaching on defense — or being a player on defense: you know that the first time you go out there and see this offense, it’s going to be ten times faster than what we’ve done in practice — no matter how good we do it.
“So we’ve got to hope that we’ve come to speed with what they’re doing quickly. That’s the challenge of that first series, to be quite honest with you. If you can survive that first series — give your team some good field position, not give up a lot of it — that’s certainly going to help us.”
“It’s always a challenge. We do the best thing we can do. I think our guys do a great job with film study — and I think with a quarterback like this and an offense like they have right now, it’s going to be really important.”