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5 things to watch as the Chiefs play the Ravens

Two of the AFC’s habitual contenders will match up for the fourth consecutive season.

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

This isn’t the typical matchup between usual AFC heavyweights, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.

While the Chiefs shook off the injury/illness bug that affected their Week 1 lineup, the Ravens can’t avoid it. Not only did running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, cornerback Marcus Peters and first-round rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman all suffer long-term injuries before the season started, they are now also without starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley.

On top of that, a handful of key players have yet to practice this week in Baltimore.

Despite being shorthanded, they are a well-coached team — and still have high-level players at important positions. Overlook them all you want, but Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will get his team ready to compete.

There’s still plenty to look for in the matchup. I detailed five things to watch:

1. Chiefs’ defensive line dominating their matchups

NFL: SEP 28 Chiefs at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The defensive line has been talked about as the Chiefs’ best and deepest position group. They ran into the league’s best offensive line in Week 1 — and still made plays in spots — but now they’ll face a banged-up, underwhelming offensive line in Baltimore.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson was pressured on 46.2% of his dropbacks in Week 1 — the fifth-highest rate among qualified quarterbacks. There was constant pressure from the edges. Because of Stanley’s injury, they now have to start third-year lineman Patrick Mekari — who has started 13 games, but only 2.7% of his career snaps have been at right tackle.

With Frank Clark being a full participant in practice, he and Jones should overwhelm Mekari and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. On the interior, Derrick Nnadi has also fully participated in this week’s practice — which only strengthens a talented tackle rotation that made plays in spurts against the Cleveland Browns.

Run or pass, the Chiefs have the advantage at the line of scrimmage on defense.

2. Patrick Mahomes against the blitz

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Ravens blitzed more than any defense in the league last season; they did it on 44% of their snaps. It’s in their DNA, and they haven’t shied away from blitzing Patrick Mahomes in prior matchups. They blitzed 49% of the time in the 2020 matchup and 44% in 2019.

Last year, Mahomes torched the blitz in Baltimore. He went 19/23 with 10.9 yards per attempt, three passing touchdowns, and no sacks or turnovers. His passer rating against the blitz was 151.5 that game.

With Peters out — and cornerbacks Chris Westry, Marlon Humphrey, and Jimmy Smith on the Thursday injury report — the Ravens might think about switching up their strategy. Trusting their front four or five to penetrate the pocket allows them to keep more defenders in coverage, which could prevent big pass plays like the Chiefs have beaten them with.

Even if there is less blitzing, it’s still part of their identity. When it happens, they’ll be playing right into Mahomes’ hands.

3. Sound tackling by Chiefs’ off-ball defenders

NFL: SEP 12 Browns at Chiefs Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Generally, the Chiefs had trouble tackling in Week 1. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo pointed it out on Thursday, but they have a completely different type of tackling test against Baltimore.

Lamar Jackson is the team’s primary runner, whether on designed plays or scrambling out of the pocket. He’s also one of the hardest ball carriers to bring to the ground in the NFL. His elusiveness and incredible change-of-direction speed will present a great challenge for the Chiefs, specifically the linebackers and defensive backs playing near the line of scrimmage.

Per PFF, the linebacker trio of Anthony Hitchens, Ben Niemann, and rookie Nick Bolton did not miss a tackle in Week 1; they combined for 14 tackles.

If Jackson does escape to the second level of the defense, that same sound tackling will be needed to contain his game-breaking rushing ability.

4. Another tough test for the Chiefs’ new offensive line

NFL: AUG 27 Preseason - Vikings at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In an ideal world, Patrick Mahomes isn’t sacked twice and hit three other times against the Browns — but you can’t expect a shutout against that talented of a defensive line in a unit’s debut together.

Especially for the three rookies, it was an encouraging performance. Now, they get to follow that up by matching up with powerful veterans like defensive tackles Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, and defensive end Justin Houston — not to mention athletic pass rushers like Tyus Bowser and Justin Madubuike from the interior.

It’s another big test for the young linemen. The Ravens weren’t dominant against the pass in Week 1, but they did hold the Raiders’ running backs to 2.8 yards per rush.

The Chiefs’ offensive line began to open up more run lanes in the second half of the Browns game; it will be worth watching whether they can continue that momentum into Baltimore.

5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a pass-catcher

Cleveland Browns v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

With the amount of man coverage and blitzing that can be expected from the Ravens, one player who can help as a receiver in countering that strategy is running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

When Edwards-Helaire gets short passes to the flat in open space, he gets yards after contact with elusiveness and strength when driving through tacklers. The problem is those seem to be the only type of targets he gets.

If Baltimore constantly trusts a linebacker to solely cover Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs need to take advantage of that. We saw it last year in this matchup.

This was one of the only times we saw Edwards-Helaire used on a vertical, downfield route rather than just a check-down or a screen all year. He beats linebacker Patrick Queen here, who played at LSU with CEH. The Ravens would be wise to trust Queen over the other linebackers they have because of Queen’s athleticism — but I still believe he can be taken advantage of.

Whether it be angle routes from the backfield or whip routes from a receiver alignment, there need to be more pass routes for Edwards-Helaire to utilize his quickness and get him the ball in space. A defense that mans up a lot would be a great time to break those out.