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Chiefs’ Nick Bolton says beating the Ravens starts with stopping the run

On Thursday, Kansas City’s MIKE linebacker talked about the keys to defeating Baltimore on Sunday.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs’ MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton knows his defensive unit needs to come out firing on all cylinders against the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday afternoon’s AFC Championship game.

Kansas City gave up 182 rushing yards (and two touchdowns) on the ground during their Divisional Round victory over the Buffalo Bills. Bolton recognizes Sunday’s game will be a similar challenge.

“They run the ball, man,” he said of the Ravens. “[They] average 160 per game. So it starts with that.”

But Bolton fully expects his unit to get back on track against the Ravens.

“We’ve got 11 guys out there [trying] to do their jobs,” he told reporters on Thursday. “I think the D-line is going to go out there and have a great game. Last week was kind of an anomaly for them; they’ve been out there balling for us for 18 [or] 19 weeks. So we need to get back to where we [were]. I’ve got to tackle a little bit better — but it all starts up front.”

Last Sunday, Kansas City had to stop Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen on the ground. This Sunday, they’ll be challenged by the dynamic athleticism of Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. Bolton acknowledged there are many similarities between them.

“Those guys are both electric with the ball out in space,” he noted. “They’re able to look down the field and still make passes while escaping. Both guys like to go out to their right — rightfully so, [because] they’re right-handed quarterbacks. We’ve got to limit that as much as we can — and place the key coverage in the back end when [Jackson] scrambles.”

And while Baltimore will set the tone by running the ball, Bolton knows they can do much more with receivers like rookie Zay Flowers and 2023’s big veteran acquisition: Odell Beckham Jr.

“They kind of pull off [the running game] a little bit,” said Bolton. “[They] let Zay get going, [let] Odell get going with a couple of explosive [routes] — and [then] work the intermediate routes with the tight end.

“So I think we’ll start up front with linebackers and D-line stopping the run — and then just mix a little bit in the back end trying to see if we [can] get different guys on the tight ends. We understand that both of those guys are very explosive with the ball [on] vertical routes as well.”

In fact, stopping Baltimore’s tight ends will be another focal point for the defense. Isaiah Likely has been filling in for Mark Andrews, who has missed the last seven games with a serious ankle injury. But Andrews has been a full participant in practice during the last two days — and it appears he will return to action on Sunday

Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

On Thursday, the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said that the defense is preparing for Andrews to be active, noting that the veteran tight end has always been an important weapon for Jackson.

“I mean, we’ve seen it,” he said. “It happened early in the year — and we’ve seen it in previous years. We’ll have to be on point.

“What you hope for is they’re a little rusty, right? Because they haven’t played a lot together. But these guys are pro athletes and they know what they’re doing. So I don’t think we can completely trust that’s going to happen.”

In 2023, Jackson has set career bests in yards, completion percentage and yards per attempt — and Bolton has noticed.

“If I go back to watch my rookie year,” he noted, “[watching] how he operated and how he operates now, I can tell he’s more confident in himself, the players around him [and] the scheme. He just kind of slowed the game down a little bit. That kind of play is going to help him continue to get better and better as the years go by.”

Bolton and the Chiefs might feel like they have a good game plan for Jackson, but Bolton believes that what makes Spagnuolo special is his ability to make adjustments on the fly,

“He’ll change what we’ve been going through all week in the first quarter, second quarter or fourth quarter,” revealed Bolton. “He has this one saying we say a lot: ‘It’s not about who’s right. It’s about getting it right.’

“So that’s kind of the mindset we have throughout the game. If we feel like there’s something better that can work — or benefit us a little bit more — we’ll make that adjustment... We’ll find a way to keep people off the board.”

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