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Arrowheadlines: The Chiefs defense faces its toughest test yet

Chiefs headlines for Friday, January 26

Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

The latest

Lamar Jackson looms as ultimate test for dominant Chiefs defense | USA Today

Now comes the dynamic Baltimore Ravens quarterback, the presumptive NFL MVP, with a whole different set of issues to deal with in the AFC championship game. If the 6-foot, 5-inch, 237-pound Allen was like facing a freight train, the sleek and slippery Jackson looms like a high-speed bullet train.

“Lamar is special,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid confirmed. “He’s fast, one of the fastest guys on the field, when it’s all said and done. And he’s shifty, whereas Josh, he’ll go right through you. He doesn’t care. He’s a big man. And probably equally as fast. He’s run away from secondary players. We’ve seen that on tape.

“But this kid,” Reid added, getting back to Jackson, “he throws it well, he throws it on the move well. We’ve just got to stay on top of that part of it.”

2024 NFL Conference Championships: Biggest Matchups, Mismatches | The 33rd Team

Both teams have had stout defenses all year, but each can be exposed against the run.

The Baltimore Ravens especially have a big mismatch in this area as their third-ranked rush offense and 10th-ranked offensive line should find production against the Kansas City Chiefs’ 22nd-ranked run defense.

The Ravens also have a big advantage when rushing the passer, which will be vital for disrupting Mahomes’ comfort level. The Ravens rank fifth in Pass Rush Total Points Per Play, while the Chiefs’ offensive line grades out in the bottom quartile of the league.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson: Is the Ravens’ QB the real toughest rival for Chiefs’ champ? | CBS Sports

Facts to know

Worth every penny: Jackson is, so far, living up to the hype that came with a record five-year, $260 million contract extension he signed with Baltimore last April. The deal is scheduled to keep him with the Ravens through 2027.

Matchup history: Jackson and Mahomes have met four times in their careers, with the Chiefs going 3-1 in those games. Jackson’s lone victory, however, came when Baltimore was the home team, which will again be the case on Sunday.

Playoff brilliance: Mahomes is one playoff win shy of tying NFL legends Peyton Manning, John Elway and Terry Bradshaw for the third most by a QB in league history. And he doesn’t turn 29 until September 2024.

Biggest Strengths, Weaknesses of NFL Teams in 2024 NFC and AFC Championship Games | Bleacher Report

Kansas City Chiefs’ Biggest Strength: Coverage-Pass Rush Combination

Ever since Patrick Mahomes took over as the Kansas City Chiefs’ starting quarterback, the team’s offense has carried its defense. But that script has flipped this season.

In 2022, Kansas City’s defense ranked 16th in the NFL in points allowed (21.7) and first in points scored (29.2) per game during the regular season. This year, the Chiefs ranked second in the former (17.3) and 15th in the latter (21.8).

A big reason why is that their pass rush and coverage have complemented each other well this season. While first-team All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones remains the headliner of Kansas City’s defense with his 10.5 sacks in the regular season and half-sack during the playoffs, he’s no longer a one-man show.

Second-year pro George Karlaftis has enjoyed a breakout campaign with the most sacks on the team (12 including the postseason), and defensive ends Charles Omenihu and Michael Danna have a career-high 7.0 and 6.5 sacks, respectively.

On the back end, the Chiefs are led by a few impressive young corners in L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie.

According to Pro Football Focus, Sneed allowed about a 50 percent completion rate and a measly 55.9 passer rating when targeted during the regular season. Meanwhile, McDuffie has blossomed into a first-team All-Pro performer due in part to forcing five fumbles and earning an impressive PFF grade of 82.9.

Mixing that in with good linebacker play from Drue Tranquill and Nick Bolton makes it easy to see how Kansas City had a defensive resurgence this year.

2024 NFL playoffs: Ticket prices for Chiefs-Ravens, Lions-49ers conference championships nearing record highs | CBS Sports

TicketIQ told The Mercury News that the average ticket price of both championship games could surpass last year’s NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles, which set a record at $1,822.

This year’s AFC Championship Game is already at $2,199 for the average price of a ticket, but the NFC is tracking to get even higher than that. TicketIQ projects that the 49ers vs. Lions matchup could wind up with an average ticket price of $2,430.

The AFC Championship and Super Bowl May Be Defined by Defense | The Ringer

Besides the fun narratives, at first blush it doesn’t seem as if there’s much linking the Ravens and Chiefs defenses. Sure, their results are similar: The Ravens and Chiefs are top two in the league in total sacks and top two in the league in explosive pass rate surrendered. But schematically, they’re different units. To stop those deep passes, both run more split-safety coverages than single-high coverages, but the specifics there are pretty different: The Chiefs live in Cover 2, while the Ravens play a lot of Cover 6. To get those sacks, the Chiefs blitz on 29 percent of dropbacks (above average), while the Ravens blitz on only 20 percent (below average).

Despite those differences, the two defenses share one defining characteristic: how well they defend pre-snap motion. Per Next Gen Stats, when facing snaps when the offense uses motion, the Ravens defense is first in EPA per play; the Chiefs are sixth. The Ravens are second in yards per play surrendered on such plays, and the Chiefs are sixth.

NFL picks: Chiefs to upset Ravens on Championship Sunday? Will Lions or 49ers earn Super Bowl berth? | NFL.com

Why Brooke is taking the Ravens:

On the flip side, Lamar has moved the ball with ease via his arm and legs. I love his connection with rookie Zay Flowers, whose rapport with Jackson has only improved throughout the season, and it helps that the quarterback is likely to have Mark Andrews (Jackson’s favorite target from 2022) back in action. Building a lead early before riding the league’s top-ranked run game could be critical for Baltimore, knowing Kansas City has allowed a mere seven points per game in the second half of contests this season (including playoffs).

This game will be dictated by these two all-world quarterbacks, but the defense that makes the most plays — and wins the turnover battle — will have earned a trip to The Strip. Based on what I’ve seen from Baltimore’s D over the last month-plus, I can’t not lean the Ravens’ way.

2024 NFL Mock Draft: Raiders land franchise QB; Buccaneers replace Mike Evans; NFC North teams go defense | CBS Sports

Round 1 - Pick 29

Jer’Zhan Newton DL

ILLINOIS • JR • 6’2” / 295 LBS

Chris Jones is slated to become a free agent after re-negotiating his deal last offseason. The Chiefs could have already used depth additions to that room, so the selection of the high-motor Jer’Zhan Newton comes at the perfect time.

Around the NFL

NFL Honors: Finalists announced for MVP, other awards from 2023 season | NFL.com

AP Assistant Coach of the Year

Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator

Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator

Jim Schwartz, Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator

Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans offensive coordinator

Falcons hire Raheem Morris as head coach | The Falcoholic

After an extensive head coaching search which consisted of 14 different candidates being interviewed, including huge names in Bill Belichick and Jim Harbaugh, the Falcons have decided to bring back a very familiar face in Morris. Morris, now 47 years old, is the first Black non-interim head coach in team history, and had spent several years previously in Atlanta. Morris served as assistant head coach and wide receivers coach from 2015-2019 and in 2020 was the team’s defensive coordinator and eventually interim head coach once Dan Quinn was let go.

After leaving Atlanta, Morris joined the Los Angeles Rams and served as their defensive coordinator until today. Overall, Morris has won two Super Bowls: 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 2021 with the Rams. Speaking of the Buccaneers, this will mark Morris’s second stint as a head coach, as he coached in Tampa from 2009-2011 and piloting them to a 21-38 record over those three seasons.

Panthers hire Buccaneers O-coordinator Dave Canales as coach | ESPN

Terms of the deal were not announced, but a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the contract is for six years.

The Panthers hope Canales, 42, can do for Bryce Young what he did for quarterbacks Russell Wilson, Geno Smith and Baker Mayfield.

“Dave’s background is rooted in success,” Panthers owner David Tepper said in a statement. “He has an innovative mindset and positive energy that connects well with players and staff. We are impressed with his ability to bring out the best in players.”

In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride

Chiefs News: Justin Reid, Chris Jones preview Ravens’ AFC title plan

All of them depend on a strong offensive line. Reid and his teammates know it will take a certain mentality to rise to their team’s latest challenge.

“The biggest thing is to have that intensity and run discipline the entire game, not just when everyone’s juiced up in the first half,” he observed. “To come out of halftime and have that same level of intensity — the want-to, will to tackle, will to take on blocks, will to be physical... that will be a major key for us.”

The Chiefs’ defense has had experience coming out strong in the second half. In many games down the stretch of the regular season, it was the first half where Kansas City’s defense looked exploitable. But in the third and fourth quarters — when it’s needed most — the defense has been able to lock things down. For that, Reid credits defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

“That’s the Spagnuolo effect,” declared Reid. “We make adjustments at halftime. We have the players that are able to take in those adjustments. Some of the things we put in, we don’t even practice throughout the week; it’s just based on what we’ve seen and what we’ve been getting throughout the day.

“We believe in [Spagnuolo] wholeheartedly. He believes in us and we believe in each other. Nobody goes out there and tries to play hero ball. We just play the defense, play our responsibility with intensity — and a little bit of violence — and good things happen.”

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