Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Hasn't Slept Preparing for Ravens
There's the saying that certain teams and players can keep opposing coaches up at night. It turns out that's the case for Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as he tries to prepare for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense.
"You know the first time you go out there and see this offense, it's going to be 10 times faster than what we've done in practice, no matter how good we do it," Spagnuolo told reporters. "We've got to hope we come up to speed with what they're doing quickly. That's the challenge of the first series, to be quite honest with you. If you can survive that first series, give your team some good field position and not give up a lot of it, that's certainly going to help us. It's always a challenge. You do the best thing that we can do.
"Listen, I haven't got a lot of sleep this week, let's just say that. They're tough to defend."
Through the first two weeks of the season, the Ravens have proven why they're so hard to defend. In their Week 1 win against the Cleveland Browns, it was all about the passing attack. Jackson threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with a 152.1 quarterback rating.
Fast forward one week and the Ravens rushed for 230 yards and 6.2 yards per carry in the 33-16 win over the Houston Texans.
The balanced attack makes it even more difficult for teams to plan for.
"If your eyes keep worrying about No. 8 having it, that's not going to be a good day — he'll never have it, he'll just hand it off to the three backs," Spagnuolo added. "So, we're going to work this thing inside out and try to keep pushing it out if we can. And when he does tuck it and go, we got to find more than one guy around him to tackle him because we know what he can do — he can make the first guy miss. We just got to have that second and third guy there."
As far as trying to replicate the Ravens offense, the Chiefs had undrafted quarterback Jordan Ta'amu play the role of Jackson during practice. Ta'amu played for the St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL before signing with the Chiefs this offseason.
We've seen teams use everything from backup quarterbacks to cornerbacks, and even Madden, to try to prepare for Jackson. But even Spagnuolo, who coached in Baltimore in 2013 and 2014, admitted that there's nothing like facing the real thing.
"Listen, I've been going through this for years and years in football, when you have a quarterback like that, it's very hard to simulate what they do," he said. "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. That's part of coaching on defense and being a player on defense."
For Anthony Averett, Stepping Up in Big Moments Runs in the Family
Monday night's matchup will be one of the biggest games of Anthony Averett's young career. He'll look to replace an injured Tavon Young as the Ravens' primary slot cornerback, and it'll come against one of the league's best passing attacks.
As Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz noted, stepping up for the Ravens in big moments runs in Averett's family.
Averett's uncle, Bryant McKinnie, played three seasons in Baltimore from 2011-2013 as an offensive lineman and protected Joe Flacco's blindside during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl run.
"McKinnie started all four playoff games, and his performance against the Colts' Dwight Freeney, Broncos pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller and the 49ers' Justin and Aldon Smith helped Flacco put together a stunning playoff surge," Kasinitz wrote. "Flacco was sacked just six times in four games, and Baltimore hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
"Nearly eight years later, Averett has spent the past week preparing to play the defending champion Chiefs, whose offense includes one-time MVP Patrick Mahomes and speedy star wide receiver Tyreek Hill."
Averett saw an increased workload against the Texans once Young was injured, playing 23 of the team's 59 defensive snaps. He was part of a secondary that held Deshaun Watson to just one touchdown and a 59.3 quarterback rating in the Week 2 win.
Averett told Kasinitz that he hopes to follow in his uncle's footsteps and win a Super Bowl in Baltimore. The first step is slowing down the Chiefs, who overcame an 11-point third quarter deficit to beat the Los Angeles Chargers, 23-20, in overtime last week.
McKinnie acknowledged that it's a pivotal moment for his nephew as he looks to establish himself as a crucial piece of the Ravens' secondary.
"It's Season 3, so it's about time for him to step up," McKinnie told Kasinitz. "You really want to kind of seize the moment, and really take advantage of the opportunity given to go out there and put together some good game film not only for your team but for other teams to see you play, because that can help you in the long run."
Pundits Highlight Top Matchups to Watch Against Chiefs
Other than Jackson vs. Mahomes, there's going to be plenty of exciting individual matchups to watch. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec highlighted some of the most important ones fans should have their eyes on.
Tyre Phillips vs. Chris Jones and Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Frank Clark
The Texans made Jackson uncomfortable in the pocket last week, totaling four sacks and five quarterback hits. It's something the Chiefs will try to replicate, and they have the ability to do so with two talented pass rushers.
"Both Phillips and Brown have struggled a bit through the first two weeks and Jones and Clark are two of the league's best," Zrebiec wrote. "Clark beat Brown for a sack last year. Both matchups should have the Ravens' full attention. The best way for the Ravens to slow those two guys down is to run at them early and often."
Baltimore Beatdown's Dustin Cox reiterated Zrebiec's comments, saying that containing Jones is one of the Ravens' keys to victory.
"As one of the best players in the NFL at his position, Jones has a habit of wrecking games," Cox wrote. "The Ravens cannot afford to let Jones derail their offense. Center Matt Skura and Phillips have had up-and-down performances so far this season. The interior of the offensive line will have to hold up better against Jones, particularly on third-and-long passing situations."
Matthew_Judon vs. Mitchell Schwartz _
One way to slow down Mahomes is getting to him in the pocket, and that will be the primary goal for Judon. He'll be up against Pro Football Focus' top-rated offensive tackle, Mitchell Schwartz.
"Judon has given Schwartz, one of the league's best, and the Chiefs offensive line some issues over the past two years," Zrebiec wrote. "Last season, Judon had a sack, four tackles and four of the Ravens' eight hits on Mahomes. In the 2018 meeting, Judon had a sack and five quarterback hits. The Chiefs have brought out the best in Judon and the Ravens will need him to be one of their best players Monday."
According to Kasinitz, the Ravens have blitzed Mahomes 40 times in two meetings, including 23 times in the 2018 matchup.
"There is at least some statistical evidence supporting the merits of regularly running additional rushers toward Mahomes: In 2018, the Chiefs went 1-3 when Mahomes faced at least 10 blitzes (the Ravens represent the only win)," Kasinitz wrote. "But that's a small sample size, and teams tend to blitz more when they're leading, potentially skewing these numbers."
Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison vs. Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Perhaps one of the most exciting matchups to watch will be between talented rookies on both sides of the ball.
"Ravens rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison trying to tackle running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire will be a terrific rookie matchup," Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner wrote. "Edwards-Helaire has obviously balled out through two weeks, but Queen hasn't gotten up to speed nearly as quickly — he's earned a 42.0 overall grade having allowed seven catches for 66 yards already."
Queen has been the instant-impact rookie the Ravens were hoping for when they selected him in the first round. He's racked up 17 tackles, one sack, and one forced fumble in two games, while Harrison has added five tackles and one pass defended.
As dangerous as the Chiefs offense is coming off a Super Bowl title, it's even more potent with the addition of Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
"This game will be a good test for Queen and Harrison, depending on how much the latter plays," Zrebiec added. "Reid's creative play calling and Mahomes' brilliance make it tough for everybody on defense, but they'll certainly challenge the Ravens in the middle of the field. … [Damien] Williams and [LeSean] McCoy are gone, but Kansas City's running game looks even more formidable with the arrival of Edwards-Helaire. Queen and Harrison's speed should help as long as Kansas City isn't able to exploit their inexperience too much."
- Talking with ESPN's Louis Riddick, Jackson downplayed the magnitude of Monday's game. "We look at every game like it's a big challenge, to be honest with you," Jackson said. "… We go into every game wanting to win it. We really don't care who our opponents are, we treat everyone with the same respect."
- "Since Jackson took over as Baltimore's starter midway through the 2018 season, the Ravens are an NFL-best 19-0 when leading at halftime and 0-5 (including the playoffs) when trailing after two quarters," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "The Ravens haven't trailed at any point in the second half in their last 12 games, which is the third-best streak in league history."
- "[Marquise 'Hollywood'] Brown is best described as a big play waiting to happen," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "He can fly past defensive backs for an open ball, and that's helped him earn the 12th-best receiving grade on targets of 20-plus yards since entering the league. Brown has also seen the fourth-lowest rate on contested targets on deep balls, at 15.8%. With a clean bill of health, Brown is a candidate to put up monster numbers over for the rest of the year."