Leading NFL tight ends with 1,082 receiving yards, Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs could be a major problem Sunday for the Ravens.
How will Baltimore defend him? It was suggested to cornerback Jimmy Smith that Kelce should be treated like a wide receiver, which could land Smith with the assignment.
"It's interesting," Smith said with a wry smile. "I didn't think about that. I don't know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at."
The Ravens have options defending Kelce and could mix things up, sometimes double-teaming him or using a linebacker, corner or safety. However, tight ends have given the Ravens problems in the past, and Kelce is not your typical tight end.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh views Kelce as a catalyst in Kansas City's offense. He trails fellow Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill in receiving yards, but Kelce still ranks ninth in the NFL – ahead of wideouts such as the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr. and Steelers' Antonio Brown.
"He's a must-stop guy," Harbaugh said. "No question about it, you have to look at him as a top receiver."
During his seasons with the Chargers, Ravens safety Eric Weddle used to face Kelce twice a season as an AFC West rival. He remembers how difficult Kelce was to contain.
"Kelce is a beast," Weddle said. "He's very fluid, unique, athletic in his route-running. That's what separates the great ones from the good ones, is just the fluidity of the routes, not being so robotic – get to 10 yards, stop, turn. Put some sauce into it. And, it makes you think, 'All right, what is he doing? Is this the route he's going to do?' I love the way he plays, a playmaker. He's obviously a tough challenge for us, but we have guys that can cover. We have a system, and we just have to do our part."
Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes Getting Love From Opponents
It wasn't hard to get Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid to praise Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Reid said preparing for Jackson this week presents a unique set of challenges.
"He can run like a running back, he's as fast as a wide receiver, and he can throw like a son-of-a-gun, like a quarterback," Reid said during a conference call. "That's a pretty good combination to have. He's a talented kid."
Given his chance to praise Mahomes, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith mentioned Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre.
"This guy's a little different," Smith said of Mahomes. "Very confident throwing the ball anywhere, has a very strong arm. We're looking at him like a young Brett Favre, only more athletic."
Jackson and Mahomes know each other, having met years ago at a quarterback camp. Jackson came away impressed.
"He's a great quarterback," Jackson said. "I was at a Steve Clarkson camp with him. I've seen him throw and stuff. He's a great quarterback. He's awesome."
Asked to make the Mahomes-Favre comparison, Reid mentioned one important similarity.
"The similarity is, they both can make things happen when there's possibly nothing there," Reid said.
Mahomes has another similarity to Favre – his willingness to take risks. Mahomes leads the NFL with 41 touchdown passes, but he has also thrown 10 interceptions and is not afraid of throws into tight windows. The Ravens have not had an interception since Week 5, and Ravens safety Eric Weddle hopes that will change Sunday, although fooling Mahomes with disguised coverage is not easy.
"He's wise beyond his years, the way he controls the line of scrimmage, the way he checks, the audibles, snap count, the way he moves the safeties with his looks and his dropbacks," Weddle said. "Obviously impressed with what I've seen and it's exciting for me to go out there and try to make him mess up with what I can do and maybe force him into some throws he wouldn't want to do."
Weddle Says Ravens Would Have Won Last Three Games with Joe Flacco at Quarterback
Jackson's three-game run as the Ravens' starting quarterback has created both excitement and debate among fans as to whether he should continue start when Joe Flacco fully recovers from his right hip injury.
Although Weddle likes the way Jackson is performing, and reiterated that the run-heavy approach is keeping the defense fresher and better, Weddle says the change at starting quarterback is not the sole reason for the Ravens' recent success.
"Everyone was excited to see [Jackson] play, but I think we've just been playing better as a team," Weddle said. "He needs to play better and our offense needs to continue to strive to be better, and our defense needs to play better. I think the way our defense and special teams have played, if Joe was in the game we would have still won those games.
"So, I don't want to get in so much that Lamar has come in and changed the whole dynamic of our team. We're obviously a more run-dominant team, but we're playing better as a team, and that's why we've been successful. I think it energizes us, because we're excited to see him play, he's such a great kid and how much better he's gotten over the last three months, but this team is built to play this way, so we're just finally doing that."
Jackson Admits Dealing With Kansas City Crowd Noise Will Be a Challenge
Do any of the Ravens' offensive players read lips? They may have to Sunday, according to Jackson.
Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is known for being one of the NFL's loudest stadiums. Jackson made his first road start in Atlanta, but there were plenty of empty seats and crowd noise was not a factor with the Falcons out of playoff contention. That won't be the case Sunday, when Arrowhead will be loud and potentially disruptive to Jackson trying to call plays.
"Those guys might have to read my lips sometime," Jackson said. "I heard Kansas City will be very loud. I'm going to have to do my job, probably try to speak up as much as I could to those guys. Team effort in the huddle."