Not only have the Ravens been fairly dominant running the ball in three games, ranking first in the NFL, but they have been committed to pounding the ball no matter what how many defenders are lined up in the box to stop them.
That resolve will have to
stay strong against
Lewis can manufacture two-to-three yards on his own by breaking tackles and pushing the pile. If he is given solid holes to run behind, even a nine-man front won't be able to hold him in check for an entire game.
2. Staying in Max Protection: The biggest reason for the Chiefs' successful defensive turnaround has been the improved play of the defensive line. Vonnie Holliday, Ryan Simms, John Browning and Eric Hicks form an underrated front four which has been stout against the run and has created havoc in the backfield. Thus far, the Chiefs have recorded eight sacks.
The Ravens' offensive line has been a top notch run blocking unit, but has been inconsistent in pass blocking situations. This is primarily why the Ravens rarely budge out of their two-tight end or two-back formations, keeping at least one back or tight end in to pass block at all times.
The problem that the
offensive line will face this week is not only being able to block the front
Chiefs' defensive coordinator Greg Robinson does a good job of disguising fronts to create confusion for the offensive lineman and the quarterback.
For example, you may see a defensive end like Holliday with his hand down, but after the ball is snapped, he will drop into coverage into a spot where the quarterback's hot route is supposed to cross. On the next play, all three linebackers could be digging their noses at the line of scrimmage, showing blitz, but every player up front besides two defensive lineman drop back into coverage, blocking every window for the quarterback to pass through.
The safest thing for the Ravens to do to counteract these plays is to stay in their base two- tight end set and use max protection to pick up the extra rush. They will be better off not converting a pass play if the Chiefs drop too many players into coverage, then giving up a sack incase the Chiefs do bring the house on a blitz. Losing yardage is not an option in this game.
Plus, by using a power set, Kyle Boller will always have the option of audibling to a fairly successful running play. That cannot be said if the Ravens use more one-back spread formations.
3. Spreading Heap Out: The Ravens were finally able to get Todd Heap on track last week against the Chargers. Heap caught five passes for a total of 50 yards, including a 25-yard reception for a touchdown. All in all, rookie quarterback Kyle Boller looked in Heap's direction on seven of his 21 pass attempts. That is a good number for the Ravens to stick to.
Needless to say, either as a decoy or target, Heap is the Ravens' No.1 option in the passing game. His ability to line up out of the backfield, in the slot, next to either tackle in a traditional tight-end stance or as a receiver gives the Ravens a number of ways to get him the ball.
The best way to use Heap in this game is to constantly send him in motion so the Chiefs cannot necessarily use one defender to shadow him at all times. Wherever Heap lines up, the Chiefs will automatically slide their coverage towards him, which will give receivers Travis Taylor and Frank Sanders man-to-man coverage to work with on the outside. Whether or not either wideout is able to exploit these matchups against Chiefs' cover corners William Bartee, Dexter McCleon and Eric Warfield is another issue.
Defensive Keys to Victory
1. Defending the outside rush: There is no
team in the league that runs the ball off tackle as well as
The Chiefs have one of the more underrated blocking backs in the league in Tony Richardson. He has the quickness to meet linebackers head on after the ball is snapped and the strength to drive them backwards. At both tight end spots, either Tony Gonzalez or Jason Dunn can hold off ends or outside linebackers long enough to allow the lineman to block downfield and to cut off the backside pursuit.
And all of the Chiefs' offensive linemen are athletic enough to pull. It does not matter if Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Casey Wiegmann, Brian Watters or John Tait is called open to anchor a running play in space; they are all more than capable of executing their blocks. Plus, they can all block their man one-on-one.
For the Ravens, this should
be their biggest problem to deal with up front. Someone needs to force the
double team. If the defensive linemen cannot get off their blocks, the inside
backers will have to take on the Chiefs' interior lineman, which is a mismatch
If the Ravens are able to slow down the Chiefs' ground attack, the linemen and the linebackers have to be able to stay on their feet, continue to fight their blocks while moving laterally and they must take the proper angles while pursuing Holmes. It is easier said than done.
Another thing the Chiefs will do frequently, especially in this game, is using the end around play. The Chiefs use misdirection runs to force defensive ends to make a decision; either commit to stopping Holmes or stay at home to cover the receiver who is coming off the corner. Obviously, Holmes is one hell of a decoy, so more times than not, if the handoff if faked to him and given to a receiver like Dante Hall, he will have room to roam.
Needless to say, the outside defenders, especially the linebackers, cannot cheat to stop Holmes, creating a lane for the receiver to run the ball through. They have to stay with their original assignments at all times.
2. Red zone Defense: Every time the Chiefs have gotten the ball in the red zone, they have scored touchdowns. It's been that easy and that simple for the No.4 ranked offense in football.
The reason that Kansas City has been so successful inside of the 20-yard line is they use Priest Holmes as their go to guy, either as a receiver of as a runner. Holmes has been one of the more underrated short-yardage backs in the league after being less than stellar with the Ravens years ago. With his combination of deceptive strength and speed, Holmes is able to routinely gain yardage after contact.
Raven defenders haven't
finished off their tackles consistently this season, so holding Holmes and the
Getting back to the red zone defense, the Ravens must force the Chiefs to score field goals as much as possible. It's bad enough that the Chiefs have a strong return game which sets up great field position for their offense, but most of the time the offense does not need any help.
Even if the Chiefs are able
to move the ball up and down the field against
3. Being Physical: To put it simply, the Ravens have to be mean and nasty on Sunday. Every time Holmes catches the ball out of the backfield, a safety or a linebacker needs to lay the lumber on him. The Chiefs' receivers can't feel comfortable catching passes over the middle of the field. The corners and safeties need to pulverize anybody who catches a pass in front of him.
If the pass rushers up front get any opportunities to tackle quarterback Trent Green, they have to make their hits count.
The Ravens won't win this
game if they allow
One-on-One Matchup to Watch: Gary Baxter versus Tony Gonzalez
Like Heap, Gonzalez won't line up in one spot on every play. He'll be shifted all over the field so that Trent Green can exploit mismatches in the passing game. Still, it would make sense for Ravens' defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to try and shadow Gonzalez using strong safety Gary Baxter. Baxter has a long wingspan to extend his coverage on deep passes. He also has the speed to stay with wideouts or tight ends down the field and the size to press them at the line of scrimmage. Subbing for Chris McAlister last week, Baxter played cornerback and did an admirable job of defending David Boston, who has the physical dimensions of a tight-end.
Taking Gonzalez out of this game is a must for the Ravens and for the first time in a while, they may have the perfect defensive back with the right combination of skills to get the job done.