When Ravens wide receivers Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones square off with Kansas City Chiefs cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, they'll be dealing with an aggressive brand of press coverage.
Flowers and Routt tend to crowd receivers at the line, attempting to get a strong jam to disrupt the timing of pass patterns and are confident in their ability to turn and run with fast receivers.
After losing cornerback Brandon Carr in free agency to the Dallas Cowboys via a $50 million contract, the Chiefs still do a solid job of defending the pass.
"They had a little bit of a switch from last year," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "It will be interesting to see. I am sure they’ll have some things they’ll change coming into this game. They made a
complete switch in their secondary approach. They are playing bump-and-run Cover 1, a lot of single-high coverage.
"They feel good about their linebackers, inside ‘backers' ability to cover. They like their ability to get edge pressure to help their secondary. So, I like the way they’re aggressive. Most teams that can play bump-and-run man-to-man play Cover 1, they can give you some problems.”
Both Routt and Flowers have one interception apiece and have combined for six pass deflections for the NFL's 13th-ranked pass defense. And athletic safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis provide help over the top.
With the exception of Jones, who caught one touchdown with another nullified by a controversial offensive pass interference penalty, the Ravens didn't excel against the Philadelphia Eagles' press coverage techniques executed by cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
A former Oakland Raiders starter signed after last season, Routt is one of the faster cornerbacks in the league. Flowers is a hard-nosed former Virginia Tech standout.
"They're both two of the better corners in the league," said Smith, who has caught 16 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns, which puts him on a pace to finish the season with 64 receptions, 1,328 yards and a dozen touchdowns. "Routt is a long, athletic guy. Brandon is smart. They both have great ball skills. Their safeties have great range. We have a great challenge ahead of us."
It's a double-edged sword, though, for the Chiefs' approach to their secondary.
Kansas City has already allowed 926 passing yards and 10 touchdowns with opposing quarterbacks compiling a 114.7 passer rating against the Chiefs. They've had trouble against tight ends
Quarterbacks have completed 65.1 percent of their throws against Kansas City, including Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Offenses are averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt against the Chiefs with only two interceptions.
The Ravens rank second in total offense, averaging 424 yards per contest and rank fourth in passing offense with an average of 310.3 yards per game. Flacco has completed 63.5 percent of his throws for 1,269 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions for a 95.8 passer rating and is on pace for 5,076 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The key for the Ravens is beating the jam to get into their pass routes to allow quarterback Joe Flacco to go through his progressions and find his targets downfield.
“Critical, absolutely," Cameron said. "It always is. You have to win those first five yards. It’s really about
the first seven yards now. It’s not five yards anymore. You better be able to run through those seven yards, get yourself free, get yourself clean, get some separation so Joe can get the ball out. These guys do an outstanding job rushing the passer.
"You saw last year when Green Bay went in there undefeated, and they got a ton of pressure on [Aaron] Rodgers, New England last year … You’ve seen what they’ve done this year against New Orleans, a ton of pressure on Drew Brees. I think they sacked Matt Ryan a handful of times, got after him pretty good. The combination of their coverage and their pressure is the toughest part.”