Part of the Kansas City Chiefs’ formula for success is similar to the strategy used by Indianapolis at the turn of the century when Peyton Manning was the quarterback.
The Colts simply overwhelmed the opposition.
In almost every game, these Chiefs are going to go on a scoring run and then turn their top pass rushers loose to seal the victory. From 1998 to 2011, Manning had skilled offensive players such as receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, running back Edgerrin James and tight end Dallas Clark. On defense, Indianapolis had Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
The Chiefs have quarterback Patrick Mahomes, receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman and tight end Travis Kelce. Chris Jones and Frank Clark are the perfect complement at defensive end. And yes, they can bring it, too.
They create organized chaos.
“They’re very aggressive. They can be aggressive, because I think they understand the way the equation works for them as a team,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So, in that sense, they’re going to be very aggressive. They’re going to try to create the illusion of chaos. You have to organize that, get it organized in your mind offensively and be ready to attack that.”
The Ravens are 0-3 against Kansas City in the past three seasons and are now dealing with a poor offensive line. There is a good chance the Ravens will be without Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who struggled in his first game in nearly a year and a half in Monday night’s season-opening overtime loss against the Las Vegas Raiders. Stanley suffered a major ankle injury last November and is clearly still recovering. According to ESPN, he was 44th in pass-block win rate — how often linemen can sustain a block for 2.5 seconds or longer — and last in run-block win rate among offensive tackles in Week 1.
I’ve never been a big fan of this over-analyzing stuff, but this time we agree. Stanley was bad, and so was right tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who allowed two sacks to Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby. Crosby also pressured quarterback Lamar Jackson six times.
“We need to do a better job on the edge,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s just really a technique thing. I think we were late off the ball a few times, that really affected us. So, the crowd noise had a little bit of an effect on a few of them, but we just have to do a better job. We will. We’ll get back to work [and] clean some things up. I think there were some things really at every position that we need to clean up.”
There has been some speculation that if Stanley doesn’t play, the Ravens might move Villanueva to left tackle, a position he played throughout most of his six-year career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that scenario, Patrick Mekari would replace Villanueva on the right side, even through Mekari is faster, quicker and more athletic.
The Ravens probably assume it’s best to get Villanueva back to his natural position. But here is something the Ravens should consider: If the line continues to struggle, insert Trystan Colon at center and move Bradley Bozeman back to left guard.
“Well, I think when you take one of the best tackles in the league out of the lineup, it will affect you. But we feel great about everybody that we have,” said Roman, whose offense allowed Jackson to be pressured on on 54.5% of his drop-backs Monday night, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. “These guys work hard every day, and any time somebody doesn’t play, it’s just another opportunity for somebody to shine. So, we’ll have to see how that goes, but Ronnie Stanley is a very valuable member for us. The great thing about it is that we have great depth.”
The Ravens have numbers up front, but not necessarily talent. To compensate for the possible loss of Stanley, they re-signed veteran Andre Smith, who performed poorly in training camp, and added rookie Foster Sarell, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford who is a possibly a year away from earning a full-time spot on the roster. Regardless, the Chiefs use Jones like a shark.
They find the weakest offensive linemen and put Jones on top of him. Combined with Clark, who missed last week’s opener against the Cleveland Browns with a hamstring injury but is expected to play Sunday night, they are relentless. Jones had nine sacks in in 2019 and 7 1/2 last season. Clark has had 14 in the past two years. They are like Sweeney and Mathis.
“When I first put on the preseason film this year and watched it, I was like, ‘Wait a second. What’s going on here?’,” said Roman. “I think they’re really trying to get a mismatch out there on the tight end. But they can play [Jones] anywhere; you’ll see him show up anywhere. They have a lot of experience in that system. Coach ‘Spags’ [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] does a great job moving the shelves around. He’s being really disruptive there.”
There are several ways the Ravens can counter the Chiefs. Ideally, they’d like to get an early lead, run the ball and not be in a position where they need to pass consistently. They’d also like to catch Mahomes with a couple of blitzes and possibly hit a few long plays, which could be tough now that Pro Bowl safety Tryann Mathieu is back in the Chiefs’ starting lineup.
“It depends on the play call,” Jackson said when asked how much he is allowed to audible or check out of plays. “Sometimes I might get two plays here and there. It depends what Coach [Roman] is calling.”
Cleveland came close to beating Kansas City last Sunday in a 33-29 loss. The Browns physically dominated the Chiefs at the line of scrimmage, rushing 26 times for 153 yards, and finished with 457 yards of total offense. They controlled the pace of the game until midway through the fourth quarter. Then the Chiefs hit a couple of big plays, one of which came after a bobbled snap by Browns punter Jamie Gillan that gave Kansas City great field position.
Then the Chiefs turned up the heat on Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Chiefs are a fast team with an abundance on offense, and ideally they’d prefer to stop the opposing team from running the ball. But they don’t panic.
They’ve got Mahomes, Hill, Hardman and Kelce and can score points in a hurry. And then comes Jones and Clark.
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The Colts and Manning won a lot of games that way.