The Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs will take center stage Sunday night as the NFL puts a prime-time focus on the matchup between quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes for a second straight season. As he prepared for the broadcast, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth did an interview with Ravens beat reporter Childs Walker to discuss the Chiefs’ success in the rivalry, Jackson’s progress and the mounting injuries that have clouded the Ravens’ outlook for 2021:
The Chiefs have beaten the Ravens three years in a row and are favored to beat them again. Can one team have another’s number? Is there a psychological weight for the team losing those games?
The Chiefs have been beating everybody, so by that standard, they will have had everybody’s number for a while. Probably the best case in point was Cleveland [on Sunday]. Cleveland did everything to win that game. But a guy who never fumbles fumbled. A punter — after Baker [Mayfield] had one of his few poor throws of the day, underthrew a guy — the punter drops the ball. And then Baker’s trying to throw the ball out of bounds and he gets tripped and throws an interception. When you play Kansas City, you can’t make any mistakes and beat those guys. I guess the question is: can the Ravens beat these guys? And my answer would be they absolutely can beat Kansas City. They absolutely can because they match up well running the football. They’ve always run the ball well. But you’ve got to be so good and so consistent and not make mistakes, and that’s hard because they’re going to answer everything you do.
The Ravens’ offensive tackles, Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva, played really poorly in the opener against the Raiders, and now there’s an injury concern with Stanley. Would you be concerned about that situation going forward?
Yes, after the other night, yes. I’ve seen Ronnie Stanley play going back to college, and that was nowhere close to Ronnie Stanley. Alejandro, he’s used to playing left tackle, and he’s learning a new position. We’re seeing that more and more with tackles. People want to make them interchangeable, but it’s like going from being a right-handed pitcher to being a left-handed pitcher. It’s not that easy. But the Ravens, as a team, are not built to drop back and throw the football 40 times a game. That’s just not who they are. So if they can keep it to their style of play … one of the hardest things that’s happened to them is what’s happened with the running backs. If there’s such a thing as a really complex running game, this is it. Not to mention just read-option handoffs, which they blew a couple of the other night, and I would argue the backs made wrong choices. It’s not just a plug and play where you can lose [J.K.] Dobbins and [Gus] Edwards and you’re just going to be fine. It’s going to take some time to get that back. You don’t have whatever it is, 14 guys who’ve been on IR, and your quarterback missed all those practices at the start of camp, and your running backs are gone and Stanley’s coming back from an injury — you don’t do all that and say we’re just going to roll the ball and kick their butts on Day 1 on the road. And they almost did it anyway.
Did you see signs of progress from Lamar Jackson in the opener? What will you be looking for from him on Sunday night?
Lamar, the thing they did worst the other night was, the Raiders were playing a zone defense against them all night, and the connection between the quarterback and the receivers … not that the passes were bad, but knowing where the receiver was going to stop, knowing the depth of the route — there were just Day 1 things that I’ve seen this team do a lot of that they did really poorly. If they just connected on the layups against the Raiders, the Raiders would have had a really hard time beating them. Believe me, the Ravens are not going to miss layups all season. They’re just not. They’re too well-coached. I always think the really well-coached teams, after the first month of the season you see them start to separate. It’s the reason we get the same teams in the playoffs year after year. They’re good at it, and for the most part, they’re playing teams that fired their coaches and are starting over again. The Ravens are going to be fine, but they do have to come up with some answers. They can’t play the way they did the other night and beat good teams.
Do you attribute missing the layups to them just not having a ton of time together?
Absolutely. It’s a huge part of it. But it can also be from expanding your offense and not spending as much time on the simple things. These are NFL guys, and they’ve had an incredible record over the last several years with Lamar. You’re going to say: “OK, we’ve got that.” Well, they didn’t have that in the first game. But anybody who wants to predict the future based on what they saw in that first game is probably going to go broke.
Do you think the Ravens have done enough to surround Lamar Jackson with better weapons, even though injuries have derailed that to some degree?
Absolutely. Mark Andrews is as good as there is. Sammy Watkins can play with anybody. I like “Hollywood” Brown probably more than people in Baltimore do. If he were in an offense where they were throwing 50 times a game, if he were in Kansas City, how many balls you think he’d catch? It’s not how many you catch; it’s what you do during the really important times. They’re never going to get the number of passes other teams are going to get, but if you’re making plays on key third downs and you’re creating catch-and-run opportunities and you can run the ball the way this team’s going to run the ball eventually, that’s a hard combination to beat.
You’ve spoken glowingly of the Ravens’ talent in the secondary. Can they still be a top unit without Marcus Peters?
I hope Jimmy Smith comes back fine, but losing Marcus Peters is a blow. He’s an X-factor defensive back. He’s a guy that, quarterbacks don’t know what the heck he’s going to do because I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do. He just kind of feels it and sees it and reacts to it and makes a play. I will say, I think Anthony Averett played really well. I thought [Marlon] Humphrey could have been the Defensive Player of the Year last year. Their safeties are rock solid. That young kid played pretty well too, Brandon Stephens. But you can’t lose front-line guys, veteran front-line guys, and have it not impact your defense, especially an X-factor guy. Let’s give the Raiders credit too; they had a good scheme against them. I didn’t see the Ravens win one-on-one pass-rush battles enough to allow them not to blitz. But I do think they have talent. [Odafe] Oweh, he’s a legit threat, and they need him to be. They really need somebody that is going to, when they don’t blitz, win some one-on-one battles and get pressure on Mahomes in this one.
Specifically with Mahomes, would you still blitz him knowing he killed your blitz last year? Or do the Ravens have to trust their pass rushers to win one-on-one and keep guys back?
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The answer is yes, you better do all of that. Patrick Mahomes does things we’re not seeing other quarterbacks in this league do. They think they’re going to win no matter where they are in the game because he’s playing quarterback. It takes a long time to get that Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers level of faith. But this is a brand-new offensive line for Kansas City, a big offensive line, and we’ll see how they hold up to the speed and the blitzes and the defensive backs that are rushing, all the different looks. But Patrick Mahomes, just like Derek Carr, he knows how to use those fadeaway passes that put pressure on teams that want to pressure. He just buys enough time and has enough arm strength to make you pay.
If the Ravens do fall to 0-2, is that a significant hole considering the difficulty of their schedule?
The division is really good. Pittsburgh’s defense is going to be as good as anybody’s. Cleveland’s team is going to be as good as anybody. Cincinnati’s better. So is it going to be easy to win the division? No, it’s just not. But four months is a long time. Well-coached football teams will be there in the end, short of even more catastrophic injuries. I mean, they can’t lose Lamar at this point and expect it to hold together. But am I anywhere close to going, “Oh, the Ravens got beat on the road against a Raiders football team that’s really improved, now they’re not one of the favorites?” No, I’m a long way from that.
Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM