Maybe the most interesting part of the buildup to Monday’s showdown between Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is how uninterested both are in promoting it.
In the offseason, Jackson mostly resisted comparisons to Mahomes, whom he’d followed not only as NFL Most Valuable Player but also as the “Madden” cover athlete. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Jackson said that they “ain’t got nothing to do with each other.” Asked what in Mahomes' skill set he envied, Jackson said, “I ain’t trying to be him,” though he later praised Mahomes' arm strength.
Last week, Jackson was even more reluctant to keep up the narrative. In a video conference call Thursday with local reporters, he called Mahomes a “great talent” and their potential rivalry “really cool.” As for his mindset before a game against Mahomes, Jackson said it was “just like any other game. I don’t have to focus on Mahomes.”
In an interview with ESPN’s Louis Riddick, he reiterated the just-another-game mantra. Then Jackson put his foot down. Asked whether there were facets of Mahomes' game that he’d wanted to incorporate into his own, Jackson shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “I don’t. I don’t know about anybody else, but I don’t.” Riddick laughed nervously.
In Kansas City, ESPN’s Jeff Darlington asked Mahomes how it felt to face Jackson, even though, as he acknowledged, Mahomes had only ever faced the Ravens defense. Another one-on-one question, another team-centric response.
“When you play a team of this caliber, a player of this caliber, and how dynamic he is and the way he’s able to score in so many different ways — throwing, running, whatever it is — you know that you’re going to have to go up there and put up points,” Mahomes said. “It’s what you live for, is to be in these games, be on Monday night, play in front of the whole entire nation and get to play against one of the best teams in the NFL.”
Jackson acknowledged Thursday that the Ravens, who are 0-2 against Kansas City since he took over as starter, would “eventually” have to beat the Chiefs. They would have stood in their way in the AFC championship game last season.
Maybe a torch-passing is imminent. When Darlington mentioned Jackson’s head-to-head record to Mahomes, Mahomes thought of his own early career. During his MVP season in 2018, Kansas City lost to the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady twice: first in the regular season, then in the AFC championship game. When the Chiefs faced them again in 2019, they won a December game at Gillette Stadium. Two months later, they were Super Bowl champions.
“So I understand that he’s going to be driven,” Mahomes said of Jackson, who’s 21-3 as a starter overall. “I mean, whenever you’re playing another team that is of his caliber, and our team and how we’re coming off the Super Bowl win, it’s going to be a great game. And you want to go out there and find a way to win. And I think that goes every single week, but especially this one.”
Ravens LT Ronnie Stanley and RT Orlando Brown Jr. vs. Chiefs DE Frank Clark
Clark’s alignment could say a lot about how Kansas City wants to defend the Ravens. As the Chiefs’ Pro Bowl right defensive end, he normally sets up across from the left tackle, where Stanley never makes life easy. But Clark’s flexible enough to flip over to the right tackle, where Brown, a Pro Bowl selection last year, has allowed two sacks in two games, according to Pro Football Focus. The Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans had some success pressuring Jackson from the right, but Clark’s weakness as a run defender plays into Brown’s strength.
Chiefs RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire vs. Ravens ILB Patrick Queen
Queen arrived in Baltimore with a well-earned reputation in pass coverage. At LSU, he never gave up a reception longer than 20 yards in coverage, according to PFF, and he allowed just 23 of 33 targets to be caught for 171 yards last season. In the NFL, stops haven’t come so easily. Queen’s allowed eight completions on 11 targets for 72 yards, according to Pro-Football-Reference, and he was lucky not to surrender a 65-yard touchdown pass in Week 2. Edwards-Helaire, a rookie and former college teammate, is already a weapon. His modest production as a receiver (six catches for 32 yards) belies his route-running ability and open-field potential.
What to watch
Will the Ravens lean on their go-to grouping?
Through two weeks, the Ravens offense has been at its best when using “11” personnel (one tight end, one running back and three wide receivers). According to Sharp Football Stats, the Ravens have played with 11 personnel on 41% of their offensive snaps — almost twice as often as the next-closest grouping — and averaged 10.8 yards per pass attempt and 7.4 yards per carry. The personnel lends itself to pass plays, and the Ravens have indeed run just 43% of the time with the grouping. Kansas City allowed over 6 yards per carry against the Ravens last season and has struggled stopping the run in 2020, so Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman has reason to probe every part of the defense for weakness.
Can anyone stop Travis Kelce?
The Chiefs' star tight end has been a headache for the Ravens. With a combined 14 catches on 17 targets for 166 yards and a touchdown, Kelce posted a targeted passer rating of 127.0 over their past two meetings. Despite two solid defensive showings this season, the Ravens haven’t shown that they’re well equipped to stop someone of his caliber. Opposing tight ends have caught 15 of 19 targets for 148 yards and two touchdowns, good for a 134.2 rating. The Ravens won’t ask one defender to follow Kelce all Monday night, but his speed, strength and savvy will test the team’s safeties and linebackers.
Quotes of the week
Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on Patrick Mahomes' 10-year, $500 million-plus contract extension: “They could’ve paid him a billion. I’d still think he’s underpaid.”
Kelce on coach Andy Reid’s attitude during practice: "There’s not a week that goes by where Coach Reid isn’t going to get on you. That’s his job. Sometimes you just have to be like, ‘Take it easy, roller-coaster tycoon.’ "
Stats of the week
The Ravens have won 12 straight prime-time games at home. Monday’s is the first of five prime-time matchups this season.
The Chiefs are second in the NFL with 27 missed tackles through two games, according to Pro-Football-Reference. Only the New York Jets (38) have more.