Stop the Run
The Kansas City Chiefs pack a pretty good punch with their running game, ranking 1st in the NFL— averaging 164.2 rushing yards per game. Chiefs RB Jamal Charles is an explosive back, finishing the season with a lofty 6.38 rushing average. Their offense draws up plays that enable the shifty back to exploit any holes left open by the defense. Then there is RB Thomas Jones, the power back who fights for the tough yards.
The Baltimore Ravens front seven will be on a mission to slow down the Chiefs running game by attacking the line of scrimmage, but also by being disciplined. The key is NT Haloti Ngata, who often takes on one or two blockers— enabling MLB Ray Lewis and company to attack the gaps and running lanes. There’s also SS Dawan Landry being sent off the edge at the line of scrimmage, and this move has paid dividends. Landry has been instrumental in disrupting the offensive backfield on a consistent basis, so we should continue to see this strategy used.
Over the past month, the run defense has improved dramatically— you have to like the way they are swarming to the ball carrier. The defense finished the season ranked 5th in rushing yard allowed at 93.9. Cincinnati (who had nothing to lose last Sunday) tried to convert a number of 4th downs. It was encouraging to see the Ravens defense able to penetrate and stuff the run a few times.
Ed Reed The Game Changer
Chiefs QB Matt Cassel has played well this season, with 27 TDs and just 7 interceptions. Overall, the Chiefs dominating run game has enabled the play-action to be deadly. WR Dwayne Bowe is a serious threat, as he finished the season leading his team with 72 catches and 15 touchdowns. You can expect the Ravens secondary to be focused on limiting Bowe from big passing yards. That’s where Ed Reed comes in.
Ed Reed is playing great this year; he has 8 interceptions and 16 pass deflections, even after missing the first part of the season. With Reed in the line-up, it might scale back the Chiefs passing strategy. The Chiefs won’t back down per say, but they have to game plan around Ed Reed.
As pointed out by Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun,
“History says his [Ed Reed] tremendous run will continue this month. One of the best ballhawks in league history, Reed has been extremely dangerous in the playoffs. He has made seven interceptions in seven career postseason games, returning one for a 64-yard touchdown.”
Run the ball, Pass the ball
It is hard to think about strategies when the offense continues to struggle. Of recent, the defense has stepped up; and in order to make a serious Super Bowl run, the offense must step up as well.
While Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron is on the hot seat, there may be a little more blame to spread around. The offensive line has allowed 40 sacks this season, and the unit continues to struggle on 3rd-and-short situations. Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens offense couldn’t close out the game (they just needed a couple yards to get a new set of downs and run out the clock). Because the offense failed, QB Carson Palmer almost mounted a heart-breaking comeback. Against better teams in the playoffs, an inability to convert the short yardage could prove costly.
The bottom line is that the Ravens need to convert on third downs and score in the red-zone. It would be great to see Flacco work out of the shotgun and no-huddle offense. In the red zone, it might be beneficial to insert TE Ed Dickson (2 Tight End set with Todd Heap). Dickson is athletic and has the ability to provide for some mismatches against linebackers.
Yes, Cam Cameron is on the hot seat for a good reason, but it is also about execution; run the ball effectively (especially on 3rd-and-short) and throw the ball to your playmakers. Of course easier said then done, but in terms of football, that must be executed by the players.
Vs. the Chiefs
The Chiefs rank in the middle of the pack on defense. They are 17th against the pass (220 passing yards/game) and 14th against the run (110.2 rushing yards/game). The Chiefs do a good job at getting to the quarterback (38 sacks) and forcing fumbles (18).
Obviously, Ray Rice must get the ball, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get Willis McGahee involved too. McGahee should have fresh legs because he hasn’t been used all that much this year.
The Chiefs have to be worried about WR Derrick Mason and his success with Flacco in previous playoff games. This might also open the door for WR Anquan Boldin to get some key receptions.