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Ravens Insider: Ravens vs. Chiefs scouting report for the AFC championship game: Who has the edge?


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The Ravens dominated the second half to put away the Houston Texans, 34-10, in the AFC divisional round. The Chiefs outlasted the Bills in Buffalo, 27-24, to reach their sixth straight AFC championship game. Who will have the advantage when these heavyweights meet Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium with a Super Bowl trip on the line?

Ravens passing game vs. Chiefs pass defense

Lamar Jackson started slowly on Saturday as the Texans blitzed him on 13 of 18 dropbacks in the first half, but he and offensive coordinator Todd Monken called more quick throws on early downs to start the second half, and the Ravens took off, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives to put the game away. Jackson’s gross passing statistics, 16 of 22 for 152 yards and two touchdowns, weren’t eye-popping, but he delivered exactly what his team needed to win the game, much as he had in late-season thumpings of the San Francisco 49ers and Miami Dolphins. As Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said, that’s why he’s going to win NFL Most Valuable Player honors.

Jackson has thrown efficiently against pressure all season and will expect more of the same Sunday from Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose defense blitzed on 32.9% of dropbacks during the regular season, the league’s seventh-highest rate. The Chiefs managed no sacks and just two quarterback hits against the Bills’ Josh Allen, one of the few quarterbacks who’s as dangerous in motion as Jackson. After struggling to pick up a few blitzes early, the Ravens’ offensive line protected Jackson ably against Houston, with left tackle Ronnie Stanley playing perhaps his best game of the season. Right guard Kevin Zeitler looked uncomfortable starting the game on his injured knee, allowing a sack and a hurry, but he played better as the afternoon went on. The Ravens will need solid work from Zeitler and the rest of their interior blockers against Kansas City’s superstar defensive tackle, Chris Jones (10 1/2 sacks, 29 quarterback hits).

Jackson spread his 16 completions among eight receivers against the Texans and might have to take a similarly democratic approach against the Chiefs, who bring consistent pressure and prevent chunk plays on the back end. Quarterbacks averaged just 4.9 yards per attempt against them this season, and Allen, one of the league’s most gifted passers, was at 4.8 in the divisional round. Jackson has rarely lost patience and forced turnover-worthy throws this season, but Kansas City, led by All-Pro cornerback Trent McDuffie, will test his discipline. Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers looked fine after appearing on the injury report with a sore calf all last week. Jackson might also have his favorite target, tight end Mark Andrews, who was a full practice participant last week but decided he wasn’t quite ready to return from the serious ankle injury he suffered in November. Isaiah Likely continued his excellent work as Andrews’ stand-in with a touchdown catch, his sixth in the past six games, against Houston.

EDGE: Even

Chiefs passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

Patrick Mahomes endured perhaps his most frustrating season as a pro, undermined by ham-handed receivers who cost him several close games. But he was terrific in hostile Buffalo — 17 of 23, 215 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers — and has the Chiefs on the doorstep of another Super Bowl appearance. He’s the standard bearer at the sport’s most important position because he can make any throw from any angle, use his legs to pick up clutch first downs and rally his team under the most dire circumstances. There is no proven formula to beat him, but he has been less sublime against defenses that generate pressure without blitzing, drop seven or eight into coverage and force him to look away from his first read. That’s the Ravens, who kept the Texans’ terrific rookie, C.J. Stroud, out of the red zone and without an offensive touchdown despite finishing with zero sacks or takeaways. Coordinator Mike Macdonald will hope for more of both Sunday, but his group’s discipline is as impressive as its disguised looks and playmaking acumen. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy and Odafe Oweh combined for 15 pressures against Stroud and will go against a so-so pair of tackles Donovan Smith and Jawaan Taylor. Left guard Joe Thuney, arguably the Chiefs’ best offensive lineman, suffered a pectoral injury against the Bills and could be hampered if not sidelined against the Ravens.

Mahomes no longer has Tyreek Hill as an over-the-top target but did establish a productive connection with wide receiver Rashee Rice (79 catches on 102 targets, 938 yards, seven touchdowns) down the stretch. Tight end Travis Kelce remains one of the most prolific pass catchers at his position (12 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in Kansas City’s two playoff wins), but at age 34, he isn’t quite the terror he was in previous seasons. It will be interesting to see how often the Ravens cover him with multiple defenders and how often they put All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton on the job. Macdonald will try to keep the picture in front of Mahomes confusing, shifting coverages and using Hamilton and Pro Bowl linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen to gum up the middle of the field. Mahomes is an all-time blitz killer, so don’t expect Ravens defensive backs to come screaming off the edge more than a few times. Hamilton’s versatility will be key because he’s mobile and rugged enough to shadow Mahomes at times and blow up Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s beloved screens. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey missed the Texans game with a calf injury he suffered in the Ravens’ New Year’s Eve victory over the Dolphins.

EDGE: Even

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hands off to running back Delvin Cook in the 4th quarter as the Ravens head to victory over the Houston Texans 34-10. (Jerry Jackson/Staff photo)
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hands off to running back Delvin Cook in the fourth quarter against the Texans. (Jerry Jackson/Staff)

Ravens running game vs. Chiefs run defense

Houston had allowed just one opponent to run for more than 100 yards over its previous seven games, but the Ravens rumbled for 229. Jackson was more assertive keeping the ball than he had been for most of the regular season, rushing for a team-high 100 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Justice Hill came through with 66 yards on 13 carries, while four-time Pro Bowl selection Dalvin Cook showed some juice with a 19-yard run in his Ravens debut.

The Ravens’ top-ranked ground game could be the difference against a run defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry during the regular season and ranks 27th in DVOA. The Bills pounded out 182 rushing yards in the divisional round, led by Allen’s 72 on 12 carries. Inside linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay earned solid grades against the run from Pro Football Focus, but the Chiefs don’t have a standout interior run defender.

EDGE: Ravens

Chiefs running game vs. Ravens run defense

Isiah Pacheco, a churning force who averaged 3.06 yards after contact per attempt, sets this Kansas City offense apart from previous editions. He ran for 97 yards on 15 attempts against Buffalo’s battered defense, which could not bring him down to prevent the Chiefs from running out the clock at the end of the game. The Chiefs still rely on the pass first, but Pacheco is exactly the type of runner the Ravens have struggled to stop this season.

Macdonald’s defense held Houston’s Devin Singletary to 22 yards on nine carries in the divisional round but allowed 4.5 yards per attempt in the regular season. With at least seven defenders likely to drop into coverage on most snaps, the Ravens will need a strong game from nose tackle Michael Pierce and sound tackling from Smith, Queen and Hamilton. They will also need to keep an eye on Mahomes, who rarely takes off on designed runs but remains a deadly scrambler. His 5.2 yards per attempt led the Chiefs, and he picked up 27 first downs on 75 carries.

EDGE: Even

Ravens special teams vs. Chiefs special teams

The Ravens overcame a rough start to finish third in special teams DVOA, but their struggles in punt coverage resurfaced against the Texans, who scored their only touchdown on a 67-yard return by Steven Sims. Jordan Stout also misfired on a 24-yard punt in the first half on a windy afternoon. Justin Tucker had no such problems, making field goals from 53 and 43 yards. Devin Duvernay was back as the team’s punt and kickoff returner after a back injury sidelined him for the last month of the regular season.

The Chiefs ranked sixth in special teams DVOA in the regular season, and kicker Harrison Butker has actually outperformed Tucker this year, making 39 of 41 field-goal attempts including the postseason. He has made 27 of 31 attempts in his postseason career, often kicking in frigid conditions. The Chiefs have averaged a modest 9.3 yards on punt returns.

EDGE: Chiefs

Ravens intangibles vs. Chiefs intangibles

The Ravens reorganized themselves after an uneasy start against Houston, with a fiery Jackson the loudest voice in the postgame locker room. The MVP favorite is more assertive than in his previous five seasons, and coach John Harbaugh has said this is the most connected team of his 16-year tenure in Baltimore. It’s also arguably his most dominant, coming off double-digit wins against the 49ers, Dolphins and Texans. This is Harbaugh’s first trip to a conference championship game since the Ravens won the Super Bowl 11 years ago, and it’s the first conference championship game the Ravens have ever hosted. Their boisterous home crowd assisted against the Texans, who committed seven presnap penalties.

The Chiefs are kings of the AFC, looking to make their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years. They go into every game confident because of Mahomes, and Reid remains an elite play designer even though he’s the league’s oldest coach. The Chiefs have never had to win a conference championship game on the road, but Mahomes’ winning percentage actually improves on the rare occasions he’s an underdog. The Ravens were clearly the more dominant team in the regular season, but the Chiefs won’t doubt their chances, even if they fall behind early.

EDGE: Even


The Ravens have been better than the Chiefs this year. They have more ways to win and in Jackson, a superstar who seems ready to come into his own as a true rival to Mahomes. No one blows out the Chiefs, however, and no lead will ever feel safe against Mahomes. The quarterbacks will headline, but this game could just as easily come down to the defenses. Kansas City will pressure Jackson and make it difficult for him to move the ball in chunks. But the Ravens were just as stingy against big plays and much better at creating takeaways. They will disturb Mahomes just enough to pull out a tense win. Ravens 30, Chiefs 24

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