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Ravens @ Chiefs: 3 Key Matchups

Kansas City Chiefs v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Larry French/Getty Images

In Week 14, the Ravens aim to extend their winning streak in a difficult road environment against the class of the AFC.

Kansas City’s league best scoring offense, fueled by gifted quarterback Patrick Mahomes under the tutelage of Andy Reid, has carried them to a 10-2 record. Baltimore’s top ranked defense will encounter an electric group of playmakers that are averaging 37 points per game.

The all-time series between these franchises is tied at four apiece, yet surprisingly the Ravens are undefeated at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won the most recent meeting 34-14 over an injury depleted 2015 Ravens squad.

Oddsmakers list Baltimore as touchdown underdogs and set the point total at 53, implying a final score of Chiefs 30-23. Since 2016, John Harbaugh has not fared well when the opposition is favored by more than a field goal, the Ravens are winless in seven tries under these circumstances. Reid has recently earned a 7-1 mark in the final month of the regular season, along with a 17-6 home record.

Nonetheless, Kansas City allowed 17 fourth quarter points to the dreadful Raiders last week in a closer than expected victory and lost significant firepower due to the suspension of tailback Kareem Hunt. If the Ravens defense can generate a couple of takeaways and the offense can sprinkle a few successful deep passes into their new ball-control identity, they have a puncher’s chance to pull off the upset.

Three key matchups:

RB Gus Edwards vs LB Anthony Hitchens

Edwards no nonsense running style has been a major boon for the Ravens in recent weeks. He has averaged more than five yards per carry in a workhorse role over the past three games while breaking a tremendous number of tackles. Baltimore relies on his downhill rushes to stay ahead of the sticks.

Kansas City signed Hitchens away from the Cowboys on a 5-year, $45 million contract in March precisely for his ability to stuff the run. While he does lead the defense in tackles with 96, the acquisition has not made the desired impact. The Chiefs 5.1 yards allowed per carry is tied for the worst average and their 14 rushing scores allowed is fourth worst in the NFL.

The Ravens resurgent ground attack has been instrumental to their improvement since the Week 10 bye. They will need another productive outing from the undrafted rookie in order to keep pace with Kansas City.

CB Marlon Humphrey vs WR Tyreek Hill

Baltimore’s defense was dominant in Atlanta last week, but the Chiefs are a greater challenge, primarily due to vastly superior play calling. The Ravens do field the personnel to stop the run and limit their secondary receiving options.

However, the Ravens have struggled to mark tight ends all season and will now face the most potent mismatch in the league. With no realistic answer, coordinator Martindale will be forced to accept a big game from Travis Kelce.

This dynamic makes Tyreek Hill the x-factor. Perhaps the fastest man in the NFL, Hill is unstoppable downfield, posting a dozen touchdowns along with 17 yards per reception and over 100 yards per game in 2018. Fortunately, Humphrey is currently playing at a Pro Bowl level and also possesses impressive speed.

Humphrey’s main objective should be preventing Hill from getting behind him. Preventing explosive plays will give the defense an opportunity to hold Mahomes to field goals.

OT Ronnie Stanley vs OLB Justin Houston

It will be necessary to do some damage through the air versus the Chiefs bottom ranked pass defense. And for as porous as they have been in terms of yardage, Kansas City’s 39 sacks are the second most in the league. Houston, a former All-Pro, has provided ample pressure and multiple turnovers since returning from a midseason injury.

Several capable pass rushers require extra blockers, including outside linebacker Dee Ford and defensive end Chris Jones who each have 10.5 sacks this season, so Baltimore can not afford to devote extra resources to Houston.

Ronnie Stanley will be tasked with stonewalling the edge defender. The blindside protector is in the midst of his finest professional season but has struggled at times against powerful sack artists.

Keeping the Chiefs out of the backfield should promote better ball security. Ultimately, the turnover battle will prove pivotal.