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Ravens X-Factor: Justin Madubuike’s interior pass rush will be crucial vs. the Chiefs

Dial back the blitz and abandon stopping the run

NFL: OCT 18 Ravens at Eagles Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After allowing an NFL worst 409 passing yards in Week 1, the Ravens proud defense faces the daunting task of containing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs potent aerial attack on Sunday night. In previous meetings, Coordinator Don Martindale’s aggressive scheme has been no match for Andy Reid’s mastery and Mahomes’ improvisation act.

In 2018, Kansas City engineered a fourth quarter comeback and defeated Baltimore 27-24 in overtime behind Mahomes’ 348 passing yard output, despite the veteran savvy of Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and a trio of Pro Bowl edge rushers headlining the Ravens depth chart. In 2019, Mahomes staked the Chiefs to a 23-6 halftime advantage and again exceeded 350 passing yards while Hall of Fame talent Earl Thomas and All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey were patrolling the backend. Last September, Mahomes again carved up Martindale’s defense to the tune of 385 passing yards, 22 passing first downs and four touchdowns with lockdown corners Humphrey, Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith at full health.

Baltimore’s traditional formula of ball control offense and attacking defense has proven futile against the Chiefs explosive offensive onslaught. Now they enter their Week 2 primetime showdown without the injured Peters, and with Smith questionable, no defenders capable of singlehandedly limiting Travis Kelce.

Perhaps their greatest challenge is an issue that has plagued the Ravens since Haloti Ngata and Timmy Jernigan were traded away - lack of a consistent interior pass rush. Calais Campbell was acquired last offseason but his ability to cause disruption in the backfield has declined in his 14th season. Derek Wolfe is currently on the shelf with a back injury. And Brandon Williams has been a non-factor rushing the passer throughout his career.

Fortunately the Ravens possess the personnel to potentially hold Mahomes to a surmountable point total if Martindale breaks his tendencies. First, abandon stopping the run, if the Chiefs are able to grind out methodical drives, that is still preferable to the alternative of chunk plays through the air. Secondly, dial back the blitzing, flood the secondary with extra defenders and hope a deceptive four-man pass rush can affect Mahomes.

These adjustments would give Baltimore their best chance to eek out a win considering the current state of their defensive depth chart. Humphrey is one of the few cover corners who stand a chance against Tyreek Hill. In Justin Houston and Odafe Oweh, the Ravens may actually have superior edge rushing talent than they had in previous meetings. Anthony Averett and Brandon Stephens bring the speed and range to clamp down on the Chiefs tertiary receivers, while Patrick Queen hunts Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

However, in order for a conservative gameplan to be effective, interior pass rusher Justin Madubuike must put some pressure in Mahomes’ face. Madubuike was pegged as a breakout star entering the season after an impressive rookie campaign and training camp. The second-year pro has a primetime opportunity to provide the impact he was drafted to produce.

Madubuike, along with Calais Campbell and Pernell McPhee, will have a chance to probe a remade offensive line that started rookies Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith and Lucas Niang beside costly acquisition Joe Thuney and familiar face Orlando Brown Jr. in Week 1. Cleveland’s imposing front managed seven quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and two sacks versus the newly assembled blocking unit.

Upsetting the powerful Chiefs will require flawless offensive execution coupled with a heroic effort from Lamar Jackson. The keys on defense are assignment sound coverage and timely breakthroughs from the Ravens X-factor, Madubuike.