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Ravens News 1/25: Heavyweight Fight

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Baltimore Ravens v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson: Breaking down the NFL’s two best quarterbacks

Jason Reid, ESPN

“Mahomes throws the ball as well as you can throw the ball in three different ways,” Avery said. “Think of a pitcher who throws three great pitches. He throws the ball firm [on a straight line] as well as anyone. He’s also great on those touch balls that go right over [the hands of defensive backs] and fall right into the receivers’ laps. He drops them in perfectly.

“And he also pushes the ball down the field with high trajectory passes. He has the three most important pitches. And he can put those three pitches exactly where he wants to put them whenever he wants to put them. When you think about [every NFL starting quarterback] … it’s just a very short list of guys who have all three with the command of them also.”

Although Jackson is built differently from Mahomes, Avery said, Jackson is no less spectacular than his fellow superstar. Jackson’s immense improvement as a pocket passer the past few seasons has been bad news for the NFL’s defensive playcallers.

“There was a point in time where people thought, ‘OK, let’s just make him throw.’ But that’s not the way it is now,” Avery said. “If you try to implement that strategy now, if you try not to rush him and keep him in the pocket, he can eviscerate you from the pocket.

“And the thing is, he’s still the most athletic person on the field. Whenever he steps on the field, he can do things that nobody else can even think about. That’s why he puts so much stress on defensive coordinators. It’s like, ‘What do we do now?’ He’s just that good.”

Lamar Jackson Sees a ‘Heavyweight Fight’ in Historic Playoff Matchup vs. Patrick Mahomes

Ryan Mink, BaltimoreRavens.com

The two have faced four times previously, with Mahomes winning three. But Jackson was the victor in the most recent installment in 2021, pulling out a 36-35 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. Jackson scored three touchdowns in that game, throwing one and running for two more.

“I don’t like competing against him at all,” Jackson said with a laugh. “He’s a great quarterback, definitely a Hall of Famer. It’s a no-brainer, he’s definitely a Hall of Famer.

“I believe it’s two up-and-coming greats going toe to toe, like a heavyweight fight, a heavyweight matchup. That’s what I see.”

“To be a champion, you gotta go through a champion,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty much the mindset.”

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

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

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.

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.

Ravens-Chiefs preview: Here are the key matchups of the AFC championship

Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner

What’s the game’s most intriguing matchup?

This is how tight end Travis Kelce has fared in his four games against the Ravens with Mahomes: seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown (2018), seven catches for 89 yards (2019), six catches for 87 yards (2020), seven catches for 109 yards and a touchdown (2021). Injuries have sapped some of Kelce’s dynamism this season, but he’s still a weapon over the middle. He had five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against Buffalo.

What those Ravens teams needed — what the Bills really needed — was someone like Kyle Hamilton. The All-Pro safety is one of the NFL’s best players in coverage, capable of blanketing everyone from speedy wideouts to shifty slot receivers to imposing tight ends. Depending on how the teams line up Sunday, Hamilton might not see a lot of Kelce. But when the Chiefs need a big play, Mahomes will probably look to Kelce. Which means the Ravens will probably look to Hamilton.

This isn’t a vintage Chiefs offense, but it still has Patrick Mahomes. What should be at the top of Mike Macdonald’s to-do list?

Stopping the Chiefs when they come out in heavy looks. Kansas City lined up in 13 personnel (one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver) on 11 plays against Buffalo, averaging a healthy 8.6 yards per play. The Ravens, who prefer to play with lighter boxes up front, have struggled defending offenses in 12 and 13 personnel this season, ranking 19th in expected points added per play and 17th in success rate, according to TruMedia. All-Pro left guard Joe Thuney’s pectoral injury could make it harder for Kansas City to punish the Ravens on the ground, but Macdonald can’t afford to let running back Isiah Pacheco run wild.

Diving into Lamar Jackson’s improvement against the blitz

Dalton Wasserman, PFF

Given these prior struggles, the key matchup in this AFC title game will be Jackson and Monken’s ability to create first downs by beating Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s blitz packages.

All eyes should be on the slot in said matchup. Over the previous five years, Baltimore slot receivers ranked 21st in receiving grade. This year, they rank fourth.

Several guys contribute to this cause, including the aforementioned Flowers and veteran Nelson Agholor. However, the tight ends will be in the spotlight, especially if Mark Andrews returns from his leg injury.

Andrews and Isaiah Likely are both extremely dangerous in the slot. The Chiefs counter with the third-best coverage grade from players who line up as slot cornerbacks, headlined by first-team All-Pro Trent McDuffie.

But the story may not be the result of those coverage matchups. It will be about how often Kansas City decides to send those cornerbacks at Lamar Jackson.

While the Chiefs blitz at just the 12th-highest rate, they send slot blitzes at the fourth-highest rate in the league and deploy their cornerbacks on blitzes far more than any other team.

NFL conference championship picks: Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs take road to Super Bowl; Lions-49ers tight

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports

Kansas City Chiefs (+3.5) at Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, 3 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

This is Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes, the likely MVP this season for a second time against a guy who has won two already. The difference is Mahomes has Super Bowl rings, while Jackson is just trying to get there.

The Chiefs won a tough road game at Buffalo on Sunday, but the defense had some issues with the Buffalo run game. If that’s a problem against Jackson and the Ravens, it will be a long day. Jackson will run it, but he will hit shots off it.

I think that Chiefs defense will play better this week, which will force Jackson to win it with his legs but mostly his right arm. He is more than capable.

As for Mahomes, he will be facing a defense that throws a lot of looks at a quarterback. But he’s seen them all — and had success against them all. I think he will be patient here as the Chiefs run it and he takes his shots off the run. The Chiefs did a nice job in protection last week, and that will carry over, thanks to the run game.

Look for both quarterbacks to play well, but I think the postseason experience for Mahomes will shine through. Look for the Chiefs to advance to another Super Bowl as Mahomes has some late-game magic to win it.

Pick: Chiefs 28, Ravens 26