Ravens vs Chiefs: Can Baltimore's Defense Stop Jamaal Charles?

James AdkinsCorrespondent IIJanuary 7, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 21:  Jamaal Charles #25 of the Kansas City Chiefs carries the ball during the game against the Arizona Cardinals on November 21, 2010  at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Statistically speaking, the Baltimore Ravens have been impressive at stopping the run this season. They finished the regular season ranked fifth in the NFL against the run, allowing just 93.9 yards per game on the ground.

So, the question that may most impact the outcome of Sunday's playoff game between the Ravens and Chiefs is: "Can the Ravens fifth-rated rush defense stop Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs NFL-leading rush offense?"
The Ravens defense has done well against some pretty good running backs this season. They held the Falcons' Michael Turner to just 39 yards on 17 carries; in two games against the Bengals' Cedric Benson, he averaged less than three yards per carry (2.9); in two more games against the Steelers' Rashard Mendenhall, the Ravens stuffed the running game, allowing Mendenhall just 2.8 ypc.

What's most obvious about most of the running backs the Baltimore defense has faced this season is that not a single one of them is as explosive as the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles.

Charles, the league's second-best rusher with 1,467 yards, is averaging an NFL-best 6.4 ypc and unlike almost all of the backs the Ravens have faced this season, Charles does a majority of his damage on the outside.
That fact alone is likely to cause the Ravens defense some problems.

The strength of Baltimore's defense is up the middle, between massive defensive ends Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding who gobble up double-teams and allow middle linebackers Jameel McClain and perennial All-Pro Ray Lewis to fill open holes and punish running backs.

Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson are both bigger linebackers, each tipping the scales at more than 260 pounds. While Suggs has the straight-line speed that helps him get off the edge as the team's best pass rusher, neither he or Johnson has the speed to consistently get off of blocks and corral Charles.
That puts a lot of pressure on safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry to come up and help stop Charles.

The Chiefs will likely look to exploit the smaller cornerbacks of the Ravens with passes to receivers Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers and company. When Landry and Reed are kept honest by quarterback Matt Cassel throwing downfield to the receivers, and force those two to stay back and help in the passing game, that is when Charles will strike with the big play in the running game.

Kansas City and Charles aren't going to line up in multiple tight-end sets and pound the ball up the middle against the Ravens. Rather, the Chiefs will look to effectively mix up the pass and run, keeping the Ravens off-balance and freeing up Charles to have a big game.

For Chiefs fans, who haven't seen a home playoff win since 1994, they are hoping Charles can put together his biggest game of the year and help his team earn a second-round playoff game in New England or Pittsburgh.