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