The Kansas City Chiefs are off to an undefeated start heading into a Monday Night Football battle against the Baltimore Ravens. Yet, to defeat the Ravens, the Chiefs’ Linebackers must improve upon their early-season performance.
The Chiefs Linebackers Must Improve to Defeat the Ravens
The Kansas City Chiefs face a challenging task on Monday Night; trying to stop Lamar Jackson and the ever-potent Ravens offense. While Kansas City has what it takes to win an offensive shootout thanks to Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and company, they will look to the defensive side of the ball to get key stops. Most of the pressure this week will fall upon the Chiefs’ linebacking corps as they will determine the winner of this game.
Stopping the Run
In the two games to begin the 2020 season, the Chiefs’ linebackers have struggled to stop the run. They are allowing the 6th most rushing yards in the league at 150.5 per game with 4.6 yards per rush. Against the Houston Texans in Week 1 they allowed two rushing touchdowns in only 22 rushing attempts for a team that was trailing the majority of the game. Linebackers like Anthony Hitchens and Ben Niemann have missed numerous tackles allowing extra yards after initial contact. Against a Ravens team that prides itself on running the ball, stopping the run will be vital to the Chiefs’ success. The linebackers must correct their tackling woes to stop a three-headed monster in Mark Ingram II, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards,
The Chiefs face the league’s most mobile quarterback in reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. Kansas City’s linebackers will have to contain him to win the game. To do so, they must improve on their past performances against quarterback runs. Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert both averaged 4.5 yards per rush against the Chiefs’ defense to start the season. Herbert scored one rushing touchdown and nearly another one on a read-option before getting stopped near the goal line. The Chiefs linebackers can’t have a repeat performance against Jackson on Monday if they want to win.
The final area in which the Chiefs’ linebackers must improve is their pass coverage. They have struggled on the season covering screen passes and throws to running backs and tight ends. Of Herbert’s 22 completions, 68% were among that group. Specifically looking at the running back position, the Chiefs’ linebackers allowed 13.8 yards per reception to Austin Ekeler, 24.5 yards per reception to Joshua Kelley, and 10.7 yards per reception to David Johnson. It’s unacceptable that a running back for the opposing team can catch the ball and be guaranteed a first down. Their performance doesn’t look any better against tight ends as in Week 1 Jordan Atkins scored a 20-yard touchdown with Niemann trailing him while in Week 2, Hunter Henry caught six passes for 83 yards. With a matchup against 2019 Pro Bowler Mark Andrews this week, the linebackers once again will be tested in pass coverage.
Are the Kansas City Chiefs Linebackers Up For the Task?
The Chiefs linebackers will be entering the Week 3 matchup with the Ravens fully aware of the threat Lamar Jackson and company pose offensively. Having faced and beaten the Ravens in 2019, they know what it takes to keep that offense in check. Despite poor performance against the Chargers, linebackers Damien Wilson and Hitchens can attribute some of the missteps to injuries as both missed snaps before returning later in the game. Neither are on the injury report heading into this game so, their healthy contributions should lead to positives for the linebacking corps. The Chiefs also have their 2020 second-round pick linebacker Willie Gay waiting in the wings for his opportunity. Playing only six total defensive snaps so far, more playing time for Gay might be the answer to the early-season woes.
With the spotlight on them, look for the Kansas City Chiefs’ linebackers to step up in Week 3 against the Baltimore Ravens.
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