OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If the Baltimore Ravens want to avoid their worst start in six years, quarterback Lamar Jackson is going to have to find a solution to a problem that’s stumped him during his first three NFL seasons: How to beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Jackson is 30-8 in the regular season, and nearly half of those losses have come against the Chiefs, who will try to improve to 4-0 vs. Jackson on Sunday night (8:20 ET, NBC).
Last season, Jackson was held to a career-worst 97 yards passing in a 34-20 loss to the Chiefs. After the game, Jackson described Kansas City as “our kryptonite.”
“I said that because they did beat us three times, so it’s like, ‘Man, we’ve got to find a way to win,’” Jackson said this week. “And hopefully this Sunday night, it will be different.”
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In three games against Kansas City, Jackson has connected on 52.6% of his throws, averaged 170.3 yards passing and recorded a passer rating of 78.8. In 35 games against the rest of the league, he has completed 64% of his passes, averaged 190.3 yards passing and posted a rating of 104.9.
How have the Chiefs been able to turn Jackson from an NFL Most Valuable Player to a mediocre one? ESPN Stats & Information broke down three problem areas for Jackson:
Kansas City heat: More than any team, the Chiefs come after Jackson, blitzing him 35% of the time. All other defenses sent five or more rushers at Jackson 27% of the time.
Last year, Kansas City put the pressure on Jackson, using a season-high 49% blitz rate. Jackson usually makes teams think twice about chasing him down, whether by scrambling out of the pocket for another highlight-reel run or buying enough time to deliver a touchdown strike. But he has had no answers for the Chiefs’ pass rush, completing 44% of his passes for 4.8 yards per attempt against the blitz.
“They can be aggressive, because I think they understand the way the equation works for them as a team,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So, in that sense, they’re going to be very aggressive. They’re going to try to create the illusion of chaos. You have to organize that, get it organized in your mind offensively and be ready to attack that.”
Little success on big throws: Jackson has done exactly what he’s supposed to do against an aggressive defense. He has targeted vertical routes on 25% of his attempts against Kansas City.
Where Jackson has fallen short is execution. He has been awful on his deep throws against the Chiefs, completing 3 of 24 attempts on vertical routes (12.5%).
“It’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, and [the Chiefs] do a great job of mixing what they’re doing,” Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said of taking deep shots against the blitz. “But it’s very simple: If they’re all back there, hit them here. If they’re all up here, hit them there. So, if they’re going to do that, you have to make them pay or else they’re going to keep doing it.”
No security blanket: Jackson typically leans on hitting his tight ends over the middle of the field. Since entering the NFL in 2018, he ranks third in QBR (92.0) on throws to tight ends and completes 69% of his passes to them. But against Kansas City, Jackson’s numbers to tight ends plummet: a 62 QBR and a 48% completion rate.
Tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson’s favorite target, has been a nonfactor against the Chiefs. In three games against Kansas City, Andrews has never had more than three catches or 22 yards.
“We’re going to get Mark that ball,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to get Mark that ball. He’s a dynamic player; he makes my job a lot easier. Probably not with three people on him — I’m probably going to go to someone else — but we’re going to try, because that’s my guy, man.”
The Ravens are trying to stop from falling to 0-2 for the first time since 2015, and the odds are stacked further against Jackson because of injuries. He’s already without his top two running backs — J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are out for the season with knee injuries. He could also be without Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who hasn’t practiced this week because of an ankle injury.
Ravens wide receiver Sammy Watkins — who played the previous three seasons in K.C. — was asked whether he could offer any suggestions to Jackson and the Ravens.
“We’ve just honestly got to go out there and fight and battle against some guys that are freaking good,” Watkins said. “That’s going to be the test.”