KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Preparing to face the Baltimore last week, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid dropped the gauntlet with his big men up front on both sides of the football. The Ravens play with a nasty streak in the trenches, and Reid wanted to see a little more backyard brawling than the team showed the week before in Oakland.
“In games like that when you get two big boys playing each other, it comes down to the big boys,” Reid said. “You have to have the right mindset going in.”
The head coach got the performance he wanted in Sunday's 33-28 win over the Ravens. The offensive line paved the way for 140 yards on the ground while surrendering just a single sack. The defensive line picked up three sacks, but most importantly held Lamar Jackson to just 46 yards on eight carries while pinning him in the pocket most of the game.
"It doesn't have to be pretty,” Reid said. “It's not always pretty, but you've got to fight in there.”
That was the mantra all week long for the linemen.
“Not everything is pretty against a defense like that,” center Austin Reiter said. Left guard Andrew Wylie quickly agreed. “Definitely not. There's some ugly plays, but a win's a win. There's going to be ugly plays every game,” Wylie said.
The goal, according to defensive end Frank Clark, was to make the necessary plays no matter what it looks like on film.
“I say all the time it's not perfect, but if you play the technique enough, you make those plays that you need to win the game,” Clark said.
Reid's emphasis on the line play came one week after the Chiefs clearly lost the battle in the trenches to the Raiders. Oakland out gained the Chiefs 129 to 31 on the ground in Week 2. That showed too little push on the offensive side, not enough on the defensive side.
“Coach Reid put a lot of weight on the O-line's shoulder and the D-line's shoulders to step it up a little bit,” Wylie said.
Early on it looked like the message may not have sunk in all the way. The Chiefs opening drive stalled out, brought to an end when left tackle Cam Erving, filling in for the injured Eric Fisher, allowed a sack to linebacker Matt Judon.
“I had kind of a rough start, just as an offense,” Erving said. “Had to settle into the game a little bit, playing against a good defense. But guys are going to make plays.”
The defense started turning the tide on the Ravens' first possession. Jackson drove his team 84 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive, but the line started establishing its presence. Jackson didn't find many places to run, and the Chiefs forced him to stay in the pocket for a career-high 43 passes. The Ravens did find some running room, gaining 203 yards on the ground. Most of that damage, however, came running away from the teeth of the Chiefs' defense.
“They were working off of the end and in formations where they could do that,” Reid said. “We were inside-conscious on a couple of those and they hit it back outside.”
The Chiefs offensive line started asserting itself on the next drive. Mahomes led the team on a 76-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by LeSean McCoy. McCoy and backfield mate Darrel Williams contributed 39 yards on six touches during the drive.
The effort from both lines helped the Chiefs establish a 23-6 led at halftime. In the second half, it was the defensive line that started showing some breaks. The Ravens ran 78 offensive plays in the game, which left a lot of time for defensive tackle Chris Jones and company chase Jackson around the field.
“A lot of plays, a lot of running around,” Jones said. “A battle. It was everything and that.”
The Ravens doubled teamed Clark and Jones much of the game, a strategy that doesn't bother Clark at all.
“I love the double teams, they got to keep it coming, it just opens up opportunities for my other guys,” Clark said.
The extra attention on Clark and Jones means others on the defensive line get one-on-one matchups. Emmanuel Ogbah has thrived in that environment, ranking second on the team in pressures as the team's top-rated edge rusher according to Pro Football Focus.
“These guys are all in and they’re playing fast,” Reid said. “They practice fast. They want to be the best, that’s what they strive for. You see them hustling, they’re studying extra.”
Yet the Ravens mounted a furious rally in the second half, reeling off 22 points and 294 yards of offense. That included 119 yards on the ground, which frustrated Jones.
“As a defense, you don't like that,” Jones said. “You kind of have to be consistent with it, especially on defense when you got the lead coming out of halftime. You want to put your foot on their throat and just dominate the game right there. I feel like we kind of let them back into the game.”
It was a play from the defensive line, however, that proved pivotal to sealing the win. On third-and-10 from from the Kansas City 16-yard line, Clark picked up his first sack with the Chiefs, snuffing out the Ravens drive. That held Baltimore to a field goal, and helped provide the winning margin.
“We kept getting after it, we kept putting pressure on as the end of the game came,” Clark said. “We put more pressure on (Jackson) to force some mistakes, and we got off the field.”
After the final whistle, players in both position groups sported weary smiles in the locker room.
“We knew they were going to come hard,” Wylie said of the Ravens. “They're a great team. It's a feeling – this is one that's sweet, sweet coming into the locker room after a hard one like this. It's awesome.”
They also took satisfaction in know they met the challenge Reid issued them during the week.
“Glad we could make dad proud,” Wylie said with a grin.
But there was also wariness knowing challenges remain ahead. Next week brings a trip to the surprising undefeated Detroit Lions, who also feature a stout offensive line and a front seven with size.
“We're going to get everybody's best,” Reiter said. “People are always coming for us.”