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Ravens D-coordinator Pees has own means of success

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Ravens D-coordinator Pees has own means of success

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) When it comes to running the Baltimore Ravens defense, Dean Pees has no regard for history, tradition or statistics.

Pees doesn't give a hoot about following in a long line of brilliant defensive coordinators such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan and Chuck Pagano - all of whom used their work in Baltimore to become NFL head coaches.

Pees couldn't care less about the fact that Baltimore has long relied on defense to win. It doesn't matter to him that from 1996 until this season, the Ravens never allowed the opposition to average more than 4.0 yards per carry, or that Baltimore's run of nine straight seasons in the top 10 for total defense ended under his watch in 2012.

For Pees, all of that is meaningless. Because, in spite of all the injuries he had to deal with this season, the Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl.

So the heck with all those big names that preceded him, and all those impressive numbers they put up. Pees has his own agenda, and it's safe to say there's no arguing with the results.

``I don't really care who was here, how well they did. I don't care how they did statistically. That stuff really means absolutely nothing,'' Pees said. ``I come in here to do the best job that I possibly can. That's it. Every year is a different year. Sometimes you just have a great amount of talent. Some years you go through and you never have any injuries. Some years you go through and you have injuries. My job is to do the best that I can every Sunday. History means nothing.''

The 63-year-old Pees was promoted to defensive coordinator by head coach John Harbaugh in January after Pagano took the head coaching job in Indianapolis. Pees served as linebackers coach for two years with Baltimore after working as defensive coordinator with New England from 2006-09.

The offseason loss of free agents Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, along with injuries to several key players hampered his effort at the outset of this season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs missed the first six games with a torn right Achilles tendon and linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) were lost in a win over Dallas on Oct. 14. Only two players started all 16 games in the regular season, safety Ed Redd and cornerback Cary Williams, making Pees delve deep into the depth chart to keep the defense afloat.

At first, Pees tried to stay the course. Then he realized that it was time to alter the game plan.

``You start realizing that this is not quite the same group of guys that we had a year ago doing the same thing,'' Pees said. ``After we got through the (late-October bye), I think we really changed as a defense, and for the better. Maybe I should have seen that a little earlier, but I didn't.''

The younger players on the defense grew in their roles, and when the Ravens finally got healthy heading into the postseason, Pees showed what he could accomplish with virtually everyone at his disposal. Baltimore held Indianapolis to three field goals in the playoff opener, muffled Peyton Manning in Denver and limited New England to a single touchdown in the AFC title game.

``Dean did a great job transitioning really what is a young defense,'' Harbaugh said. ``When you look at our defense a bit, it's become a young defense. We needed to adjust what we were doing a little bit schematically, and we did that. We got back to playing in a very fundamentally sound way. And it showed up in the way we played defense in the second half of this season.''

Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played for both Ryan and Pees, found no trouble contrasting the two.

``Rex would draw plays in the dirt to get it done. Dean is going to prep and do things well in advance so we can practice it,'' Ayanbadejo said. ``Dean is more of a student of the game than any coach I've ever seen. He tries to find little nuances in offenses that he can take advantage of. I've never quite seen D-coordinators do it that way. Usually they're stuck in their ways, but he comes up with new schemes and new blitzes and ways to attack teams based on little nuances they have.

``He's a self-taught pianist, which shows how intelligent he is. So when he coaches football, he kind of approaches it savant-like, with a different type of mentality. We play the game and it's physical. He plays the game and it's chess.''

Given the Ravens' success this season, and understanding that being a defensive coordinator in Baltimore often is a precursor to a head coaching job, it's quite possible that Pees could one day be asked to take the top job with another team.

Ravens cornerback Corey Harris believes Pees would be good at it.

``He's a pretty laid-back coach, a guy that you would love to play for,'' Harris said. ``He lets the players play and lets you go out there and express your personality and be who you are.''

Pees, however, has no intention of taking on the responsibility that comes with being a head coach.

``I was one in college (at Kent State). They can have that gig all they want,'' he said. ``You become a head coach, you become everything but a coach. Especially in college, you're there speaking to alumni, you're doing all this stuff, you never coach. And, that's not why I got into this profession. I watch head coaches even in this league - there's just so many other hats that you have to wear. I don't want to wear those hats. I want to wear this one right out here on the practice field, call defenses and play ball and have fun with the players.''

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How the Ravens will try to slow down the NFL’s best offense in Kansas City

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How the Ravens will try to slow down the NFL’s best offense in Kansas City

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have got a big problem on their hands. Or, more accurately, they’ve got a bunch of problems to deal with.

The Kansas City Chiefs have, since the beginning of last season, been the NFL’s best offense. With reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, all-pro Travis Kelce at tight end and a seemingly replenishing stable of speedster wide receivers, the offense has been nearly unstoppable.

They’ve scored 34 points per game this year. Mahomes has passed for 821 yards and as a team, they’ve averaged 479 yards each week. 

Now it’s the Ravens turns to get a chance at stopping, or at least slowing down, the NFL’s most vaunted attack.

“World-class tight end, world-class sprinters out there at wide receiver,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “Obviously you’re talking about an offense that averages over 35 points per game last year. It doesn’t look like there’s any drop-off from last year. It’s going to be a great challenge for us.”

The man leading it all, Mahomes, is perhaps the league’s most talented quarterback. He won MVP last season after throwing for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, and just 12 interceptions. 

This season, he’s already ushered in discussions that he could throw for 6,000 yards and 60 touchdowns, which would completely shatter the NFL’s previous records. In his third season, he’s already one of the league’s most feared players.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play – smart guy, big arm, strong arm. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

One of Mahomes most dangerous traits, however, is his ability to throw the ball on the run. With a cannon for an arm, Mahomes is just as dangerous throwing across the field while scrambling as he is while he’s stationary in the pocket. 

In last year’s thrilling Week 14 game, a 27-24 Ravens loss, Mahomes threw his first no-look pass, which caught the eye of the NFL and was one of the highlights of his stellar season. 

Later in the game, with the Ravens up by seven, Mahomes and his offense were faced with a fourth and nine. After Mahomes took the snap, the play broke down and he had to scramble to his right. On the move to his right, he threw the ball across the field nearly 40 yards in the air to Tyreek Hill, who took the ball into the red zone. 

Multiple Ravens players and coaches said they still think about that play and game, even into this season.

“You keep him in the pocket as much as you can,” coach John Harbaugh said. “You make him throw under pressure as much as you can. You cover the guys as well as you can. Then, you play football. That’s what you try to do. If he throws one up down the middle again, hopefully, we’ll get it this time.”

Mahomes’ arm strength is just one of his abilities as a passer, of which there are many. By far, however, that’s what can change a defense the most.

“The thing about Mahomes, is once he scrambles, he’s looking across the field, down the field, he’s not scared to make those type of throws,” safety Earl Thomas said. “Most quarterbacks won’t try that.”

It might be easier to handle Mahomes, however, if he didn’t have a team full out some of the best receiving weapons in the league. 

Unfortunately for the Ravens, he does. 

Even without Tyreek Hill, who is out with a shoulder injury, the Chiefs have been able to replace him with a host of other speedy receivers that both the Jaguars and Raiders weren’t able to figure out.

“Hill runs about a 4.21 40, (and) they put in a guy that runs about a 4.22 40,” Martindale quipped. “They’re fast.”

Sammy Watkins leads the team in receiving with 247 yards and three touchdowns, but the rest of the wideouts are loaded with speed, too. Demarcus Robinson has 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Mecole Hardman has 61 yards (albeit on four receptions) but is as speedy as ever. 

Then, at tight end, Kansas City has perhaps the game’s best tight end in Kelce. He’s got 195 yards and a touchdown this season. 

The receivers and their speed are one thing, but when they can take the top off the defense only to have Kelce under the middle, the Chiefs present a world of problems for opposing defenses.

“He’s just going to be hard to cover,” Harbaugh said of Kelce. “I don’t care what you do, how you cover him, how many guys you put on him – he’s going to be a challenge to cover. You don’t really expect to shut him out. We’re going to try to keep the batting average down just a little bit. I’m sure we’ll throw some different things at him.”

The man calling the shots is Andy Reid, one of the most respected and creative offensive minds to ever stand on the sidelines in the NFL. 

The Chiefs can hurt you through the air and even on the ground. Running back LeSean McCoy has averaged five yards a carry over 20 carries this season, too.

Even with left tackle Eric Fisher out with an injury, it’s hard to find a significant weak part of the offense. And that includes behind the white lines.

“Andy Reid, to me, we’re talking about all these young and innovate offensive coordinators, he’s the grandfather,” Martindale said. “He’s the OG of the innovators of offense. The offense he has in Kansas City, everybody steals from. He’s the king of the RPO, he’s the king of the shots, he’s the king of the screens. I think we’re just the men for the job, but it’s a tough out.”

The Ravens think they can be that out for the Chiefs. They added Earl Thomas in the secondary in the offseason, and even with Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young sidelined, still boast one of the top units in the NFL.

And not only are the Ravens prepared to stop the Chiefs explosive offense, they’re confident, too.

“Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end,” Thomas said. “I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

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Ravens prepare to head to Kansas City with last year’s gut-punch still in mind

Ravens prepare to head to Kansas City with last year’s gut-punch still in mind

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson remembers last year’s trip to Kansas City. He doesn’t want to. 

In a 27-24 overtime defeat, Jackson suffered the only regular season loss of his career. The two teams never played again, as the Ravens lost in the Wild Card round to the Chargers. 

There’s been significant changes for both teams since then, but Jackson hasn’t forgotten the feeling he left Kansas City with. 

“It’s still with me right now,” Jackson explained. “It doesn’t go away until I get that opportunity again and perform very well.”

Last year, Jackson was in his fourth start in the NFL when the Ravens went into Arrowhead Stadium and nearly knocked off the AFC’s top seed. 

This year, the Ravens have no good feelings about how that game went, despite the development that aided a young roster. 

“That was a big-time game, kind of a nail-biter game,” Mark Andrews said. “A lot of guys kind of grew up in that game. I think Lamar [Jackson] being able to play a tight game like that was big for his growth. It’s one of those games that I don’t think a lot of people have forgotten to this day.”

As for changes that can be taken from the game, there’s not much benefit to that. 

The Chiefs have multiple new starters on their defense compared to last year and a new defensive coordinator. Tyreek Hill won’t be in this year’s iteration of the game due to a shoulder injury, but they’ve replaced him with other incredibly talented and speedy wideouts. 

And there’s reason to believe that, at least through two weeks, Patrick Mahomes might even be better than he was a year ago.

“Our guys have been in the stadium,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’ve been in that tiny little locker room before. They’ve been on that field. They’ve stayed in that hotel. All of those things are pluses. We played a good game, but we didn’t win. That’s motivation also.”

Last season’s loss wasn’t just a typical loss, either. 

Baltimore entered at 7-5 and were in a chase for a playoff spot. And with just under five minutes left, its chances looked good. 

But Mahomes completed a long, incredible pass on fourth and nine from the his own territory to set the Chiefs up with first down. A few plays later, on another fourth down, the Chiefs converted to tie the game at 24. They later won in overtime 27-24.

Some Ravens won’t admit it, but there’s lessons to be learned in that loss. 

“I think when you’re a young player and you’re in that environment — that hostile, on the road environment — … Kansas City has a great home crowd and they’re extremely loud,” Marshal Yanda said. “So yes, I think that those loud games for young players are important. He should be able to build from that.”

Sunday’s matchup, between two of the league’s top teams, has the potential to be one of the season’s top games once again. The Ravens will undoubtedly take lessons from last year’s wild finish in Kansas City.

They just hope it ends better than last time. 

“They’re a really good team and we want to perform our best,” Matt Skura said. “We know they went far in the playoffs last year and this year they obviously want to make a run. We want to show people that our offense, and our offensive line, can handle the so-called powerhouse of the Kansas City Chiefs. This is a huge game for us and we want to showcase our best abilities.”

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