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A view from the other side: A Q&A with a Kansas City Chiefs columnist

A view from the other side: A Q&A with a Kansas City Chiefs columnist

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ahead of the Ravens and Chiefs game this Sunday, NBC Sports Washington reached out to Sam Mellinger, a columnist for The Kansas City Star. 

Here’s what Mellinger and the Chiefs are saying about this week’s game between two 2-0 opponents in a rematch of last year’s thrilling 27-24 overtime finish. 

Note: Mellinger’s answers were over email.

Q: The Ravens have mentioned that last year's wild overtime finish has been somewhat of a learning experience for them. Have the Chiefs said the same? Or is there no carryover from year-to-year?

A: That game has been talked about a lot here. It's still Patrick Mahomes' only game under 26 points in regulation. There are a dozen different moments that had to go the Chiefs' way to win that one, even beyond the 4th and 9 that everyone talks about. The carryover is probably less of a thing for the defense than offense, just because that side of the ball has been almost completely overhauled.

Q: Lamar Jackson has been one of the league's most impressive quarterbacks so far this season — what have the Chiefs and their coaches said about his progression from year 1 to year 2? 

A: The Chiefs are always complimentary of their opponents. They could play the Dolphins this year and Andy Reid would talk about being excited for the challenge of playing a good football team with good players and good coaches. That's just how they go. But we all have b.s. detecters, right? And the talk is more sincere this week. Jackson and the Ravens do a lot of things well that match up against what the Chiefs don't do well. Jackson is a problem for everyone, but particularly for the Chiefs. Their improved speed at linebacker and rookie safety Juan Thornhill will be especially tested this weekend.

Q: There's been a lot made of Mahomes' progression in his second year, has that been discussed by the Chiefs in what to expect from Jackson this week?

A: The connection with Mahomes hasn't come up specifically, unless I've missed something, but yeah they've talked about Jackson looking more comfortable and advanced this year than last, which I believe was just his fourth start.

Q: In terms of defending the run and pass from Jackson, what have the Chiefs stressed as difficulties in defending both? What are the keys to that? 

A: They don't reveal a lot beyond cliches, but basically the Chiefs are going to need to set the edge, stay disciplined, and perhaps even put one of their faster linebackers or even a safety as a spy against Jackson. The Chiefs have been pretty terrible defending the run for some time now. The Ravens could have a lot of success there.

Q: The Ravens have one of the better secondaries in the NFL, how do you see the matchup between all of the Chiefs weapons and the Ravens secondary playing out?

A: The Chiefs have enough weapons and the right quarterback and a scheme that once allowed Alex Smith to lead the league in passer rating, so the stock answer is that this offense is too much of a problem for any secondary. But the answer this week is a little different, I think, because the Chiefs won't have Tyreek Hill and the Ravens signed Earl Thomas. That matters. A lot. Thomas is a Hall of Famer still relatively close to his peak, and his ability as a sort of center fielder — both his range and mind — could cut the top off some of what the Chiefs want to do. The combination of Mahomes' arm strength and Hill's speed often stretches defenses past the point of recognition, but that part of the game will be in closer balance now.

Q: What's a particular matchup (position or individual) that you're interested in seeing on Sunday?

A: I think we all tend to think of these things through the lens of the team we follow the closest, but the two that come first to mind are Cam Irving and Juan Thornhill. Irving will start at left tackle for the injured Eric Fisher. Irving is a representative lineman — they're not pushing a practice squad guy out there — but he got trucked in the run game last week against the Raiders. The Ravens are tough and physical and disguise their blitzes really well, so that could be a particular problem for a Chiefs team without their starting left tackle and (likely) at least one of their two top running backs.

Thornhill is sort of the Chiefs' version of what we were just talking about with Earl Thomas. Thornhill is obviously not in Thomas' class, I'm not saying that, but he's a similar profile: center fielder type of a safety with length and athleticism. Hollywood Brown with more comfort from Jackson in the pass game will stretch the field more than the last time these teams played. The Chiefs' corners are inconsistent, and can be had. Thornhill will be relied upon.

Q: If you had to put a prediction on the game, what would that be?

A: I did picks before the season, and this is one of three games I had the Chiefs losing. I'll stick with that. The Ravens look like the best team the Chiefs will play this season other than the Patriots, and like I mentioned before, a lot of the things they do well are particular problems for the Chiefs. I know the line is close to a touchdown, and I guess I can understand why, but I'm expecting this to be a really hard game for the Chiefs. The Ravens beat Mahomes up last year more than anyone else has been able to, and now the Chiefs are down a lineman and short on running backs for pass protection. No outcome would be surprising other than a blowout either way, but I think the Ravens can get this one.

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Bengals tried to prepare for Lamar Jackson by having Andy Dalton emulate him in practice

Bengals tried to prepare for Lamar Jackson by having Andy Dalton emulate him in practice

Disgruntled or not, Andy Dalton is a team player.

The Cincinnati Bengals benched their starting quarterback last week in favor of rookie Ryan Finley after the team stumbled out to an 0-8 start with Dalton under center.

It was a humbling move for the nine-year veteran. But despite reportedly being unhappy with the team’s decision, Dalton has taken the benching in stride—even to the point of being willing to emulate the Bengals’ opposing quarterback on the scout team.

Ahead of their Week 10 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals tasked Dalton with adopting Lamar Jackson’s run-heavy style of play in practice, according to Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson.

Dalton has never rushed for more than 200 yards in a season during his NFL career, but did gain over 1,600 yards on the ground over his four years at TCU.

The Ravens went on to win 49-13, with Jackson posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3 along with 223 yards passing, 65 yards rushing and four total touchdowns.

As much as Dalton might have tried, it’s been tough for anyone to replicate the success Jackson—an MVP candidate—has been having this season. Maybe he’ll have better luck taking a page out of Derek Carr’s book before Cincinnati faces the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

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Ravens new defensive line additions Justin Ellis and Domata Peko ready to make impact

Ravens new defensive line additions Justin Ellis and Domata Peko ready to make impact

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Domata Peko thought he had blown his shot to play on the Ravens. 

Peko was brought in for a workout with the Ravens a few weeks ago, and offered a contract, but he turned the offer down and said the move wasn’t right for him.

Just a few weeks later, however, another situation arose with the Ravens and he jumped at the opportunity to sign in Baltimore.

“It went really well, I had an offer, but it wasn’t the right one for me,” Peko explained. “Big shoutout to the people upstairs, Eric did a great job communicating with my agency and they called me two days ago. We were able to get it done.”

The Ravens brought in Peko and another defensive tackle, Justin Ellis, after the team put Daylon Mack on IR and waived Ufomba Kamalu as well. With Michael Pierce’s ankle injury, the defensive line suddenly need a jolt of run-stopping ability.

A 14-year veteran, Peko played for the Bengals for 11 seasons before heading to the Broncos for two seasons. He hasn’t played on a team this year, but feels confident he can help the Ravens’ run defense right away.

“Coaching my son’s football team and doing individual drills with them, that’s how I was kind of staying in shape,” Peko said. “I’m super excited to be here in Baltimore and make a run. That’s why I’m here, to help the defense out and to do my job. As a 14-year-vet, as a nose-man, I feel like I can come right in and do my job and do my part to help us win.”

Peko is in a unique situation, however, having been apart of so many successful Bengals teams for the majority of his career. He’s been in the trenches with Ravens guard Marshal Yanda before, only on the other side. 

Now, he’ll try and help the team he played against for so many years make a push for a championship in the final weeks of the season.

“It does feel weird, playing with the Bengals for 11 seasons and playing up here, playing these guys twice a year,” Peko said. “It does feel a little bit weird, but I’m excited to put this purple and black on. I think I’ll look pretty good in it on Sunday.”

The other addition, Ellis, came from Oakland where he spent the previous five seasons. At 6-foot-2, 350-pound behemoth up front specializes in stopping the run. 

His opportunity came due to his release from the Raiders in October. 

“I’ve kind of been just focused on what’s in front of me,” Ellis said. “When I got the call, my agent thought it was a great opportunity.”

Coach John Harbaugh mentioned their “stout, physical ability,” which was one of the reasons the team added them on. Pierce’s unknown status didn’t hurt, either. Ellis and Peko will likely be big contributors moving forward, should Pierce be absent for any amount of time. 

With other defenders having made significant impacts early on like Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and Marcus Peters, there’s hope that Peko and Ellis will be able to solidify a defensive line that suddenly is banged up.

“I’ve been just patiently waiting and anticipating the call,” Peko said. “Now that I got the call, I’m here, ready to work and ready to get after it and ready to show Baltimore what I can bring to the table.”

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