BALTIMORE - The Ravens' home game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night will provide new insights on the development of this team.
In two previous regular-season meetings with the Chiefs, both on the road, and in playoff matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans, the Ravens lost the game and their identity. They played scared, much like the Cleveland Browns and the Houston Texans did against the Ravens to start this season.
If the Ravens want to make a deep postseason run this year, that will have to change. Simply put, Monday night's game will show whether the Ravens have grown up and if quarterback Lamar Jackson can finally beat rival Patrick Mahomes.
Jackson might also have to prove he is accurate throwing outside the numbers down the field. On defense, the Ravens have steadily improved in the first two weeks, but an old problem resurfaced Sunday when Texans tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins combined for nine catches for 78 yards and one touchdown.
Guess who is coming to town Monday night? Travis Kelce, one of the best receiving tight ends and end zone dancers in the league.
"He's a defending champ," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Mahomes, the 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player and reigning Super Bowl MVP. "He's just been phenomenal in his first three years in the National Football League. We've seen it up-close and personal in two different occasions - at their place the last two years - where he's made some just tremendous plays that have really, in the end, beaten us. So, we have to find a way to stop him and all those weapons they've got. It's going to be a big challenge."
The key will be poise, and whether the Ravens stay in character. In the two previous losses to Kansas City, the Ravens got caught up in trying to keep pace with the Chiefs offensively, which forced them to abandon the running game too early. Against the Titans last year in the divisional round, Jackson threw the ball 59 times in a 28-12 loss.
The shift in offensive strategy resembled the Browns calling a fake punt inside their own territory in the first quarter of the season opener, or the Texans going for it on fourth-and-short in the first 15 minutes of Sunday's game.
After the past two playoff losses, Harbaugh, to his credit, acknowledged that the Ravens should have stuck with their original game plan. Well, we'll see Monday night whether the offensive coaching staff has developed alongside the rest of this team.
Ideally, the Ravens want to pound the Chiefs with the run, keeping Mahomes off the field, and keep Jackson's pass attempts in the 25-30 range. If that strategy fails, the Ravens enter somewhat of a "Twilight Zone," especially if Jackson has to throw the ball all over the field. The Ravens have worked hard to improve their downfield passing attack, but have showed very little in the season's first two games.