Sunday Night Is Really About Jackson vs. Mathieu

Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff (USA TODAY Sports)

The National Football League had a successful start to the year. Thursday Night had the perfect opener with a classic duel between Dak Prescott and Tom Brady. The Monday Night game was an overtime thriller with late-game drama out in Vegas. And plenty of the league’s young quarterbacks  — like Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrows, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, and Kyler Murray — all won big games during the day.

However, the SNF game ended up turning into a blowout of the Los Angeles Rams over the Chicago Bears; meanwhile, everyone in the Windy City is still sitting and waiting for Justin Fields to take over the reins of the franchise. So it’s moderately unsurprising that last week’s first SNF Game of the year closed with a ratings decrease of four percent.

Football fans aren’t going to want to miss next week’s Sunday Night game, though.

Next week the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the Baltimore Ravens for the fourth consecutive year. The late-night matchup of Mahomes vs. Jackson figures to draw more eyes, and Lamar is hoping to get his first victory against the Chiefs. It will be business as usual for Kansas City against a formidable AFC opponent, but watch out for Baltimore’s MVP quarterback looking to exact revenge on a Chiefs team that has pushed him around the last few meetings.

Most of the hype for next week’s SNF game will most likely be “Lamar Jackson vs. Patrick Mahomes,”  but the more critical matchup to keep an eye on during the game is actually “Lamar Jackson vs. Tyrann Mathieu.”

Lamar Jackson and the Ravens lost a challenging game against Mahomes and the Chiefs in Week 3 of the last season. Kansas City’s defense held Lamar to fewer than 100 yards passing, fewer than 100 yards rushing, a 53.6 QBR, and forced him into two turnovers (via ESPN Stats & Information). However, Baltimore won four of their next five games following that loss, highlighted by Jackson’s three-touchdown performance in a bounce-back game the following week against Washington.

The Chiefs now go into Baltimore on the heels of the Ravens losing another tough game, a 33-27 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football. Lamar can still run all day, he had a game-high 86 rushing yards, and the zone-run game is still very effective. But Baltimore is coming out of a rocky preseason and is hampered by injuries that have depleted their running back, cornerback, and offensive line depth.

A new face will also be on Baltimore’s roster. Sammy Watkins will be facing Kansas City for the first time since leaving the team in free agency last year.

The Chiefs should enter this game with an offense rolling on all cylinders, with Mahomes and friends all playing strong out of the gate. Kansas City is going against a Ravens defense that has already lost Marcus Peters to injured reserve and could be without one or both of their two next-best cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith, and Marlon Humphrey. But the Chiefs’ defense will also have their hands full with Baltimore, but they hopefully have reinforcements coming.

Tyrann Mathieu will make his season debut for the Chiefs. After missing nearly two weeks of practice due to COVID-19, Kansas City’s star safety was held out from the season opener by Andy Reid and the rest of the coaching staff, despite being activated before the start of the game.

The Chiefs are also banking on Frank Clark returning to their defensive front for Week 2, but the Honey Badger’s return plays a much bigger impact. Matthieu was First-Team All-Pro last year and is still the primary ball-hawk (six interceptions and one fumble recovery) for Kansas City’s defense.

Zero sacks last season is something the Honey Badger can surely improve on this year. But even if Mathieu doesn’t end the night with a box score full of sacks and takeaways, his ability to be a spy on the Ravens backfield and keep an eye on the lightning-fast quarterback could be the difference in the game.

Mathieu is also a defensive game-changer as a lockdown safety, marooning centerfield and directing traffic for the secondary. He is being tested early on this season by how much he can stay on the field covering guys like Watkins and Hollywood Brown while also being the backstop, keeping Lamar Jackson from breaking big runs down the field.

Giving Lamar and the Ravens the underneath throws will be easier to swallow as a defense at this early point in the season because Baltimore is down to their third- and fourth-string running backs catching passes out of the backfield — although Latavius Murray did a solid job in Week 1. Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson have yet to find their rhythm after missing reps in the shortened preseason.

But deep passes down the field from outside the pocket hurt the defense even more so, and this is where Mathieu is an immediate upgrade for a Kansas City defense that gave up 62 offensive plays of 20-plus yards, placing them in the bottom third of the league last year.

Many more will come to watch this week’s Sunday night game this week because the face off between Kansas City and Baltimore could be a future playoff matchup we’re all dying to see.  Plenty will come for the mighty clash of the 2018 MVP vs. the 2019 MVP, but the outcome of this intriguing game will hinge on the Chiefs’ Honey Badger hunting down Baltimore’s best Raven.

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Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff (USA TODAY Sports)

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