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Ravens LB Roquan Smith on facing Patrick Mahomes: He's an elite QB, but we're an elite defense

All of the buzz regarding the Ravens has understandably revolved around Lamar Jackson, but don't discount Baltimore's defense.

In fact, ahead of the Ravens' AFC Championship Game showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, linebacker Roquan Smith is ensuring no one will overlook the unit, not even with two-time NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes gearing up to face them.

"We all know he's an elite quarterback," Smith told reporters during his Championship Wednesday news conference. "He does everything well. I think personally just his ability to read coverages, extend plays. … He's a great quarterback, we all know that, but so are we on defense."

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Smith isn't wrong. Baltimore finished the 2023 regular season with the NFL's best scoring defense, allowing just 16.5 points per game. They ranked sixth in total defense, third in yards allowed per play, and first in opposing passer rating, rushing touchdowns allowed and sacks.

Those who have paid close attention to the Ravens since Christmas will point out another key observation: They're playing their best defensive football at the perfect time.

"I think it just goes back to guys not being complacent," Smith explained. "Guys being consistent. Day in and day out, and I think it starts with the preparation throughout the week. Each and every guy look themselves in the mirror. I try to tell each and every guy every day, if you give everything that you've got, there's not many people who can do what we can do. I know this defense is really good, and we're going to do everything in our part to show that to the world."

Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deserves a ton of credit for cooking up pressure with unpredictable looks, but the strength of this unit comes down to talent. Acquiring Smith in 2022 was a bold and bountiful move, elevating the linebacking corps and entire defense, and the continued growth of safety Kyle Hamilton has given Baltimore a game-changer in the back end.

They'll need every piece to take down the Chiefs, a traditionally explosive offense that hasn't been the same for much of 2023, but is seemingly finding its stride, finally, in the postseason, scoring 26 and 27 points in two playoff wins. Mahomes has found a rhythm and is once again one of the most fearsome signal-callers in football, making for a tall task for this Ravens defense.

In order to do so, Baltimore is going to have to force Mahomes to look away from his best target, tight end Travis Kelce, a responsibility that will fall on Hamilton's shoulders for the majority of the game.

"He's a great player in our league. He's been a great player for as long as I can remember -- as long I've been watching him at this level," Hamilton said on Wednesday of Kelce. "He's earned every ounce of respect that he's gotten to this point. It's going to be a challenge. I'm part of the plan to hopefully take him away, but it's a team effort at the same time."

They'll also have to find a way to counter Kansas City's strength -- short passes -- while creating the same pressure that helped the Ravens confuse Brock Purdy and suffocate Tua Tagovailoa in the regular season, and neutralize C.J. Stroud in Baltimore's 34-10 Divisional Round win.

Logically, pressure prompts quick releases, playing to Mahomes' strength demonstrated this season. He ranks in the top five in completion percentage, passer rating and passing touchdowns on passes of under 10 air yards, per Next Gen Stats.

If Baltimore is going to dial up pressure, they better play tight coverage in the 2.5-second window to get to Mahomes in order to limit his chances of firing quick darts to Kelce and rookie receiver Rashee Rice underneath.

It's complicated, and we haven't even talked about how running back Isiah Pacheco could affect the game. But for Smith, it's football -- Ravens football, a tough brand known for bullying opposing offenses into submission.

"I don't think it's a graduate level course. I think it's a course that has to be done, and we're going to get it done," Smith said of facing Mahomes. "That's the message. … He puts his pants on just like any other quarterback. He's an elite quarterback, but at the end of the day, we're an elite defense. That's our job: To stop the opposing offense. That's our job, play in and play out. And that's what we've got to do."

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