Three thoughts following Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start

The Baltimore Ravens picked up one of their biggest wins of the season on Sunday by taking down the Cincinnati Bengals 24-21. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and kept the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive as they prepare to enter the final stretch of the season.

Here are three key takeaways from the Ravens fifth win of the year: 

1 Jackson runs wild in first NFL start

You know I had to start with Lamar Jackson. After two weeks of quarterback uncertainty, the Ravens’ first-round rookie was given the opportunity to start his first NFL game. The circumstances were not ideal with Joe Flacco suffering a hip injury, but Jackson made the most of his first real opportunity by leading the offense to a 24-point afternoon and a victory.

Jackson has been involved in the Ravens’ offense throughout the season as a secret weapon of sorts but very rarely has he come through with a big play. That changed on Sunday as Jackson consistently fooled the Bengals defense with the read option. Marty Mornhinweg played to his young quarterback’s strengths and let him carry the ball 27 times. The result was a 117-yard afternoon on the ground for Jackson. Even with a handful of mobile quarterbacks finding a home in the NFL in recent years, none of them have carried the ball this many times in a game.

The former Louisville Cardinal added 150 yards through the air to cap off a solid debut. It would have been an even better afternoon for the rookie had he not thrown an ugly interception at the beginning of the second half but he still rebounded and led the offense to a comeback win.

One of the biggest differences I saw with Jackson under center was the length of drives. It’s no secret that if you run the ball well, you are going to eat up a lot of clock. The Ravens offense ended up running the ball over 50 times this week so it’s no surprise that they won the time of possession battle pretty easily. However, this should not be brushed off as an meaningless stat. By holding the ball for 38 minutes, the Ravens took the ball out of Andy Dalton’s hands and gave the Bengals offense fewer opportunities to go on the attack.

Jackson’s future as a starter this season is still up in the air, but if he does get the chance to start in big games against Kansas City the Los Angeles Chargers, an overwhelming run attack could be the key. It’s hard enough to play defense in today’s NFL so you have to do whatever you can to keep the ball away from guys like Patrick Mahomes and Phillip Rivers.

2. All aboard the Gus bus

The Ravens went into Sunday’s matchup with four active running backs as Ty Montgomery made his debut in purple and black. To the surprise of many fans, Gus Edwards emerged from this group as the leading rusher. The undrafted rookie made his debut off the practice squad earlier this season but made a name for himself this week with 115 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries to help lead the Ravens’ offense.

Marty Mornhinweg has had trouble getting the run game going all year but you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching Sunday’s game. Edwards’ 100+ yard afternoon was accompanied by 117 yards from Jackson, marking the first time since 2012 (Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce) that the Ravens have had two 100-yard rushers in one game.

While Edwards is certainly an unlikely hero, his success alongside Jackson is not a big surprise. While playing for Rutgers as a graduate transfer in 2017, Edwards was utilized heavily in a read option offense similar to the one being used here with Jackson. With that in mind, it makes sense why John Harbaugh and Mornhinweg would give him the majority of snaps.

Both Buck Allen and Montgomery are better utilized in the pass attack, making Alex Collins the only other running back on the depth chart that can carry the ball on a consistent basis. However, Collins’ fumbling troubles make him a liability in the read option where the quarterback and running back have to decide who will carry the ball in a matter of seconds.

3. Defense exorcises their Dalton demons

With all the focus on Jackson and his exciting debut as a starter, the Ravens defense will get lost in the media storm. You would bee a fool to ignore this defensive performance considering it was one of the best for the Ravens all season. With the Bengals’ offense seeking revenge after getting embarrassed at home by the New Orleans Saints, this looked like it could be a rough afternoon for the Ravens who have been slipping on defense in recent games. 

However, the Ravens defense was stout all afternoon and managed to hold a Bengals offense that has given them a lot of trouble to just 255 yards. Wink Martindale’s crew has allowed fewer yards in just two other games this season (Buffalo & Tennessee). In addition to this, the pass rush saw a return to form in Sunday’s win. Only two sacks were recorded but Dalton was rushed into a handful of bad throws after getting heavily pressured.

Overall, it was a rough afternoon for the Bengals quarterback as he completed just 19 of his 36 pass attempts. The absence of A.J. Green certainly had an impact but Dalton failed to deliver the ball to his other receivers on a consistent basis. The Ravens secondary and middle linebackers had good coverage all afternoon and got their hands on a few of Dalton’s off-target throws.

The biggest defensive play came on the final drive of the game when Marlon Humphrey broke up what would have been a huge fourth down conversion for the Bengals. Up until this play, things were feeling eerily similar to the heartbreaking loss in week 17 last year, but Humphrey and the rest of Martindale’s crew avenged that painful loss with a game-winning defensive stand.

Quick Hits:

Image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun

Advertisements

College Park Thriller: Maryland falls 52-51 to #10 Ohio State

College Park — The Terps dropped to 5-6, 3-5 BIG10 after a 52-51 senior day loss at home against the No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes. The Terps jumped out to a fast start, leading 24-17 at the half. Ohio State’s perseverance shined through at the end as the game resulted in a 52-51  overtime loss for the Terps.

In the first quarter, the Terps were rolling. The crowd was fired up as the Terps led 17-3 after the first quarter behind sensational touchdown runs of 81 and 75 yards by Anthony McFarland. All stops were pulled for this team, as Maryland Kicker Joseph Petrino successfully executed a pooch kick which the Terps recovered. Unfortunately, the Terps missed out a golden opportunity as Jeshaun Jones fumbled on the very next play of the game. At the half, the Terps led the Buckeyes 24-17.

In the second half, the Terps continued to churn out yards on the ground as McFarland rumbled for a freshman record of 298 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. McFarland was only six yards short of tying Lamont Jordan’s school record for rushing yards in a single game.

Despite giving up 52 points, the Maryland defense played well enough to win, forcing three turnovers, including a pick-six by RaVon Davis.

The Buckeyes trailed the entire game until overtime, down two touchdowns in the third quarter and trailing 45-38 with under two minutes left. Before battling back behind six touchdowns from Dwayne Haskins. Haskins, a former Maryland verbal commit, was 28-for-38 for 405 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Haskins led a game-tying drive with less than two minutes left which ended with a three-yard touchdown pass to Binjimen Victor.

ZYRKY5HKV4I6RL7R53BJW34SZI.jpgAt the end of regulation, these two teams had racked up nearly 100 points and over 1200 yards. The first possession of overtime ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Haskins. This was the first lead change of the game. The Buckeyes led 52-45 as the Terps took possession. The Terps stayed on the ground with Tayon Fleet-Davis scoring a one-yard rushing touchdown. Coach Matt Canada and staff made a high-stakes gamble to go for two. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome threw a pass that was off-target, missing a wide open Jones in the end zone. The gamble did not pay off as the Terps fell 52-51 in overtime.

Takeaways

  • The Terps should retain Canada as the head coach. Canada has  moved into a new, difficult role at a challenging time. He has been relatively successful, winning five games, and leading one of the most explosives offenses in the nation. He could bring the stability that this program needs.
  • McFarland is going to be an absolute superstar. McFarland is shifty enough to make defenders miss, and has the breakaway speed to leave defenders in the dust. He has broke the freshman single game rushing record twice this season. He broke it against Indiana where he rushed for 210 yards, and again this week against the Buckeyes where he rushed for 298 yards only six yard shy of breaking Lamont Jordans single game record.
  • With just one game let against the #14 Penn State Nittnay Lions next weekend, the Terps are still looking for that sixth win to become bowl eligible. The Lions will certainly bring a near impossible match up at in State College. But if the Terps play like they did against the Buckeyes they will have a good shot to upset the Nittnay Lions.

Three things to watch for as the Ravens return from their bye week to welcome the Bengals

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens will return from their bye week at 4-5 and slotted into the ninth seed in the AFC playoff picture when they welcome the 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals to Baltimore on Sunday at 1:00pm at M&T Bank Stadium.

The bye week is typically a time when teams are able to get healthy, step away from football, and reset their minds for the push for the playoffs. Ideally bye weeks are uneventful but that was not the case for the Ravens.

Last Friday, CBS‘s Jason La Canfora fired off a tweet that launched a cloud of doubt over the Ravens quarterback situation:

That wasn’t it for La Canfora as he reported on Sunday that the Ravens and Head Coach John Harbaugh were heading for a “mutual parting of ways” at season’s end.

The first of these bye week stories for the Ravens has continued to play out this week as the Ravens still have not committed to who will be under center this Sunday against the Bengals. The second of these stories is something that we have expected could be possible for this Ravens team if they once again fail to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

These aren’t ideal ways for the team to be spending their bye week. The Ravens need to be focused on Sunday as they are playing for their season. A loss would put the Ravens at 4-6 and drop their playoff probability to 7.6% per ESPN. A win puts the Ravens’ playoff chances at 43%.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s divisional clash with the Bengals.

1) Who is under center for the Ravens?

It was the biggest story in Baltimore during the bye week and rightfully so. Many fans are ready to hand the keys to the Ravens offense over to the rookie sensation in first round pick Lamar Jackson. They have grown tired of Joe Flacco’s lack of production and are ready to see what Jackson can do. Jackson, however, missed practice on Thursday due to a stomach ailment. We will see if that impacts his chances to start on Sunday.

Others feel that Robert Griffin III gives the Ravens the best chance to win if Flacco is unable to play on Sunday. He has far more experience than Jackson but he has not played in a regular season NFL game since Jan. 1, 2017 when he was under center for the Cleveland Browns’ season-ending loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The long and short of it is this. I do not expect Flacco to play this Sunday against the Bengals. Flacco has been brutal against the Bengals lifetime and I believe that the Ravens are looking to go a different way at quarterback this week. We likely won’t know for sure which quarterback is going to play until the injury reports come out Friday and the inactives come out on Sunday.

It shouldn’t matter who is under center this Sunday. The Bengals’ defense set a modern day NFL record by allowing over 500 yards in three straight games. In that stretch they played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, and New Orleans Saints but 500 yards is 500 yards. The week prior against the Steelers, they surrendered 481 total yards.

The Bengals are last in total defense and pass defense. They are 31st in rush defense and points-per-game allowed. The league average is 361.58. The Bengals are giving up 454.6. Marvin Lewis has taken over the play-calling after defensive coordinator Terryl Austin was fired this week.

Who will be under center for the Ravens this Sunday? It shouldn’t matter. The offense should be able to be productive regardless of which quarterback starts. With that being said my guess is Jackson will get his first NFL start.

Wink-Martindale-Getty-1024x683

The Ravens will go as far as Wink Martindale’s defense will take them this season. Image Credit: Russell Street Report

2) Can the defense regain their form?

Numbers are a funny thing. They can be used to support your point or dispel others. It has often been said that numbers never lie.

The Ravens’ defense is tied for second in total defense, allowing 305 yards-per-game. They allow just 17.8 points-per -game, ranking them second in the NFL.

Furthermore, the Ravens are fourth in third down defense, allowing opponents to convert just 35.2% of their third down opportunities on the season. They are tied for seventh with 28 sacks on the season as well. So why does a defense who ranks top ten in all of these major categories need to regain their form?

It is because these numbers lie. The Ravens’ defense has been marginal at best during the team’s three-game losing streak. Gone are the days of 11-sack games like the one the Ravens had in Tennessee. Over the past three games the Ravens have just two sacks. Opponents are converting 52.4% of their third down opportunities. They are giving up an average of 375 yards-per-game, slightly above the league average.

In other words, while the overall season numbers say otherwise, the Ravens’ defense has become middle of the pack. I said it on the podcast this week and will continue to beat this drum for the rest of the year. The Ravens will go as far as their defense is capable of taking them. They are still the more talented and capable unit in comparison with the offense.

Eric-Weddle-Terrell-Suggs

Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs are among several starters who don’t project to be back next season for the Ravens. Image Credit: Baltimore Feather

The Ravens defense is facing clouds of uncertainty this coming offseason. Veterans like Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs could be looking at retirement or being cap casualties. Linebacker C.J. Mosley will be looking to be compensated as a top five middle linebacker despite rarely looking the part. Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith could also be cut this offseason in moves to help the Ravens save cap space. Za’Darius Smith is in a contract year and could be on his way out of town as well.

With six starters status in flux for next season, now is the time for this defense to rally the troops and put together a dominant month and a half of football to lead this Ravens team to the playoffs.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

Marvin Lewis and the Bengals have had the upper hand on John Harbaugh and the Ravens as of late. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the Ravens get the Cincinnati monkey off their backs?

Remember when everyone used to refer to the football team that plays in Cincinnati as the Bungles? From 1991-2004 the Bengals had 0 winning seasons. They were one of the laughing stocks of the NFL and a team that didn’t merit much consideration when talking about potential playoff teams.

Fast forward to 2018 and the Bengals have been to the playoffs five of the last seven years. Depite not winning a game in the playoffs the Bengals have been able to find the postseason more often than the Ravens in recent times. Cincinnati currently occupies the final playoff spot in the AFC this season to date as well.

The Bengals have owned the Ravens over the last ten matchups, boasting a record 8-2. The only two victories for the Ravens came in the season opener in 2017 when the Ravens blanked the Bengals 20-0 and in the first meeting in 2016 when the Ravens won 19-14. The Ravens had won five of six in the series prior to the Bengals’ recent run of dominance.

usa_today_11238503.0

A.J. Green projects to miss Sunday’s matchup and that will prove large. Image Credit: USA Today

One thing that bodes well for the Ravens Sunday is that Bengals Pro Bowl wide receiver and noted Raven killer A.J. Green figures to miss Sunday’s contest with a toe injury. Green dominated the team’s week two 34-23 Bengals win, tallying five catches for 69 yards and three first half touchdowns.

Joe Mixon is a threat at running back for Cincinnati and we all remember what Tyler Boyd did to the Ravens last season as he snatched their playoff hopes right out of their hands with a 49-yard fourth-and-12 touchdown catch with :44 seconds left at M&T Bank Stadium in the 2017 season finale.

The Ravens desperately need to exorcise their Cincy demons this Sunday and get their playoff chances back on track.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell– Bengals 27 Ravens 24

Nolan McGraw– Bengals 28 Ravens 19

Jay Stavros– Ravens 20 Bengals 17

Ian Schultz– Ravens 23 Bengals 13

The Ravens need to win this game. John Harbaugh needs to win this game. Whether the Ravens choose to part ways with Harbaugh at the end of the season or not is irrelevant. This team believes they can still make one final run to the playoffs. It starts Sunday against the Bengals when Harbaugh improves to 9-2 out of the bye and the Ravens right the ship.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: USA Today