The Baltimore Ravens sit at 6-5 with five games remaining on the season. They are currently sitting in the final playoff spot in a crowded AFC Wild Card race. They will be looking to extend their winning streak to three straight when they head to Atlanta to take on the 4-7 Falcons Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 1:00pm.
Lamar Jackson was under center for the second consecutive week for injured veteran starting quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens were able to take down the Oakland Raiders 34-17. Jackson was 14-of-25 for 178 yards with a touchdown and two tip drill-type interceptions. He also added 11 carries for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.
The Ravens got a big game from pass rusher Matt Judon who picked up three sacks on the afternoon including a huge strip sack that was recovered by Terrell Suggs and taken back for the game-clinching touchdown.
Suggs showed impressive speed down the sidelines after he was unable to find anyone to pitch the ball too. It was Suggs’ first touchdown in 10 seasons. He had this to say after the game:
So the Ravens will head to Atlanta this Sunday hoping to extend their winning streak against a Falcons team that has followed three straight wins with three straight losses. They sit at 4-7, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for last place in the NFC South.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of another big game for the Ravens.
1) How does Lamar Jackson look in his first road start?
Jackson is 2-0. That’s great news for the Ravens who have been without Flacco for the last two weeks and it looks like Flacco will miss Sunday’s contest against the Falcons. Flacco has yet to be medically cleared to practice and it would be difficult to envision a scenario where he is out there this Sunday.
Jackson is 27-of-44 for 328 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions through the air. He has also added 37 carries for 190 yards and a rushing touchdown. Jackson has done so against the NFL’S 32nd and 26th ranked total defenses in the Bengals and the Raiders respectively.
He has helped spark a running game along with fellow rookie Gus Edwards. The Ravens have rushed for 509 yards in Jackson’s two starts and had rushed for just 834 yards prior to Jackson’s arrival in the starting lineup.
What has impressed me most about Jackson is his calmness in the pocket. I mentioned this last week but he really does have a presence about him in the pocket that I didn’t expect to see, especially not this early. He seems like he has a great attitude and is consistently looking for ways to get better. He also doesn’t seem to have a sense of entitlement to the job either.
I am not a Lamar Jackson fan. I didn’t like the pick at the time as I didn’t feel it was a position of need. I think that his limitations in the short and intermediate passing games will make it extremely difficult for him to be successful long term in the NFL. The long ball, however, seems to be a strength:
With my dislike for the Jackson pick aside, I can admit that he looks significantly more polished than I expected him to.
But playing on the road is a different beast in the NFL. The Falcons will be a more rested unit than the Ravens, having lost on Thanksgiving night to the New Orleans Saints. And while the Ravens think they have the Falcons game-planning for two quarterbacks, I would think that Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and his staff are able to read between the lines here and spend most of their time planning for Jackson.
Many Ravens fans think that this team still has a shot at the playoffs (myself included). A win Sunday with Jackson under center would be a huge step in the right direction.
2) Can the Ravens slow down the Falcons offense?
While they have tapered off a bit, the Falcons rank seventh in the NFL in total offense, fourth in passing offense, and 11th in points-per-game.
They are going to pose a significantly larger challenge to the Ravens defense than the Bengals and Raiders did. Their wide receivers are among the NFL’s best in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohammed Sanu. Any of these three guys would represent the Ravens’ best pass catching option.
Matt Ryan is having another All-Pro caliber season despite failing to lead the Falcons to a winning record. Ryan has 3,683 yards passing and has added 24 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Despite their three-game losing streak, Ryan has thrown five touchdowns to two interceptions in those contests.
This is a big test for the NFL’s top ranked defense (LOL no really look it up). One welcomed sign last week for the Ravens was the emergence of Judon along the pass rush. Throughout much of the offseason, we heard about what a huge season that Judon was in store for. He found himself on preseason watch lists and Judon himself declared he wanted to lead the league in sacks.
These were the Ravens’ only three sacks of the day and they will need the pass rushing group to be big this Sunday against the Falcons. As good as the Ravens’ secondary can be, if the pass rush fails to get pressure on Ryan, the Falcons wideouts will run wild on the Ravens.
Another stat to watch for: The Falcons haven’t scored 20+ points since a week nine win over the Washington Redskins. If that trend continues, the Ravens might be able to sneak out of at Atlanta with a key road win.
The Ravens are currently the #6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. They will need to continue their winning ways in order to remain there.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Ravens after this week’s matchup in Atlanta. The Ravens are 6-5 and will likely need nine wins to be in the conversation for the last Wildcard spot when the final horn on the 2018 season sounds.
Of their three remaining road games, this one projects to be “the most winnable” on paper. The Ravens travel to Kansas City next week to take on the Chiefs (#1 seed in the AFC) before their final road contest against the 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers (#5 seed) in week 16.
Assuming the Ravens come up short in both of those contests, they would need this road win and wins in their two remaining home games to make the playoffs. Their opponents are the Tampa Bay Bucs, who boast the number one offense in the NFL, and the Cleveland Browns, who are looking more and more dangerous by the week. Those two games will not be gimmies either.
The Ravens need to win this game far more than the Falcons need to win this game. They’ll need to prove that this Sunday.
Jake McDonnell– Falcons 27 Ravens 24
Nolan McGraw– Ravens 24 Falcons 21
Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Falcons 20
Ian Schultz– Falcons 27 Ravens 10
While the Falcons have struggled offensively the past three weeks, I cannot see this Ravens defense being able to effectively shut them down. While they might be able to slow them down enough to keep the Ravens competitive, Jackson and the offense will struggle throughout and the Ravens will find themselves at 6-6 heading to Kansas City.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun