The Baltimore Ravens will welcome the New York Jets to town on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, looking to put the finishing touches on an AFC North Division crown and move one step closer to locking down home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The 11-2 Ravens clinched a playoff berth last Sunday by gutting out a 24-17 win over the Buffalo Bills. In windy conditions Lamar Jackson went 16-25 with three touchdowns and one interception. Jackson was also able to add 11 carries for 40 yards on the ground in a surprisingly quiet rushing day for the MVP front runner. That was his lowest output on the ground since the Ravens season opening win in Miami.
But Jackson was able to give the Ravens a 10-6 halftime lead before coming out in the second half with the biggest play of the game. Jackson connected with Hayden Hurst, who was filling for an injured Mark Andrews, for a 61 yard touchdown pass:
It was a silencer for a raucous Bills crowd that nearly willed the Bills to a win on Sunday afternoon. However, Jackson injured his quad on the play and has since been limited in practice so far this week. With the short turnaround looming against the Jets on Thursday, Jackson had some fun in explaining the injury:
The Ravens will welcome the 5-8 Jets to Baltimore as the Jets will be looking for their fifth win in six games. They narrowly escaped last week with a 22-21 win over the Miami Dolphins and they are 1-5 on the season away from home.
Here’s what to watch for ahead of Thursday night’s matchup.
1) Who plays and who doesn’t.
Thursday night games bring quick turnarounds and this time of year nearly everyone is banged up in some way. This week will be no different for the Ravens and the Jets.
Jackson has already assured everyone that he is going to play in yesterday’s press conference but it will be interesting to see how much the quad injury limits the Ravens dual threat quarterback. Jackson’s ability to run the RPO style offense is the focal point of the Ravens offense and if he is limited in any way, the offense changes dramatically.
Jackson is not the only Raven ailing heading into Thursday night. Andrews left Sunday’s contest with a knee injury and did not participate in Monday’s walk through. Andrews returned as a limited participant on Tuesday and will likely be listed as questionable when the final injury report is released on Wednesday. The Ravens are deep at tight end and if Andrews isn’t 100% I personally would rest him to get him ready for week 16.
But perhaps the biggest non-participant this week, both literally and figuratively, is Ronnie Stanley, who is currently in the NFL’S concussion protocol. Reserve offensive linemen James Hurst would figure to slide into that slot if Stanley can’t go and that has some fans in a tizzy.
The notion that Jackson should be sat if Stanley can’t play is very over the top in my opinion. There are plenty of options, like Pat Ricard and Nick Boyle, that Greg Roman can utilize to help mask the absence of Stanley.
The Ravens aren’t alone though. Have a look at the Jets injury report:
The biggest storyline to watch is safety Jamal Adams, who is one of the best in the NFL at his position. The Ravens would catch a break if the third year pro-bowler were to miss his second straight contest.
2) Can the Ravens run on a strong Jets rushing defense?
The Ravens are running for 200+ yards per game through 13 games of the season but are coming off of their worst rushing performance so far, a 118 yard showing against the NFL’S 14th ranked rushing defense.
The Jets enter Thursday night as the league’s second best unit surrendering just 78.8 yards per game. But as is the case with stats and numbers, there are some misleading factors in that ranking. Their average opponent rank in rushing offense this season is 19th. They are a good rushing defense, but the three highest ranked units they’ve played (BUF, CLE, DAL) have averaged 110 a game against them.
With Jackson banged up, look for the Ravens to lean on Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards more heavily in the ground game. Ingram is averaging a pedestrian 3.6 yards per carry the last two weeks and Edwards has just ten carries since his back to back big weeks against the Texans and the Rams.
The Ravens have proven that they can pass the ball effectively. They will be taking on a middle of the road pass defense but will need their three headed monster humming along if they want to clinch the AFC North on Thursday night.
3) Keep hunting on defense.
Hidden behind a historic offense and the MVP front-runner in Jackson, the Ravens defense has quietly moved up to sixth in the NFL in total defense, giving up 314.6 yards per game this season.
The rush defense which has been stout all season sits at sixth in the NFL after back-to-back rough weeks against the 49ers and the Bills. It remains to be seen if Le’Veon Bell will be in the Jets backfield on Thursday night, but the Jets have the second worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging just 75.6 yards per game. This is a matchup the Ravens should dominate and if they don’t the cause for concern for the rushing defense should rightfully rise.
The pass defense is ninth in the NFL and continues to get better as the season moves along. Last week it was newest addition Marcus Peters sealing the game with a late pass break up:
That text book pass breakup ended the Bills comeback bid. Since Peters arrived in Baltimore, the Ravens pass defense has really taken off. Here are some splits from pre and post Peters arrival in Baltimore:
Before Peters: 279.5 yards per game, 6 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 13 yards per completion, and 23.3 points per game.
Post Peters: 197.9 yards per game, 5 touchdowns, 6 interceptions (three by Peters including two pick sixes), 9.87 yards per completion, and 13.7 points per game.
To say he has had a huge impact is an understatement. The seven games with Peters have featured matchups with Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Deshaun Watson, and Jared Goff as well so the competition has only stiffened. The continued rise of the secondary has also aided the Ravens pass rush as well. The Ravens have 22 sacks in the seven games with Peters in the fray after registering just 11 sacks in the six games prior.
The other defensive additions have helped but Peters has played at an All-Pro level since arriving in Baltimore, helping to bolster an already strong defense and elevate it to the ranks of the elites.
Jake McDonnell: Ravens 33 Jets 10
Nolan McGraw: Ravens 35 Jets 16
Isaiah Stumpf: Ravens 34 Jets 13
Ian Schultz: Ravens 30 Jets 16
The Ravens have too much for the Jets in this one. Besides advantages on paper, the Ravens have a ton on the line Thursday night. A win clinches the second straight AFC North crown and pushes the Ravens a win away from locking up home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They’ll be partying at the Bank on Thursday night as the Ravens come out on top.
Image Credit: Athlon Sports