Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs

The Baltimore Ravens sit at 7-5 on the season and will head to Kansas City this weekend to take on the 10-2 AFC-leading Chiefs this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium at 1:00pm.

It was again Lamar Jackson at quarterback last week for the Ravens in Atlanta and despite his worst performance as the starter to-date, the Ravens were able to come away with a 26-16 triumph and maintain their hold on the final playoff spot in the AFC postseason bracket.

Jackson was just 12-of-21 passing the ball Sunday for 125 yards while adding another 75 yards rushing and a touchdown run. He was inaccurate throughout and put the ball on the turf three times, including a fumble that led to a 74-yard return touchdown by Vic Beasley Jr. which gave the Falcons a 10-7 lead. John Harbaugh continued to be cryptic after the game about the quarterback situation while Terrell Suggs added his sentiments:

The Ravens are 3-0 in Jackson’s three starts but the competition ramps up this week as they take on a Chiefs team that moved to 10-2 last week with a 40-33 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest.

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Lamar Jackson picked up his third rushing touchdown of the season Sunday in Atlanta. Image Credit: Kansas City Star

1) Can Lamar Jackson step up in his biggest test to-date?

Did you guys know Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as a starter in the NFL? Three straight wins in the NFL is nothing to talk down on but let’s break this down a little bit.

Jackson is 39-for-65 over the last three weeks and has thrown one passing touchdown to three interceptions. On the ground he has added in 54 carries for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He has also added five fumbles (one lost) in the last three weeks as well.

He has compiled these numbers against the NFL’s 32nd, 28th, and 26th ranked defenses respectively in Cincinnati, Oakland, and Atlanta. Jackson has been at the helm for just five touchdown drives in his three starts. Yet graphics are circulating like the one below:

And here is the perfectly appropriate response to this hogwash:

I have taken a lot of flack on social media the past few days regarding my lack of excitement for Jackson. Looking at these stats, what exactly is impressive?

Listen, Jackson has energized a rushing attack that was among the worst in the league prior to his insertion into the starting lineup. The Ravens now rank tied for seventh in rushing yards-per-game (129.2) thanks to Jackson and Gus Edwards leading the charge in piling up 716 yards on the ground the last three games.

A lot of attention has been paid to their time of possession advantage the last three weeks (112 minutes to 68 minutes) and that attention is deserved. It has helped keep the defense fresh and as a result they have been able to put teams away with late game-clinching touchdowns each of the last two weeks.

Luckily for Jackson, he runs into the NFL’S 31st-ranked defense this Sunday. It should present an opportunity for his biggest game yet in what promises to be a rocking Arrowhead Stadium.

The Ravens will need Jackson to be at his best if they want to keep pace with the NFL’s best offense.

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The Ravens will have their hands full with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill who are both over 1,000 yards receiving in just 12 weeks. Image Credit: AP

2) So about that Chiefs offense…..

In doing some research the last few days regarding the Chiefs offense, I can confidently tell you that they are every bit as good as advertised.

They are first in points-per-game at 37.0, third in yards-per-game with 437.2, third in passing yards-per-game, and fourth in third down conversion percentage. They have been held to under 30 points in just two of their 12 games so far this season. They did, however, win both of those contests. For comparison sake, the Ravens have scored 30+ in just two of their 12 contests. In Kansas City’s only two losses their opponents needed 51 and 43 points to beat them.

The moral of the story is that it is going to take 30 points or more to win this game. There’s been a ton of talk given to the importance of time of possession this Sunday and while I feel that can be an effective way to slow down a high-flying offense, consider this. The Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle in eight of their 12 games this season, including their two losses. It doesn’t seem to matter that they rarely win the tome of possession battle.

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MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes puts up points in a hurry. Image Credit: USA Today

Furthermore, the Chiefs have 36 touchdown drives spanning four minutes or less this season. 27 of those lasted three minutes or less. They have a total of 63 plays this season that have gone at least 20 yards. This offense is explosive. It doesn’t need much time to find pay dirt.

The Ravens will catch a break, albeit for an awful reason in that running back Kareem Hunt is no longer a Kansas City Chief after his incident went viral last Friday. But the rest of the gang is still there in MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who will be looking to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season, and tight end Travis Kelce who just torched Oakland with 12 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

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The Ravens secondary will be looking for another big week. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense has been stellar since the bye week. Their best game of the season was last week when they shut down a Falcons offense that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. Marlon Humphrey appears to be a budding star. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young held their own last week too. But remember that was a Falcons offense that hasn’t cracked the 20-point plateau since November 4th.

The Chiefs fewest point total all year is 26. The Ravens best defensive performance of the season likely holds Kansas City to 27. Their worst performance could lead the Ravens to needing 40 or more points to win. Let’s hope the defense can keep it close on Sunday.

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We’ll see if Lamar Jackson is jumping for joy this Sunday against a KC defense that ranks second in sacks. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Is the Chiefs defense really that bad?

The numbers up there in bullet point one are pretty ugly so you’re probably thinking “What the hell is Ian talking about?”

And to a certain extent you’d be right. But the Chiefs have two pass rushers who are over 10 sacks each this season in Dee Ford (10.5) and Chris Jones (10). They have helped the Chiefs pass rush group to the NFL’s second-highest sack total at 39 for the year. The Chiefs are also in the top 10 in turnover differential at +10 on the season.

As a reminder, Jackson has four turnovers in three starts and has also put the ball on the ground an additional four times but was able to recover. So while the Kansas City defense may give up a ton of yards and a ton of points, they get to the quarterback and have forced 20 takeaways on the season. This could loom large against a turnover-happy rookie who could be dealing with a banged up offensive line.

The Chiefs could also get a boost this week if All-Pro saftey Eric Berry returns to the Kansas City defensive backfield. He returned to practice last week but was inactive against the Raiders. He is the heart and soul of their defense and he has been working back from a week one ruptured Achilles. His return this Sunday would be a plus for the Chiefs.

So yes the Chiefs defense is still bad. But it is opportunistic and can be a handful in pass protection. Jackson will need to protect the ball Sunday for the Ravens to have a chance.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell: Chiefs 30 Ravens 27

Nolan McGraw: Chiefs 28 Ravens 23

Jay Stavros: Chiefs 35 Ravens 20

Ian Schultz: Chiefs 31 Ravens 19

This Ravens defense has played very well since the bye week and is coming off their best performance of the season. None of that will matter as they take on a Chiefs offense that averages 37 points-per -game. The Ravens will keep them under this number and dominate the time of possession offensively, but they won’t be able to match the Chiefs potent attack.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: USA Today

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Reports: Terps Football set to hire Alabama Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley as next Head Coach

COLLEGE PARK, MD — Late Tuesday night, Brett McMurphy reported that the University of Maryland football program is going to hire current Alabama Offensive Coordinator Mike Locksley to be their next head football coach. Locksley said the following:

Per reports, Locksley has signed a five-year deal with an option for an additional year with Maryland. He will earn roughly $2.5 million annually. Locksley will return to Maryland after a three -year stint with the Crimson Tide with his first year coming as an offensive assistant and his past two seasons as their offensive coordinator. Alabama’s offense ranks second in the country this season, averaging 47.9 points-per-game. They also rank seventh in yards-per-game as well. Locksley was recently awarded the Broyles Award handed out to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Locksley was a no-brainer type hire for a Terrapins program searching for the right man to lead it after the Jordan McNair scandal rocked College Park this summer. Interim Head Coach Matt Canada did a nice job this season keeping the Terps competitivie and the team together in what had to be the most trying football season of these young men’s lives.

But the issue with hanging onto Canada as the potential full-time head coach was that he was present during the entire McNair saga. And while he had nothing to do with the incident or its aftermath, the necessity to remove all parts of the program that were present at the time of the scandal outweighed Canada’s contributions to the program.

Locksley will return to Maryland for his third stint with the program. He started with the Terrapins in 1997 when he was the running backs coach and remained with the program from 1998-2002 in that same role.  He had stops at Florida as a running backs coach and running game coordinator as well as a run as offensive coordinator at Illinois from 2005-2008.

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Mike Locksley has a great coaching background. Just don’t ask anyone at New Mexico where Locksley was 2-26 as Head Coach. Image Credit: One Bronco Nation

Locksley then became the head coach at New Mexico and his tenure there was rocky to say the least. While amassing a record of 2-26 in three seasons at the helm, there were also two minor scandals that clouded his tenure. In May 2009 a former administrative assistant accused Locksley of subjecting her to age and sexual discrimination but the claims were later withdrawn.

The second incident occurred in September 2009 when he was reprimanded for having an altercation with an assistant coach. Locksley was suspended without pay following the incident. He returned to Maryland in 2012 and was the OC and QB coach until 2015 when he became the interim head coach for Maryland’s last six games of the 2015 seasons compiling a record of 1-5.

Locksley is coming back to Maryland after a successful tenure as the Alabama OC. But why would Maryland want to bring in a head coach that has two prior incidents in his head coaching tenure and a 3-31 career record?

Locksley is Washington D.C. native and knows this Maryland football program very well. He knows the DMV area talent as well as anyone on the college football scene. He was heavily involved in the recruitment of recent DMV prep stars Stefon Diggs and Dwayne Haskins. The DMV area is one of the top 10 areas in the country for high school football recruiting and Locksley has continued his relationships with key players and coaches in this area throughout his tenure at Alabama.

The hire is earning rave reviews:

While there are no guarantees that Maryland picked the right guy to lead their football program moving forward, it seems as if the court of public opinion is confident that Locksley can get the Terps heading the right direction.

Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons

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.

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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.

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Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith will be tested early and often in Atlanta Sunday. Image Credit: Purple Reign Show

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.

They also have Tevin Coleman at running back who averages over four yards-per-carry and is also a threat of the backfield. Austin Hooper at tight end is a consistent threat over the middle too.

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.

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John Harbaugh and the Ravens desperately need a road win this Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Desperation

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.

Predictions:

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.

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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun