Podcast Episode 32: The Ravens are AFC North champions

Welcome to Episode 32 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of the show, we revisit the Ravens 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns (4:40). As always, we tell you Who’s Trending (26:15) and go over some things to watch for in the Ravens upcoming Wild Card game against the Chargers (38:15).

In addition to the Ravens game, we gave a quick break down of the other three wild card games and some predictions for who we think will win (48:07). Be on the lookout for some more in depth articles on charmcitybirdwatch.com throughout the playoffs where all of our authors will give their official predictions as each round arrives.

Before getting into the weekly numbers segment (1:05:40) we had to take a moment to appreciate the Steelers meltdown following their elimination from playoff contention (57:40). Jake, Nolan, and Ian all give their opinion on the Antonio Brown situation and his heated exchange with Ben Roethlisberger.

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Happy New Year and thanks for listening!

Image credit: Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press

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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 one sack was 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

Five thoughts from Ravens frustrating 12-9 loss in Cleveland

After picking up their biggest win of the season this past Sunday in Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens played their ugliest game of the season in Cleveland and lost to the Browns for the first time since 2015.

A lot if crazy and questionable stuff happened leading up the Browns’ 12-9 win, but here are my five key takeaways.

1. Worst game of the year for Ravens offense

There was nothing good about the offense’s performance on Sunday and it all starts with Joe Flacco. The veteran quarterback threw the ball 56 times and failed to reach the 300-yard threshold. Throw in an ugly interception and it was easily the worst game of the year for Flacco. I don’t care if the interception was tipped by a defender. The ball should have never been thrown in the first place since Flacco’s intended target was double covered.

While Flacco did not have his best game, the blame is not entirely on him. The rest of the offense was just as unreliable, resulting in an ugly afternoon all around. Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions and receiving yards but those are deceptive stats considering he also dropped three catchable passes, including the potential game-winner late in the fourth quarter.

I also have to regretfully call out the run game. Alex Collins excited us early on by picking up 42 yards on his first six carries but he quickly became less involved in the game. Even when he did see action Collins was not very productive, picking up just 17 yards on his final six carries. To make things worse, Buck Allen was not on his game either. Allen finished the game with 34 yards and had a crucial fumble that stifled the Ravens first drive of the second half.

2. Third down efficiency one of many issues for offense

Coming into Sunday’s game the Ravens offense had done a good job of converting in third down situations with a 46% success rate (29/63) on the season. That changed pretty quickly this week when the Ravens went 0-for-6 on third down in the first half. Baltimore would end up finishing the game 4-for-16 on third down.

3. Pass rush gets more involved

The Ravens defense found a lot of success last week against Pittsburgh despite only picking up one sack in garbage time. This week Baltimore made their life a little easier by bringing Baker Mayfield down five times. The return of the pass rush helped force the Browns rookie quarterback into some long yardage situations.

In some instances coach Martindale drew up some more creative blitz packages to get his defense rolling. Eric Weddle’s first quarter sack stands out as a good example of this. The veteran safety was able to hide behind a pair of edge rushers at the line and get to Mayfield untouched for the easy blind side sack.

4. Ravens avoid a few injury scares

After getting some key players back from injury this week the Ravens were looking stronger than ever. However, throughout the course of Sunday’s game there were some plays that made you hold your breath. Both Tavon Young and Mark Andrews had to exit the game for concussion protocol but neither one was permanently sidelined.

Young was shaken up after diving for an incredible interception in the first quarter. The third-year cornerback was quickly tackled by a pair of Browns players but was hit in the head in the process. Getting Young back was a huge relief for the defense since the Ravens only had four cornerbacks activated for the game.

5. Same old Ravens

There is no other way for me to sum this game up. The offense was given an insane amount of opportunities throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, but failed to get into the end zone just once. Between the Ravens defense picking up six stops in the last two quarters and the Browns shooting themselves in the foot with ten penalties, there is just no excuse for the Ravens offense.

At the end of the day this was the same old Ravens that Weddle has been joking about in his recent post game press conferences. I give the team all the credit in the world for making the necessary adjustments against Denver and Pittsburgh but they disappointed this week. Nothing screams same old Ravens more than playing down to your competition a week after a big win.

Image credit: John Kuntz / Cleveland.com