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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image Credit: USA Today