Three things to watch for as the Ravens take on the Raiders

BALTIMORE — The 5-5 Baltimore Ravens look for back-to-back wins this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when they welcome the 2-8 Oakland Raiders to town for a 1:00 kickoff.

The Ravens are fresh off the heels of a 24-21 home victory over the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The win put the Ravens into the sixth seed in the AFC Playoff race and if the playoffs started today the Ravens would be heading to Foxborough for a showdown with their old friend Tom Brady.

Lamar Jackson was at the helm this past Sunday and did a great job leading a revitalized running game. Jackson carried the ball 27 times for 117 yards while fellow rookie Gus Edwards picked up 115 yards of his own on 17 carries. Throwing the ball was another story as Jackson was just 13-for-19 for 150 yards and a costly second half interception. Coach John Harbaugh was fired up in his weekly press conference regarding people’s concern that Lamar can’t throw the ball:

The game plan Sunday may have dictated a run-heavy offense or perhaps the Ravens really aren’t confident in Jackson’s ability to throw. Either way, it is a storyline to watch this Sunday.

The Ravens currently control their own destiny. In order to continue doing so, they will need to overcome a Raiders team that just picked up their second win of the year – a 23-21 win over the now 2-8 Arizona Cardinals.

Here’s what to watch for this Sunday as the Ravens look to maintain their hold on the AFC’s final playoff spot.

1) What can we expect to see from Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense?

As fired up as Harbaugh was at the press conference this Monday, anyone who watches football on a consistent basis would question Jackson’s reliability as a passer off of Sunday’s performance.

He did some great things running the ball and it would be unfair to take that away from him.  But the Ravens ran very few designed passing plays and the route tree definitely appeared to be limited against the Bengals. Jackson did, however, make some nice throws on the run and that should be applauded.

These were Jackson’s two most impressive passing plays of the day. On both plays, Jackson’s initial read is taken away from him and he continues to work through his progressions. He is poised and when the pocket begins to break down, he maneuvers around both inside and outside of the pocket to find Mark Andrews and John Brown. I think his poise was his most impressive attribute outside of his impact running the football on Sunday.

But what can we expect this week against a Raiders unit ranking 26th in total defense, 17th against the pass, 31st against the run, and 30th in points-per-game allowed? Expect more of the same from the Ravens offense this Sunday. I think that the Ravens will look to pound the ball early and often while taking very few chances with Jackson behind center. The offense is going to look really similar to the unit that racked up 265 rushing yards against the Bengals.

Here’s my concern with that. The Ravens wide receivers were frustrated with their role in the team’s offense this past Sunday. Here’s Willie Snead:

Michael Crabtree is going up against his former team this Sunday and we all know that Crabtree has a reputation of being a diva (as does every other prominent wide receiver ever). Could we see another sideline incident regarding Crabtree or another of the Ravens wideouts if the offense passes just 19 times on Sunday?

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Za’Darius Smith will be looking for his first sack since October 14th. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the defense turn up the heat?

Last week’s three things to watch for featured the Ravens defense needing to regain their form. Results would indicate that the Ravens took a step in the right direction this past Sunday against the Bengals.

The Ravens defense limited the Bengals to going 6-for-14 on third down and did a great job stifling the Bengals rushing attack to the tune of 48 yards. The pass rush still couldn’t get their sack train back on the rails as they only recorded one sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. They were, however, consistently in his face and caused Dalton to have a 19-of-36 day passing the football. They were able to record 17 hurries per Pro Football Focus.

Unfortunately, the Ravens were also unable to force any turnovers for the fourth time this season and they remain tied for 29th with just seven takeaways in 2018.

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The pass rush needs to get dancing again this weekend as elite passing offenses are on the horizon. Image Credit: Penn Live

The Raiders could be just what the doctor ordered for the Ravens’ sack-deprived pass rushing group. Oakland has surrendered 33 sacks on the season, ranking them tied for fifth worst in the NFL. Last week, the Cardinals sacked Derek Carr four times.

The pass rush group had been heralded all off-season as the defense’s deepest and most impressive unit. Now would be a good time for that group to get going because when Sunday’s contest ends, the Ravens will be gearing up to take on the NFL’s three best passing attacks in Atlanta (3rd), Kansas City (2nd), Tampa Bay (1st….huh?).

Look for three or more sacks from the Ravens’ defense this Sunday.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders

John Gruden will hope Derek Carr’s success against the Ravens can continue. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the Ravens stop Derek Freaking Carr and the Raiders offense?

Derek Carr is by no means a bum. But he is overpaid and often underwhelming. With With that being said, my goodness does he toast the Ravens in limited action against them.

Carr is 2-0 lifetime against the Ravens posting 275 yards-per-game with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He has a completion percentage of 67.9% and a passer rating of 110.6. Not too shabby.

Luckily for the Ravens, Carr has a lot less weapons in his arsenal this Sunday than he has had in the past two meetings. Gone are Crabtree and Amari Cooper, who combined to light up the Ravens’ secondary in the two prior games, to the tune of 28 catches for 356 yards and five touchdowns.

Enter Marcell Ateman and Seth Roberts who are currently the top two receivers in a group that has lost the aforementioned Cooper to trade, Jordy Nelson to pending retirement, Martavis Bryant to a PCL injury, and Brandon LaFell to a torn achilles. Ateman and Roberts shouldn’t strike any fear into Don Martindale and the Ravens’ secondary.

Jared Cook can create matchup problems for the Ravens in the middle of the field and is Carr’s top weapon. Cook is on pace for a career year with 45 catches 577 yards and four touchdowns to date.

Jalen Richard is a dual-threat running back but isn’t much of a threat in either faze (ask my struggling fantasy teams). Doug Martin is the bell cow back but the days of him being “The Muscle Hamster” and leading fantasy teams to glory are long gone.

The Ravens should be able to stifle this Oakland offense at every turn.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell – Ravens 38 Raiders 19

Nolan McGraw – Ravens 30 Raiders 13

Jay Stavros – Ravens 31 Raiders 17

Ian Schultz – Ravens 25 Raiders 13

If the Ravens have any hopes to stay in the playoff race they have to win this game. The Raiders will be traveling cross country for a 1:00 P.M. EST game which usually spells trouble for West Coast teams. The Ravens offense will again put up just enough points to help them emerge victorious and move to 6-5 on the season.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: Silver and Black Today

 

 

 

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Podcast Episode 26: Who’s ready to walk with Mike Elias (and run with Lamar Jackson)?

Image Credit: Camden Chat

Welcome to Episode 26 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

After Jake tells a rather unfortunate story to kick off the show, the guys recap Lamar Jackson‘s first NFL start, a 24-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals (8:38). They’ll also take a look at what was said during John Harbaugh’s Monday press conference (23:21) where the Ravens’ head coach lashed out at reporters over questions about Jackson and Marshal Yanda allegedly spitting on Vontaze Burfict, as reported by ProFootballTalk.

As we always do during our Ravens discussions, we share our lists for Who’s Trending (28:58) and some things to watch for during Sunday’s 1:00 matchup with the 2-8 Oakland Raiders (41:23).

For this week’s Orioles segment, Jake, Nolan, and Ian revisit the Mike Elias hire and break down the top takeaways from yesterday’s introductory press conference with Elias and the Angelos boys (48:30). Is this the right move by the Orioles, and should fans buy into what the Angelos boys and Elias covered during Monday’s news conference?

Up next, Ian tags out and we check in with our Maryland Football expert Jay Stavros (1:02:47). On Saturday the Terps fell to Ohio State in overtime 52-51, but they led for most of regulation and gave the Buckeyes all they could handle. Can the Terps put together a similar performance on Saturday in Penn State and clinch bowl eligibility with a win? Is Matt Canada definitely on his way out? Stavros runs through it all.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 26 (1:09:50).

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

The Charm City Bird Watch Podcast is brought to you by Seven Sports Bar & Grille. For a limited time only on behalf on Charm City Bird Watch, you can receive a 10% discount off any entree dish when you tell your server or bartender the promo code Charm City.’

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.

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Image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun