Three things to watch for as the Ravens welcome the Bucs

The Baltimore Ravens welcome the Tampa Bay Bucs to M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday at 1pm looking to bounce back from their heartbreaking 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

With the loss, the Ravens moved to 7-6 on the season but remained locked into the #6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. A Steelers loss to Oakland kept Baltimore just a half game out of first place in the AFC North Division as well.

Sunday was the first loss of rookie starting quarterback Lamar Jackson‘s NFL career. Jackson was solid this past Sunday, going 13-for-24 for 147 yards and two touchdown passes. He also added in 67 yards rushing. His nine-yard touchdown pass to John Brown gave the Ravens a 24-17 lead with 4:04 remaining.

Unfortunately, Jackson fell victim to yet another late-game collapse from Baltimore’s top ranked defense, who allowed Patrick Mahomes and company to go 75 yards in 11 plays to tie the game with 53 seconds remaning. Jackson yielded a sack fumble that Kansas City recovered with 44 seconds left. Harrison Butker then missed the field goal attempt, sending the game to overtime.

Kansas City took the opening drive 58 yards before adding a field goal to go ahead 27-24. Baltimore’s last drive came up short when Robert Griffin III failed to convert a fourth down toss to Willie Snead who was essentially tackled on the play.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s tilt with the Bucs.lamar-jackson-fantasy-football-starter

Lamar Jackson will be looking to keep the Ravens offense running successfully this Sunday. Image Credit: Sports Illustrated

1) Lamar Jackson: QB1

Jackson has started each of the last four games for the Ravens and has done a great job, making just enough plays to keep the Ravens in playoff contention while filling in for presumed starter Joe Flacco while he nursed a sore hip.

This week, however, he received a new title from Head Coach John Harbaugh: QB1.

This is a headline that I was not expecting to be publishing this season. That’s right, folks, the Lamar Jackson era has officially begun in Baltimore. For the first time in his career, Flacco will serve as the backup quarterback Sunday against the Bucs.

Against a Chiefs defense that ranks just 30th in total defense, Jackson and the Ravens offense mustered just 321 yards of total offense. It was also Jackson’s third straight game with a turnover. For the second straight week, Jackson had to exit the game for an injury concern, this time as he attempted to lead the Ravens down the field for a potential game-winning drive.

Jackson is a lights out athlete. He is easily the Ravens best offensive player. What he has added to the running game is an element that Flacco cannot provide to this team and the coaching staff feels that what he brings to the table is currently more valuable than what Flacco brings.

I have come to terms that this decision was going to be made, but during Thursday’s press conferences the following quote surfaced:

Does that sound like the Ravens have a ton of faith in Lamar throwing the ball? Even if the statement by Mornhinweg is the truth in-house, this is the kind of thing that should stay out of the media circus.

Jackson will be presented with another golden opportunity to compile some big numbers as the 27th-ranked Bucs defense comes to town. They are 27th against the pass, 20th against the run, and they give up 29.5 points-per-game. The Ravens offense has averaged 22.5 points-per-game with Jackson as the starter against four defenses, giving up just under 29 points-per-game.

I for one would like to see the “ceiling game” from Lamar this Sunday. Throw for 250 yards and two scores. Pitch in your 55-80 yards per game on the ground and put this one away early.  You’re the guy now. Prove it.

Baltimore-Ravens-replace-Dean-Pees-promote-Don-Wink-Martindale-to-defensive-coordinator

The Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale will be looking for his defense to bounce back from a disappointing finish against the Chiefs. Image Credit: Baltimore Gridiron Report

2) Will the defense respond from an ugly ending?

The defense was superb on Sunday for the Ravens. Holding Mahomes and the number one ranked offense in the NFL to 17 points through 56 minutes is commendable for sure. Picking up three sacks and an interception was exactly what this defense needed to do to keep the game close.

But once again, in the closing moments of a massive game, the defense wilted once again. This trend started for the Ravens on Christmas night in 2016 when the defense surrendered a 10-play, 75-yard drive in 69 seconds to allow the Steelers to clinch the AFC North with a 31-27 home win.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Minnesota Vikings

Eric Weddle and the defense continue to squander late leads. Image Credit: USA Today

It continued last season with a late-game collapse once again in Pittsburgh in a road night game that saw the Ravens squander a 38-29 lead with six minutes remaining. And who can forget Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd connecting for the game-winning touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining, capping an 11-play 90-yard drive that took just 1:59.

This is the fourth absolutely monumental moment that the defense came up small in recent memory.

Their rankings are impressive. They are second in yards-per-game allowed. Third against the pass. Fourth against the run. They are the number one defense in the NFL allowing just 18.5 points-per-game. But when push comes to shove in recent memory, they aren’t getting the job done with the game on the line.

There will be no rest for the weary this Sunday as the 5-8 Bucs bring the NFL’S second ranked offense to town. Tampa leads the league in passing yards-per-game. Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith will have their hands full with standout wideout Mike Evans. Evans has 70 grabs on the season for 1,207 yards and five touchdown catches.

Evans is joined in the receiver ranks by Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson, who continues to nurse a thumb injury. These four form a quartet of receivers that have amassed over 640+ yards and four touchdowns.

The Ravens defense will have their hands full for the second straight week. Hopefully Jackson and the offense can put enough points on the board so that the defense doesn’t have to make the late game stop.

3) Can the run game continue torching the opposition?

Lamar Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink for the Ravens running game. The rookie sensation has helped pace the Ravens to 910 yards over the last four games. Jackson has 332 of those yards.

Gus Edwards continue to hum along as well with 382 yards of his own. Edwards has not rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks but continues to prove to be an impact player.

Kenneth Dixon intrigues me. I know that Dixon has struggled to stay healthy throughout his Ravens career and I have often referred to him as the Michael Campanaro of running backs. He has also struggled to avoid off-the-field issues as well. But he has a bit of something something that is very appealing in a running back. He seems to have that little wiggle that coaches and scouts talk about.

The third year running back out of Lousiana Tech has only played in 15 career games but has found himself healthy each of the last three weeks and has produced three good outings. He has a total of 140 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries the last three weeks. He is humming along at 4.8 yards-per-carry and has done a nice job in spelling Edwards when the undrafted rookie needs a breather.

The new-look Ravens running game is the key to the turnaround of this season. They will need to continue to carry the mail if the Ravens are going to end their three-year playoff drought this season.

Preditions

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 27 Bucs 20

Nolan McGraw– Ravens 28 Bucs 21

Jay Stavros- Ravens 20 Bucs 17

Ian Schultz– Ravens 24 Bucs 19

The Ravens should be able to escape with a victory on Sunday but for some reason this one feels like it will be closer than most folks indicate that it will be. While Jameis Winston is not an elite quarterback, he comes to town with enough weapons to make life difficult on the Ravens defense. The offense makes enough plays to get the Ravens to 8-6.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: WNST

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Podcast Episode 29: Baltimore Sports whip-around with 105.7 The Fan late-night host Terry Ford

Image Credit: The Baltimore Feather 

Welcome to Episode 29 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Following a a heartbreaking 27-24 overtime loss to the Chiefs, the top of Episode 29 revisits the Ravens’ valiant effort at arrowhead stadium (3:20). We’ll also take a look at recent quotes from Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (18:23), reveal our lists for Who’s Trending (32:20), and go over some things to watch for on Sunday when the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (45:42).

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest, 105.7 The Fan late night talk show host Terry Ford (54:58). In our exclusive interview with Uncle Terry, you’ll hear his takeaways from the Ravens loss and his thoughts on the six managerial candidates for the Orioles (interview was recorded hours before the Brandon Hyde story broke). At the end of our conversation with Terry, he shares some interesting stories from his long radio career, such as the strangest phone call he’s ever taken on the air.

After Mr. Ford hops off the phone line, we get you caught up with all things Maryland Basketball (1:11:07). Both Nolan and Jake got a chance to watch the Terps in-person from the Royal Farms Arena on Saturday when the Terps took down Loyola Chicago 55-41. With the Terps now at 9-2, does this team have what it takes to make some noise in March?

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 29 (1:20:51). In addition, you’ll hear our raw reactions to the Orioles reportedly hiring their new manager, Chicago Cubs Bench Coach Brandon Hyde, as the story broke in the middle of the numbers segment.

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 things we learned from Ravens 27-24 overtime loss to Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO — Having a 24-17 lead with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves one play away from picking up one of the biggest road wins of the John Harbaugh era. But after Patrick Mahomes found Tyreek Hill for 48 yards on fourth down, the momentum shifted.

The Chiefs tied the game up with less than a minute left in regulation and got the ball back again when Justin Houston strip-sacked Lamar Jackson. Even though Harrison Butker‘s missed 43-yard field goal sent the game into overtime, the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss and Butker redeemed himself with a 35-yard field goal on the Chiefs’ first possession. That kick ended up being all the Chiefs needed, as the Ravens’ ensuing drive stalled on downs and the Chiefs walked away with a 27-24 comeback win.

Here’s three things we learned from Sunday’s valiant but disappointing overtime loss.


1. Once again, defense crumbles in crunch time 

Yet again, the Ravens defense played one hell of a game on Sunday. The NFL’s #1 defense limited the league’s #1 offense, which averages over 35 points-per-game, to 27 points. With a lead in the fourth quarter, the pass rush got consistent pressure. But twice on fourth down when it mattered the most, the unit allowed two daggers – the 48-yard completion from Mahomes to Hill on 4th-and-9, and the five-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to Damien Williams on 4th-and-3.

Before Kansas City’s 11-play, 75-yard drive the tied the game up at 24, the Chiefs had not scored in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, Chuck Clark snagged the Ravens’ first interception in nine weeks. The next two Chiefs drives before the touchdown drive resulted in punts. Containing the NFL’s top offense in the manner that the Ravens did is great, but when it mattered most the defense just couldn’t find the one stop they needed to seal the win.

To be fair, due to Houston stripping Jackson on the third play of Baltimore’s last possession of regulation, along with the Chiefs winning the overtime coin toss, the Ravens defense was on the field an awful lot at the end of the game. And it showed. It’s not the defense’s fault that the offensive line completely collapsed at the end of the game. With that said, not getting off the field twice on fourth down brought back the all-to-familiar memories of 4th-and-12 against Cincinnati from last season.

Hill is the most explosive receiver in the NFL and finished the game with 139 receiving yards on eight receptions despite playing through and injured ankle and wrist. The discouraging part of the 48-yard completion is seeing defensive leaders like C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle come up short of making the big play yet again.

After the game, Brandon Carr said that the Ravens need to find ways to close out games against tough opponents. It’s been a struggle for the Ravens for some time now. If they can’t figure that out against the Chargers or hypothetically in the playoffs, the 2018 season could end exactly like it has the last two years for Baltimore.


2. Kenneth Dixon: From afterthought to arguably the Ravens top option at running back

When Kenneth Dixon went down with yet another knee injury in week 1 against the Bills, many thought that would be the end for him. Since the Ravens drafted Dixon in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Dixon has only played in 15 games due to injuries and suspension.

With Dixon went on injured reserve, Alex Collins and Buck Allen led the Ravens’ backfield. Then Baltimore worked a trade with the Packers for Ty Montgomery before the bye. But as Collins struggled with a foot injury and Allen’s snap count went down, an opportunity opened up for Dixon when he became eligible to return to the practice field. Now, the Ravens backfield looks completely different than it did at the start of the season with Dixon, Montgomery and Gus Edwards sharing the load.

Although Edwards received twice the amount of carries than Dixon did on Sunday, Dixon’s 7.4 yards-per-carry was just over three yards more than that of Edwards. The coaching staff might be limiting Dixon’s snap count due to his injury history, but Dixon has more powerful legs than Edwards or Montgomery. He has the ability to extend runs and can push defenders forward without much assistance. When Dixon is on the field and effective, it’s easy to see why the Ravens used a fourth-round pick on him.

Dixon still needs to prove his sustainability, but right now he’s making a case for the Ravens to hold onto him beyond 2018.


3. Harbaugh’s aggressiveness on fourth down was the right move

On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, the Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 on the Chiefs’ 39-yard line. Trailing 17-10, Harbaugh elected to go for it instead of punting. When Edwards was handed the ball, he was stuffed at the line for no gain. Kansas City took over and three plays later Clark intercepted Mahomes before the Ravens scored a touchdown open a 14-play drive. That touchdown, a 10-yard completion to Maxx Williams, came on 4th-and-2.

Many were quick to judge Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down after failing to convert on Baltimore’s previous drive, but relying on field goals wasn’t going to cut it against the NFL’s number one offense. In games like these, coaches need to be aggressive and score as many points as possible. Against an opponent like the Falcons who couldn’t move the ball at all on the Ravens, settling for three points is okay. The Ravens trailed the Chiefs 17-10 at the time of the fourth-down conversion, and if they don’t score the touchdown they still would have trail Kansas City instead of tying the game up.

Rather than knock Harbaugh down for being aggressive in the red zone against the top seed in the AFC, celebrate the fact that the decision worked and that the Ravens ended up with seven points instead of three.


As deflating as yesterday’s loss was for the Ravens, coupled along with the Colts, Dolphins, and Titans all winning their games this week, the Steelers 24-21 loss to Oakland still has the Ravens just a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. While the Ravens still need to go on the road and play the Chargers, the Steelers have the Patriots at home next weekend before facing the Saints on the road in week 16. Don’t look now, but a home playoff game is still very well in reach for the Ravens with the Steelers losing three straight games.

Here’s the current NFL Playoff picture:

Image Credit: The Kansas City Star