Five thoughts following the Ravens 22-10 win over the Chargers

The Baltimore Ravens took the field on Saturday night dressed in their classic all-white uniforms and proceeded to pick up a 22-10 win on the shoulders of a heavy rush attack and a strong defense. What year is it?

It certainly didn’t feel like 2018 but I won’t waste any more of your time by setting the scene. Here are five takeaways from the Ravens biggest win of the season.

1 – First half domination (sort of):

If you missed the game and had to follow along with score updates, you would probably think the Ravens had a rough first half. A 6-3 lead was less than ideal but there was way more to like about the first half than dislike. The Baltimore defense was locked in for the entire half and absolutely manhandled the Chargers offense.

It all started on the first play when Philip Rivers tried to go deep down the sideline but was picked off by Brandon Carr. Mike Williams had Carr beat but Rivers under-threw the ball, allowing the Ravens corner to regain control and make a play.

The Ravens first turnover of the night set the tone for the first half and the rest of the game. The Chargers offense did not pick up a first down until the beginning of the second quarter and could not cross mid-field until the end of the half when a pass interference call finally moved them into Ravens territory.

Despite all of this, the Ravens offense only mustered six points. They certainly had their opportunities but could not capitalize. Justin Tucker missed a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter but on the next possession the Ravens found themselves in the red zone again. After getting stopped on third and goal, John Harbaugh decided to go for it but Lamar Jackson’s pass sailed out of the back of the end zone and the Ravens were left with another empty possession.

2 – Poor field conditions:

One of the things that made the first half ugly was the amount of plays stopped by a player losing their footing. Both teams had trouble with this early on but it seemed to impact the Ravens a little more as the road team. Carr fell down twice in coverage and later on in the first quarter Gus Edwards slipped on a run, tripping James Hurst in the process. The Ravens left guard was shaken up on the play but later returned to the game.

The footing issues disappeared at the half and didn’t have much of an impact on the remainder of the game. I would assume some players switched cleats during the break but that’s just a guess. The Chargers temporary home has been clowned for its seating capacity but I have not heard any complaints about the field up until now. Thankfully it did not have a bigger impact on the outcome of the game.

3 – Jackson outplays Rivers:

Perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes from this game was how the quarterback dual played out. I don’t think many people expected Jackson to have this good of a game, let alone outshine a future hall of fame quarterback.

Jackson finished the night 12-for-22 with 204 yards and a touchdown. It marks the first time Jackson has thrown for over 200 yards in his six-game career. On the other hand, Rivers was very lackluster, going 23-for-37 with 181 yards and two interceptions. Not only did Jackson have a better game throwing the ball, but he also continued to be a factor in the run game by adding 39 yards on the ground.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the game but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jackson act as cool as a cucumber through the whole game while Rivers did nothing but yell and scream at the refs. Everyone has highlighted the differences between Jackson and Joe Flacco the past five weeks, but the one similarity seems to be their demeanor in big games.

4 – Getting it done on third and long: 

After the Ravens defense broke our hearts a few weeks ago in a loss to Kansas City, it was nice to see them get the job done in third and long situations this time around. The Chargers started the game 0-for-6 on third down and their most favorable distance in that span was 3rd-and-15. That should tell you everything you need to know. Whether it was the Ravens pass rush setting up these long down situations or the Chargers committing offensive penalties, Baltimore was able to take advantage and get off the field.

5 – Pass rush comes up big in key situations:

It has certainly been a roller coaster year for the Ravens pass rush. We all know about the monster game they put together in Tenseness but there have also been a handful of games where the defensive line was not able to get to the opposing quarterback at all.

Saturday wasn’t the biggest day for the pass rush but it was one of the most clutch. After taking the run option away from the Chargers the Ravens knew that the ball would be in Rivers hands with the game on the line. This allowed them to do what they do best and send the house in key situations. More often than not it was a success for Baltimore as they recorded four sacks.

All four sacks came in the second half and three ultimately led to a Chargers punt. The biggest of the night was the final one recorded by Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens outside linebacker quickly shed a block and got to Rivers before he could look down field. What made it the biggest sack of the game was the timing. The Chargers were driving and had the ball at the Ravens 29-yard line with under six minutes to play. Smith dropped Rivers for an 11-yard loss and not only forced fourth down, but also pushed the Chargers out of field goal range in a six-point game.

One more game:

This win sets up yet another high-drama game for the Ravens to close out the season. For the second straight year they will host a division opponent in week 17 with the playoffs hanging in the balance. Last year the Bengals came to town and spoiled Baltimore’s chances at the postseason and this year the Browns will be looking to do the same.

While Cleveland was technically eliminated from playoff contention when the Titans won on Saturday, they are still playing with a lot of energy and purpose at this point in the season. That is something we haven’t been able to say about the Browns in a very long time. Cleveland definitely poses a threat to the Ravens, especially after coming out victorious in the first meeting between the two teams earlier this year.

If there is one advantage to the NFL’s scheduling blunder this week it is the fact that the Ravens will have an extra day to deal with any jet leg flying back to the east coast. It is commonly said by athletes that flying west to east is more difficult than the other direction. The Ravens will get back to Baltimore on Sunday and have some extra time to get adjusted before hitting the practice field.

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Image credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

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Ravens plan to retain head coach John Harbaugh; contract extension in-the-works

OWINGS MILLS — Just over 24 hours before the Ravens face the Los Angeles Chargers with Baltimore’s playoff dreams likely on-the-line, the team announced their intentions to retain head coach John Harbaugh. The news broke via the Ravens’ Twitter account.

As referenced in the Tweet, the team is working with Harbaugh towards a contract extension with the 11-year coaches’ deal set to expire after the 2019 season.

On November 11 during the Ravens’ bye week, NFL Insider Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported that the Ravens and Harbaugh were very close to ‘mutually agreeing to part ways’ after the 2018 season concluded.

Since Baltimore’s bye, Harbaugh has coached the Ravens, with an entirely different offense led by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, to a 4-1 stretch that has Baltimore (8-6) a half game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) in the AFC North.

Entering Saturday, the Ravens hold the #6 seed in the AFC playoff picture and could rise to first place in the north with a win over the Chargers and a Steelers loss to the Saints (12-2) on Sunday.

2018 was thought to be a crucial season for Harbaugh. The Ravens have not made the playoffs since 2014 and could miss out again depending on what happens over the last two weeks of the regular season. Making this announcement a day before the most important game of the season is peculiar, but it’s sure to make the players happy and take some pressure off the coaching staff. What would have been more peculiar, however, would have been letting Harbaugh go just one season after drafting Jackson.

Just because Harbaugh will remain with the Ravens next season doesn’t mean that change isn’t coming. General Manager Ozzie Newsome will step down after the 2018 season and will be replaced by Eric DeCosta. There’s also the possibility that the Ravens could move on from oft-criticized offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but again doing so one season into Jackson’s career would raise some eyebrows.

Through almost 11 seasons coaching the Ravens, Harbaugh’s teams have made six playoff appearances, won Super Bowl 47, reached three AFC Championships games, and have played to a 102-72 record (10-5 in the playoffs).

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Image Credit: USA Today

Three things to watch for as the Ravens hit the road to take on the Chargers

The Baltimore Ravens might be feeling a little sense of deja vu heading into the final two weeks of the 2018 regular season.

For the second straight year, they are sitting at 8-6 entering week 16. With wins in their last two contests of the year, they would find themselves in the playoffs, ending a three-year postseason hiatus. Last year the Ravens took care of business agains the Colts in week 16, but week 17 produced a devastating season-ending 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens hope that this year is different as they look for back-to back wins after this Sunday’s 20-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In his first start as the QB1, Lamar Jackson put together another performance that was good enough to win. He was 14-for-23 for 131 yards and a touchdown on shovel pass to Chris Moore. Jackson also pitched in 18 carries for 95 yards rushing on the day as well.

The Ravens defense stifled the high-powered Bucs offense, holding them to 241 total yards. Marlon Humphrey continued his Pro-Bowl caliber season with two tackles, four pass deflections and an interception. Humphrey earned high praise for the performance:

The Ravens look to solidify their hold on the sixth playoff spot when they head to Carson, California to take on the 11-3 Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night at the Stubhub Center. The Chargers are coming off a big division win over their rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs, last Thursday. The Chargers will have the advantage of rest and home field on their side.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Saturday’s matchup.

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Gus Edwards and the Ravens rushing attack have played a key role in the success on 3rd down. Image Credit: Scott Serio

1) Third down

Ahead of what is likely a must-win game for the Ravens, continuing their success on third down is going to prove pivotal to their success against the Chargers.

The Ravens are the only team in the NFL that ranks in the top five in third down offense and third down defense. The Ravens are #3 in third down defense, allowing a conversion rate of just 34.2% and are currently ranked third in third down offense, converting on 47.5% of third down opportunities.

From the Chargers side of things, they rank 24th in third down defense, allowing a conversion rate of 40.8% and rank 12th in third down offense, converting on 40.5% of third down opportunities.

Third down efficiency has proven to be one of the biggest keys for the Ravens in their 4-1 stretch. During the run of strong play, the team is giving up a third down conversion rate of 32% (20-or-62) and are picking up third downs at a conversion rate of 51.3% (37-of-72).

The key to their offensive efficiency has been the Ravens unstoppable rushing attack under Jackson. The Ravens have tallied an absurd 1,152 yards rushing since Jackson became the starter. Both Jackson (427 yards) and Gus Edwards (486 yards) are in the top five in league rushing over the last five games.

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Derwin James has been an impact rookie for the LAC defense with 93 tackles, three interceptions, 12 passes defensed. Image Credit: AP

The Chargers boast the NFL’s ninth-best rushing defense, allowing a total of 103.7 yards-per-contest. This could project to be tough sledding for the Ravens second-ranked rushing offense, but a deeper dig into the numbers leaves me encouraged for the running game this Sunday.

In five contests against the NFL’S top ten rushing attacks (Seahawks, Rams, Bills, Titans, Niners) they have given up 129.8 rushing yards-per-game. That would be good for 29th in the NFL.

While things may not turn out to be as difficult as projected, this is the best run defense that the Ravens have faced with Jackson under center. He will need to keep the engine running smoothly, especially on third down for the Ravens to emerge victorious.

Marlon-Humphrey

Marlon Humprhey and company will look to step up their game on the road. Image Credit: USA Today

2) Can the Ravens defense translate their home dominance to the road?

Once again on Sunday, the Ravens leaned on a run-heavy offensive attack because their top-ranked defense was once again able to stymie one of the league’s top offensive units. The Bucs were held to 241 total yards, 175 yards under their season average.

The Ravens boast the top points-per-game defense in the NFL, the third-best group in terms of stopping the run and stopping the pass.

I was interested to see how some of these numbers stack up road versus home as the Ravens have recently been far superior at home than they have been on the road.

Here’s how the numbers stack up:

Stat Home Road
Points-per-game allowed: 16.3 19.9
Rushing yards-per-game allowed: 92 82.2
Passing yards-per-game allowed: 190.6 246.4
Total yards-per-game allowed: 282.6 328.6
3rd down defense conversion rate allowed 37.5% 31.5%

The biggest difference road and home has been the Ravens passing defense. The group led by Humphrey has been stingy at home but has really struggled to take that show on the road. The Ravens road total in passing yards-per-game would put them around 20th in the NFL, a far cry from their current ranking of third.

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I’d be excited too if I had weapons like Philip Rivers has at his disposal. Image Credit: Getty Images

It won’t get any easier on the road this week as the Chargers are loaded with offensive weapons. They expect to get Pro-Bowl running back Melvin Gordon back, who has missed the past two games with a MCL sprain. Gordon has 1,255 total yards on the season and 13 touchdowns. They carry a receiver group that features Keenan Allen, who exited last week’s contest with a hip pointer. His status is up in the air for Sunday, although early indications are he will play. He has 88 catches for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns this season.

In Allen’s absence last week, Mike Williams, the second-year wideout from Clemson, put up seven catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns last week while also adding a 19-yard rushing touchdown. He also scored the two-point conversion that gave the Chargers the win over the Chiefs. Running back Austin Ekeler and WR Tyrell Williams are threats as well along with ole reliable tight end Antonio Gates, who is in his 16th season.

This an extremely talented offense and the Ravens will have their hands full again in their attempts to put together another signature road performance.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson has done a great job energizing the Ravens rushing attack but he needs to take better care of the ball. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Ball Security

Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware that Lamar Jackson has struggled to hold onto the football since taking over as the Ravens starting quarterback.

He has nine fumbles on the year, including seven in his five starts, He has lost a fumble in each of the last three games. In addition to the fumbling issues, Jackson also has thrown three interceptions as the starter although none of which have come over the last three weeks.

Don’t cry to me that Jackson is a rookie and that there are growing pains for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL. You’re 100% right. However, the other rookie QB’S that are starting are doing so because their teams don’t have an alternative and/or because their teams are not competing for a playoff spot.

We all know the Ravens have a fully capable and healthy alternative in Joe Flacco. The Ravens are also locked into the six seed in the AFC playoff picture and if they win their last two games, still have an outside shot at winning the AFC North division and securing a home playoff game.

I don’t care that the team is 4-1 under Jackson. I don’t care that he has sparked a dormant running game. I don’t care that you hate Flacco. Jackson needs to a better job protecting the ball. Point blank period.

The Ravens are not talented enough to survive costly turnovers in key moments. I have covered the lack of talent issue ad nauseam. If the Ravens want to get to the playoffs this season, they will need Jackson to clean this issue up in a hurry.

If he doesn’t, the Ravens will once again be on the outside looking in.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell– Chargers 30 Ravens 24

Nolan McGraw– Chargers 26 Ravens 24

Jay Stavros– Chargers 27 Ravens 20

Ian Schultz: Chargers 27 Ravens 19

The Ravens have struggled to win must-win games since winning the Super Bowl in 2012. In 2013 they lost 34-17 to Cincinnati in a season-ending elimination road loss. In 2014, the defense surrendered two 14-point leads in the AFC Divisional playoffs in Foxborough. 2016 featured a Christmas day defensive meltdown in Pittburgh. 2017 was the Dalton/Boyd heart-breaker. Why will this be any different?

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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun