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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Image Credit: WNST