Three things to watch for as Ravens welcome Chargers in the return of playoff football to Baltimore

The Baltimore Ravens are back in the playoffs.

The Ravens clinched their first playoff berth since 2014 and their first AFC North Division championship since 2012 this past Sunday with a 26-24 nail-biting victory over a much-improved Cleveland Browns squad.

In typical Ravens fashion, it wasn’t easy even though they jumped out to a 20-7 lead at halftime on the back of two Lamar Jackson first half touchdown runs.

Jackson would finish the day with 90 yards rushing and the two aforementioned touchdowns. Kenneth Dixon chipped in 117 yards on 12 carries and Gus Edwards rounded out the three-headed monster rushing attack with 76 yards of his own. The 296 rushing yards on the day was a season high for Baltimore.

Jackson was 14-for-24 through the air for 179 yards with fellow rookies Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst combining for 96 yards on six catches to pace the Ravens passing attack.

The offense stalled in the second half, tallying just 139 yards and six points. The defense found themselves in a familiar spot, needing a stop on an opponent’s last-minute drive to seal a Ravens victory. This time, C.J. Mosley and company delivered:

The game-clinching interception was the Ravens third pick on the day for Browns rookie sensation quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield carved up the Ravens defense for 376 yards passing and three touchdowns in what was arguably the Ravens secondary’s worst day of the season.

The win has set up a first-round AFC Divisional playoff matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers at 1:05pm this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to watch for as the two teams will meet for the second time in three weeks.


Pressure will be on the Ravens coaching staff to keep the offense rolling along against a team that has already seen the revamped attack. Image Credit: USA Today

1) What is the impact of this being the second meeting in three weeks?

One of the number one things that you see on social media and hear on the airwaves of 105.7 The FAN in Baltimore is that you cannot simulate the speed of Jackson. Until you see this speed on the field you truly do not know how freaky fast the Ravens rookie is.

For the first time in the Jackson era, the Ravens will do battle with a team that has seen the revamped offense once before. There are concerns regarding adjustments that the Chargers can make now that they know what to expect from the Ravens offense.

It was just two weeks ago that the Ravens totaled their lowest rushing total in a game since Jackson took over the starting job when they picked up 159 yards in Carson, California against the Chargers.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Training Camp

Gus Bradley and his defense did a nice job on the Ravens rushing attack in the second half of their last meeting. Image Credit: USA Today

Further concerning is that the Ravens totaled just 38 rushing yards in the second half of that contest.  The Ravens offense struggled throughout the second half with three straight three-and-outs late after extending their lead to 16-10 with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter.

The Chargers were driving to take the lead when the Ravens defense stepped up with a forced fumble caused by Patrick Onwuasor. Tavon Young scooped up the ball and ran it back for the game-sealing touchdown. While the Chargers appear to have made adjustments to slow the Ravens down in the second half, I was interested to see if this was a trend or an exception when it come to teams stopping the Ravens offense as the game goes along.

The first half vs second half numbers have been relatively similar overall for the Ravens under Jackson.

Category 1st Half 2nd Half
Total Plays 253 267
Total Yards 1408 1179
Offensive Points Scored 75 73
TOP 114:53 135:39

The Chargers had success shutting down the Ravens running game in the second half of the last meeting. Let’s hope that success is short-lived and the Ravens can crank up the running game. If they can’t, it could be a long day for Jackson and company.


Marlon Humphrey and the secondary will look to bounce back from a dreadful performance. Image Credit: Getty Images

2) Can the defense bounce back?

The Ravens defense has struggled following up on some of their biggest performances of the season.

Remember the 11-sack shutout of the Titans in week Six where the defense held them to 106 total yards? That was followed by three straight losses in which they had just two sacks and surrendered an average of 335 yards-per-game as well as 27.7 points-per-game.

This past Sunday, the defense was flying high after their dominant performance against the Chargers two weeks ago where they held the NFL’s 11th-best offense to 198 total yards, 175 yards below their season average. The only touchdown they allowed was on a short field after a Dixon fumble gifted the Chargers the ball at the Ravens 17-yard line.

Then Sunday happened. Mayfield and the Browns offense racked up 426 yards of total offense and scored the most points the Ravens have given up since the 27-24 overtime loss against the Chiefs. It marked the second time all year the defense gave up 24+ points in a contest at home.

Receivers were open all over the field with five Browns pass catchers tallying 45+ yards receiving. The group was led by Jarvis Landry who snagged a 48-yard touchdown pass to quickly cut the Ravens lead to 20-14 on the first drive of the third quarter.

Safe to say he was pretty open. Old friend Breshad Perriman got in on the fun for the Browns too, opening up the scoring for Cleveland with a 28-yard touchdown catch.

Again, the coverage was non-existent. The secondary owned up in the postgame taking blame for the performance. “The secondary, we didn’t play our best ballgame, especially me,” Marlon Humphrey said.

The Ravens need to hope that Humphrey and the secondary can get back on track Sunday against a Chargers team that they dominated two weeks ago. Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense struggled throughout in their 23-9 win over the Broncos. Rivers was 14-for-24 for 176 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Rivers rarely has three bad games in a row and will be welcoming back his starting tight end Hunter Henry who has missed the entire season to this point with a knee injury. Henry joins an offense that boasts Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Melvin Gordon among other weapons.

This game will be won for the Ravens on the strength of their defense. This unit cannot afford another below average performance Sunday or the Ravens return to the playoffs will be short-lived.


Lamar Jackson has been a catalyst with his legs in willing the Ravens to the playoffs. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

3) Will the Ravens show any new wrinkles on offense?

I love that the Ravens are rushing for 229.5 yards per game over the past seven games.

I love that the Ravens defense sits at number one in yards-per-game allowed, fifth in passing yards-per-game allowed, fourth in rushing yards-per-game allowed, and second in points-per-game allowed for the 2018 season.

I love that the Ravens are 6-1 over their last seven games and are surging going into the playoffs hosting their first playoff game since the 2012 Super Bowl season.

Running games and defense have often been two pivotal parts of putting together Super Bowl caliber teams and it is hard to imagine that any team is the league boasts a better one-two punch in that department than the Ravens.

But the Chargers proved two weeks ago that they have what it takes defensively to slow down the Ravens vaunted rushing attack. Yes the Ravens won the game. Yes the Ravens still rushed for 159 yards. Yes Jackson hit Mark Andrews on a big time 68-yard touchdown in that contest.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns

John Brown has been the forgotten man since Lamar Jackson has taken over the QB position. Why not take a deep shot to him early? Image Credit: USA Today

With all that being said, LA was driving to win the game when the Ravens defense made a huge play to put it away. Despite 296 rushing yards last week, the Browns were driving to win the game before the Ravens defense made a huge play to put it away. There’s nothing wrong with relying on your defense to make huge plays to put games away especially when your defense is as good as this one.

But wouldn’t it be nice to not have to rely on the defense? Wouldn’t it be nice to flash some sort of semblance of a deep passing threat/quick strike offense? Wouldn’t that strengthen an already beastly rushing attack if defenses had to at least acknowledge that the Ravens would be willing to take a deep shot?

The Chargers are a west coast team traveling cross country to the east coast for a 1:05pm start time. This is often discussed as one of the most difficult things to do in the NFL and the scheduling gods smiled upon the Ravens with that start time. So why not take a deep shot on the first play of the game?


The Chargers wouldn’t know what hit them if the Ravens attempt a play action pass on play one Sunday. Image Credit: Pro Football Weekly

The Ravens have been reluctant to do so and trust me, I get why. I have often been critical of Jackson’s passing ability and if the Ravens don’t think he’s capable of hitting a deep throw than so be it. But what is the harm in trying?

If a deep pass is overthrown, it falls incomplete and it’s 2nd and 10. If it is intercepted, it serves as a punt. But what if it is completed for 60 yards? Even better, what if it goes for six? The Chargers would be shell-shocked, the Bank would be rocking, and the Ravens would have the Chargers scrambling for answers.

Not likely going to happen, but wishful thinking right?


Jake McDonnell: Chargers 21 Ravens 20

Nolan McGraw: Ravens 24 Chargers 23

Jay Stavros: Ravens 28 Chargers 24

Ian Schultz: Chargers 24 Ravens 19

The second half of the Chargers game concerns me. Gus Bradley is a damn good defensive football coach. Maybe he figured something out about the Ravens offense. Maybe he didn’t. But if he did and the game rests on the shoulders of the defense again, I expect Rivers to deliver this time.

Broadcast information:


Podcast Episode 32: The Ravens are AFC North champions

Welcome to Episode 32 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of the show, we revisit the Ravens 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns (4:40). As always, we tell you Who’s Trending (26:15) and go over some things to watch for in the Ravens upcoming Wild Card game against the Chargers (38:15).

In addition to the Ravens game, we gave a quick break down of the other three wild card games and some predictions for who we think will win (48:07). Be on the lookout for some more in depth articles on throughout the playoffs where all of our authors will give their official predictions as each round arrives.

Before getting into the weekly numbers segment (1:05:40) we had to take a moment to appreciate the Steelers meltdown following their elimination from playoff contention (57:40). Jake, Nolan, and Ian all give their opinion on the Antonio Brown situation and his heated exchange with Ben Roethlisberger.

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

Image credit: Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press

Three things to watch for as the Ravens look to clinch a playoff spot against the Browns

The Baltimore Ravens find themselves in a familiar position this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium at 4:25 pm as they enter a week 17 home divisional contest with a chance to clinch a playoff spot.

This year is a bit different from last season’s matchup with the Bengals as the Ravens will be able to win their first AFC North title since the 2012 Super Bowl season if they defeat the upstart 7-7-1 Cleveland Browns.

Once again, this past week the Ravens defense was absolutely dominant on Saturday night in Carson, CA holding the NFL’s 10th-ranked offense to just 198 total yards. But a familiar scene was playing out as the Ravens were clinging to a 16-10 lead with 2:54 left in the game and the Chargers driving when Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor and Tavon Young combined for the biggest play of the night for the defense:

This touchdown made the score 22-10 and Marlon Humphrey put a stop to the final Los Angeles drive of the night with an interception in the end zone. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense rode their ball control formula in the first half  (19:54- 7:56) but were only able to stake the Ravens to a 6-3 lead at the half.

The Chargers took the lead four plays into the second half as Kenneth Dixon fumbled on the first play of Baltimore’s opening drive and Melvin Gordon punched it in to give the Chargers a 10-6 lead. But the Ravens rookie offensive talents stepped up just two plays into the next Ravens drive as Jackson hit fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews with arguably his prettiest pass of the season:

The Ravens didn’t look back from there despite the Chargers threatening. With some help on Sunday from the New Orleans Saints, who registered a 31-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens will win their fifth division title in franchise history with a victory on Sunday over the Browns.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s tilt.


Patrick Onwuasor won the AFC Defensive Player of the Week with his week 16 performance. Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Defensive dominance must continue

Since the bye week the Ravens are 5-1 and despite what you’re being told on a consistent basis about the offense’s involvement in this surge to the playoffs, the Ravens will go as far as the defense takes them.

Over the last six weeks, the Ravens defense has put up absurd numbers. 17 points-per-game allowed. 252.6 yards-per-game allowed. They have held five of their last six opponents to under 256 total yards. The only outlier in the last six games of dominance was the 442 yards allowed against the Kansas City Chiefs. This game included an overtime period as well.

The Ravens are forcing turnovers at a rate that we hadn’t seen prior to the bye week. They have seven turnovers in the last six weeks after coming up with just seven turnovers in the nine weeks before the bye. The defense also has three touchdowns since the bye week as well. Additionally, the defense has 15 sacks over the last six weeks.

Baltimore Ravens v Green Bay Packers

The Defense needs to continue to come up huge this Sunday in a win and in scenario. Image Credit: USA Today

Here are their overall rankings right now in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball:

Yards-per-game allowed: First (284.1)

Pass yards-per-game allowed: Fourth (198.9)

Rushing yards-per-game allowed: Third (85.1)

Points-per-game allowed: First (17.5)

Sacks: Tied for Sixth (43.0)

3rd Down Defense: Third (34.0%)

If it seems that the Ravens have ran into a top ten offensive unit in nearly every game since the bye week, that’s because they have in four of the six contests. They will miss a top ten offense this week as Baker Mayfield’s Browns come to town but the Ravens will need to be at their best defensively to win the division crown and end their three-year playoff drought.


Baker Mayfield took home AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his Week 16 performance. Image Credit: AP

2) About Baker Mayfield and that Browns offense

Other than the Ravens, it can be argued that the Cleveland Browns are the hottest team in the NFL. And no one has been hotter league wide the past six weeks than Mayfield.

The number one overall pick out of Oklahoma has been rumbling since Hue Jackson was let go prior to to the Browns 37-21 loss to the Chiefs in week nine. Since week 10 Mayfield and the Browns are 5-1 just like the Ravens. Mayfield has thrown for 263.5 yards-per-game with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is completing 71.5% of his passes over the past six weeks.

Mayfield is on an incredible roll over the past six weeks and has gained steam in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation.  Prior to Mayfield’s hot streak, the award appeared to destined to go to Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley. As of right now the only winner of this award should be Mayfield, who with a win in Baltimore on Sunday, would give the Browns just their fourth winning record since 1990.

Oftentimes with a rookie quarterback, the formula would be to blitz the hell out of him but with Mayfield, that may not be the best way to shut him down. Consider this from last Sunday:

Yeah maybe the Ravens shouldn’t blitz the hell out of him. Mayfield has some decent weapons at his disposal but definitely not the likes of Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen whom the Ravens were able to shut down last Saturday.

Wideout Jarvis Landry leads the Browns with 76 catches for 874 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end David Njoku is second on the club with 53 catches for 577 yards and four touch wins. Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, and former Raven Breshad Perriman round out the pass-catching threats for the Browns.

Rookie running back Nick Chubb paces the Browns rushing attack with 972 yards and eight touchdowns on the season despite not taking the starting job until week seven. He will be looking to build on back-to-back 100-yard performances against the Bengals and the Broncos.

The defense will once again have their hands full with an offense that has been performing much better as of late.


Lamar Jackson has proven to be the right man for the job in Baltimore. But the Ravens might need more from him to clinch the division Sunday. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) What do the Ravens get from their offense?

The Ravens are 5-1 in their six games with Jackson under center as the starting quarterback.

Jackson has been the catalyst in the running game that we all expected him to be and has sprinkled in just enough in the passing game to help the Ravens turn their season around and find themselves back in the playoff hunt. Jackson is given the lionshare of the credit for the Ravens being able to control the time of possession the past few weeks as the run-heavy offense has kept the Ravens defense more rested.

Some are even beginning to discuss Jackson as a viable candidate to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in the NFL.

Jackson has completed 58.2% of his passes as the starting quarterback which is good for 31st in the NFL. He has five touchdowns and three interceptions through the air. He is averaging a total of 233.5 yards-per-game (155.8 through the air and 77.7 on the ground). He has also pitched in two rushing touchdowns. Jackson has fumbled eight times in his six starts as well.


At this moment, I was not a happy camper. Lamar has changed my mind so far. Can he keep it up? Image Credit: Orlando Sentinel

With that being said, if the Ravens defense plays a slightly below average game by their standards this Sunday against the Browns and gives up 21 points, I am not confident that the Ravens can score enough to win. Here’s why. Since taking over, the Ravens offense has scored a total of 20.5 points-per-game over the last six weeks which is roughly a touchdown less than what their last six opponents have surrendered on average.

The Browns surrender 24.4 points-per-game. That would put the Ravens at 17 points given their recent trend. Without a defensive or special teams score, or the benefit of another defensive masterpiece, the Ravens will need more from their offense this Sunday if they want to clinch the North and earn a home playoff game.

Here’s hoping Jackson delivers enough on offense to get the Ravens over the top.


Jake McDonnell: Ravens 27 Browns 24

Nolan McGraw: Ravens 23 Browns 20

Jay Stavros: Ravens 28 Browns 17

Ian Schultz: Ravens 21 Browns 17

I think that the Ravens are going to be able to make just enough plays on offense Sunday to give themselves a chance to win. With their home crowd behind them in what will hopefully be a raucous road environment for the Browns, the defense makes another critical play late and sends the Ravens to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens