Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs

The Baltimore Ravens sit at 7-5 on the season and will head to Kansas City this weekend to take on the 10-2 AFC-leading Chiefs this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium at 1:00pm.

It was again Lamar Jackson at quarterback last week for the Ravens in Atlanta and despite his worst performance as the starter to-date, the Ravens were able to come away with a 26-16 triumph and maintain their hold on the final playoff spot in the AFC postseason bracket.

Jackson was just 12-of-21 passing the ball Sunday for 125 yards while adding another 75 yards rushing and a touchdown run. He was inaccurate throughout and put the ball on the turf three times, including a fumble that led to a 74-yard return touchdown by Vic Beasley Jr. which gave the Falcons a 10-7 lead. John Harbaugh continued to be cryptic after the game about the quarterback situation while Terrell Suggs added his sentiments:

The Ravens are 3-0 in Jackson’s three starts but the competition ramps up this week as they take on a Chiefs team that moved to 10-2 last week with a 40-33 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

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

RAVENS-FALCONS_01993

Lamar Jackson picked up his third rushing touchdown of the season Sunday in Atlanta. Image Credit: Kansas City Star

1) Can Lamar Jackson step up in his biggest test to-date?

Did you guys know Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as a starter in the NFL? Three straight wins in the NFL is nothing to talk down on but let’s break this down a little bit.

Jackson is 39-for-65 over the last three weeks and has thrown one passing touchdown to three interceptions. On the ground he has added in 54 carries for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He has also added five fumbles (one lost) in the last three weeks as well.

He has compiled these numbers against the NFL’s 32nd, 28th, and 26th ranked defenses respectively in Cincinnati, Oakland, and Atlanta. Jackson has been at the helm for just five touchdown drives in his three starts. Yet graphics are circulating like the one below:

And here is the perfectly appropriate response to this hogwash:

I have taken a lot of flack on social media the past few days regarding my lack of excitement for Jackson. Looking at these stats, what exactly is impressive?

Listen, Jackson has energized a rushing attack that was among the worst in the league prior to his insertion into the starting lineup. The Ravens now rank tied for seventh in rushing yards-per-game (129.2) thanks to Jackson and Gus Edwards leading the charge in piling up 716 yards on the ground the last three games.

A lot of attention has been paid to their time of possession advantage the last three weeks (112 minutes to 68 minutes) and that attention is deserved. It has helped keep the defense fresh and as a result they have been able to put teams away with late game-clinching touchdowns each of the last two weeks.

Luckily for Jackson, he runs into the NFL’S 31st-ranked defense this Sunday. It should present an opportunity for his biggest game yet in what promises to be a rocking Arrowhead Stadium.

The Ravens will need Jackson to be at his best if they want to keep pace with the NFL’s best offense.

tyreek-hill-travis-kelce-b9552536f89b5c48

The Ravens will have their hands full with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill who are both over 1,000 yards receiving in just 12 weeks. Image Credit: AP

2) So about that Chiefs offense…..

In doing some research the last few days regarding the Chiefs offense, I can confidently tell you that they are every bit as good as advertised.

They are first in points-per-game at 37.0, third in yards-per-game with 437.2, third in passing yards-per-game, and fourth in third down conversion percentage. They have been held to under 30 points in just two of their 12 games so far this season. They did, however, win both of those contests. For comparison sake, the Ravens have scored 30+ in just two of their 12 contests. In Kansas City’s only two losses their opponents needed 51 and 43 points to beat them.

The moral of the story is that it is going to take 30 points or more to win this game. There’s been a ton of talk given to the importance of time of possession this Sunday and while I feel that can be an effective way to slow down a high-flying offense, consider this. The Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle in eight of their 12 games this season, including their two losses. It doesn’t seem to matter that they rarely win the tome of possession battle.

usa_today_11127397.1535225613

MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes puts up points in a hurry. Image Credit: USA Today

Furthermore, the Chiefs have 36 touchdown drives spanning four minutes or less this season. 27 of those lasted three minutes or less. They have a total of 63 plays this season that have gone at least 20 yards. This offense is explosive. It doesn’t need much time to find pay dirt.

The Ravens will catch a break, albeit for an awful reason in that running back Kareem Hunt is no longer a Kansas City Chief after his incident went viral last Friday. But the rest of the gang is still there in MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who will be looking to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season, and tight end Travis Kelce who just torched Oakland with 12 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

min9nbclpe3olutwiq4p

The Ravens secondary will be looking for another big week. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense has been stellar since the bye week. Their best game of the season was last week when they shut down a Falcons offense that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. Marlon Humphrey appears to be a budding star. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young held their own last week too. But remember that was a Falcons offense that hasn’t cracked the 20-point plateau since November 4th.

The Chiefs fewest point total all year is 26. The Ravens best defensive performance of the season likely holds Kansas City to 27. Their worst performance could lead the Ravens to needing 40 or more points to win. Let’s hope the defense can keep it close on Sunday.

lamar_jackson1

We’ll see if Lamar Jackson is jumping for joy this Sunday against a KC defense that ranks second in sacks. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Is the Chiefs defense really that bad?

The numbers up there in bullet point one are pretty ugly so you’re probably thinking “What the hell is Ian talking about?”

And to a certain extent you’d be right. But the Chiefs have two pass rushers who are over 10 sacks each this season in Dee Ford (10.5) and Chris Jones (10). They have helped the Chiefs pass rush group to the NFL’s second-highest sack total at 39 for the year. The Chiefs are also in the top 10 in turnover differential at +10 on the season.

As a reminder, Jackson has four turnovers in three starts and has also put the ball on the ground an additional four times but was able to recover. So while the Kansas City defense may give up a ton of yards and a ton of points, they get to the quarterback and have forced 20 takeaways on the season. This could loom large against a turnover-happy rookie who could be dealing with a banged up offensive line.

The Chiefs could also get a boost this week if All-Pro saftey Eric Berry returns to the Kansas City defensive backfield. He returned to practice last week but was inactive against the Raiders. He is the heart and soul of their defense and he has been working back from a week one ruptured Achilles. His return this Sunday would be a plus for the Chiefs.

So yes the Chiefs defense is still bad. But it is opportunistic and can be a handful in pass protection. Jackson will need to protect the ball Sunday for the Ravens to have a chance.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell: Chiefs 30 Ravens 27

Nolan McGraw: Chiefs 28 Ravens 23

Jay Stavros: Chiefs 35 Ravens 20

Ian Schultz: Chiefs 31 Ravens 19

This Ravens defense has played very well since the bye week and is coming off their best performance of the season. None of that will matter as they take on a Chiefs offense that averages 37 points-per -game. The Ravens will keep them under this number and dominate the time of possession offensively, but they won’t be able to match the Chiefs potent attack.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: USA Today

Advertisements

Four thoughts following the Ravens 26-16 win in Atlanta

ATLANTA — The Ravens picked up a solid road win this week by taking down the Falcons 26-16. The victory puts them at 7-5 and gives them their first three-game win streak of the season. A tough matchup in Kansas City looms on the horizon. For now, let’s enjoy this win. Here are four takeaways from the game.

1: Defense dominates

Most of the focus leading up to this week’s game was on the Ravens quarterbacks but the defense ended up stealing the spotlight on Sunday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Lamar Jackson turned heads the past two weeks but the defense rose to the occasion in both of those games and sealed the win.

That was the case once again this week as the Ravens defense held Matt Ryan and company to just 131 yards of total offense. Ryan’s 97 passing yards stands as a career low for the veteran quarterback and the ground game wasn’t any better for Atlanta. Ito Smith led the way with 22 yards on seven carries while Tevin Coleman was practically nonexistent with eight yards on six carries. Surprisingly their 34 total rushing yards is not even their worst running performance of the season as they only mustered 26 in last week’s loss to the Saints.

It took the Falcons until the end of the fourth quarter to score a touchdown on offense and by that point the Ravens had already sealed a victory thanks to another timely turnover. Last week it was Matt Judon coming up with a big strip sack while Terrell Suggs picked it up and scored. The same scene played out this week but the cast was different. Patrick Onwuasor was able to get to Ryan on an all-out blitz and force a fumble which Tavon Young quickly scooped up and carried to the endzone.

2: A closer mentality

That fumble recovery by Young put the Ravens up 26-10 with a little over seven minutes to play. That’s the kind of game-sealing play that the Ravens could have used in a handful of crucial games the past few seasons.

With all the attention being put on Jackson and his first three NFL starts, the Ravens defense has put together three great games in a row. Has the level of competition been the toughest? Absolutely not, but tell me the last time you saw the Ravens defense successfully protect a fourth quarter lead three games in a row. 

After the game Eric Weddle spoke on the way the defense has been approaching these past few games. The veteran safety told the media the defense looks at themselves as closers and they relish the opportunity to put games away in the fourth quarter.

Obviously you want this kind of attitude out of your defense every week but their importance has only increased with Jackson as the starter. The Ravens may be 3-0 with Jackson and the run game has been given new life, but the offense as a whole is averaging just 21 points a game. The defense has been forced into some tough situations between this lack of scoring and Jackson’s turnovers but they keep getting the job done.

There is a lot of debate as to whether the Ravens defense deserves to be called the best in the league, but when you look at what they have done these past three weeks, I don’t know how you could say they aren’t. Other units may have more turnovers and sacks, but the Ravens are holding opponents to just 18 points a game and in 2018 that should be praised. The league is not designed for this to happen but Wink Martindale and his crew are finding ways to play tough defense in a league that values high scoring shootouts on a week-to-week basis.

3: Containing Julio Jones & Calvin Ridley

The defense’s overall performance was outstanding and when you look at the stats, it rivals their performances against the Bills and Titans from earlier this year. However, the Falcons presented a much bigger challenge with their offensive weapons. Most teams will only hope to limit receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley but Baltimore ended up shutting them down as the duo combined for just five receptions for 40 yards. Jones was targeted eight times in the game but only hauled in two catches. Both Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith did a good job shadowing the star receiver and contesting almost every ball thrown in his direction.

In addition to that, the pass rush got to Ryan pretty quickly and forced some imperfect throws. The same thing happened a few weeks ago against the Bengals but you could really see how effective it was this Sunday as Ryan tried to stand tall behind a terrible offensive line. Very rarely have the Ravens gotten both their pass rush and secondary firing on all cylinders at the same time, but when they do they are very tough to beat.

4: Overcoming some bumps and bruises

The outcome of Sunday’s game was great but there was not a feeling of comfort while it was taking place. One reason behind that is the amount of Ravens players that left the game due to injury.

The most notable player to leave was Jackson in the third quarter. The rookie quarterback was leading the Ravens down the field and into scoring position looking to take the lead. On one of the last plays of the drive, Jackson scrambled for a gain of 10 yards. While being tackled, Jackson was accidentally kicked in the helmet by teammate Ronnie Stanley. Jackson did not leave the game right away but the NFL’s medical staff forced him to go into concussion protocol following the drive.  

Fans started to become worried when Jackson exited the injury tent on the sideline and headed for the locker room. It was later revealed that the medical staff could not properly evaluate Jackson in the tent and needed to go the locker room where it was quieter. As a result of the prolonged concussion test, Jackson was absent for an entire drive and Robert Griffin III had to lead the Ravens offense. 

Griffin performed well and helped the Ravens eat up over seven minutes of clock before picking up another field goal. Jackson would later return to the game to help close things out. Even if this is the only time we see Griffin this season, his presence should be valued. There was a lot of debate in the preseason around whether the Ravens should keep three quarterbacks or not. The case for keeping Griffin was mostly based on the possibility of Joe Flacco getting injured. That has come to be the case and having a guy like Griffin ready to go instead of scrambling to find some washed-up veteran in free agency was a very under-appreciated move.

Stanley was also injured on the previously mentioned play where his foot came in contact with Jackson’s helmet. Despite appearing to be in a good bit of pain, the left tackle would return to the game later in the third quarter. This is another huge relief for Stanley who has found himself banged up on a handful of plays in recent weeks.

Other Ravens players who left the game due to injury include Jimmy Smith, Brandon Williams, Maxx Williams and Alex Lewis. All would return to the game except for Lewis who suffered a shoulder injury.

Quick Hits:

Image credit: Danny Karnik / Associated Press

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.

Quick Hits:

Image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun