Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons

The Baltimore Ravens sit at 6-5 with five games remaining on the season. They are currently sitting in the final playoff spot in a crowded AFC Wild Card race. They will be looking to extend their winning streak to three straight when they head to Atlanta to take on the 4-7 Falcons Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 1:00pm.

Lamar Jackson was under center for the second consecutive week for injured veteran starting quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens were able to take down the Oakland Raiders 34-17. Jackson was 14-of-25 for 178 yards with a touchdown and two tip drill-type interceptions. He also added 11 carries for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.

The Ravens got a big game from pass rusher Matt Judon who picked up three sacks on the afternoon including a huge strip sack that was recovered by Terrell Suggs and taken back for the game-clinching touchdown.

Suggs showed impressive speed down the sidelines after he was unable to find anyone to pitch the ball too. It was Suggs’ first touchdown in 10 seasons. He had this to say after the game:

So the Ravens will head to Atlanta this Sunday hoping to extend their winning streak against a Falcons team that has followed three straight wins with three straight losses. They sit at 4-7, tied with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for last place in the NFC South.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of another big game for the Ravens.

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1) How does Lamar Jackson look in his first road start?

Jackson is 2-0. That’s great news for the Ravens who have been without Flacco for the last two weeks and it looks like Flacco will miss Sunday’s contest against the Falcons. Flacco has yet to be medically cleared to practice and it would be difficult to envision a scenario where he is out there this Sunday.

Jackson is 27-of-44 for 328 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions through the air.  He has also added 37 carries for 190 yards and a rushing touchdown.  Jackson has done so against the NFL’S 32nd and 26th ranked total defenses in the Bengals and the Raiders respectively.

He has helped spark a running game along with fellow rookie Gus Edwards. The Ravens have rushed for 509 yards in Jackson’s two starts and had rushed for just 834 yards prior to Jackson’s arrival in the starting lineup.

What has impressed me most about Jackson is his calmness in the pocket. I mentioned this last week but he really does have a presence about him in the pocket that I didn’t expect to see, especially not this early. He seems like he has a great attitude and is consistently looking for ways to get better. He also doesn’t seem to have a sense of entitlement to the job either.

I am not a Lamar Jackson fan. I didn’t like the pick at the time as I didn’t feel it was a position of need. I think that his limitations in the short and intermediate passing games will make it extremely difficult for him to be successful long term in the NFL. The long ball, however, seems to be a strength:

With my dislike for the Jackson pick aside, I can admit that he looks significantly more polished than I expected him to.

But playing on the road is a different beast in the NFL. The Falcons will be a more rested unit than the Ravens, having lost on Thanksgiving night to the New Orleans Saints. And while the Ravens think they have the Falcons game-planning for two quarterbacks, I would think that Falcons head coach Dan Quinn and his staff are able to read between the lines here and spend most of their time planning for Jackson.

Many Ravens fans think that this team still has a shot at the playoffs (myself included). A win Sunday with Jackson under center would be a huge step in the right direction.

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Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith will be tested early and often in Atlanta Sunday. Image Credit: Purple Reign Show

2) Can the Ravens slow down the Falcons offense?

While they have tapered off a bit, the Falcons rank seventh in the NFL in total offense, fourth in passing offense, and 11th in points-per-game.

They are going to pose a significantly larger challenge to the Ravens defense than the Bengals and Raiders did. Their wide receivers are among the NFL’s best in Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohammed Sanu.  Any of these three guys would represent the Ravens’ best pass catching option.

They also have Tevin Coleman at running back who averages over four yards-per-carry and is also a threat of the backfield. Austin Hooper at tight end is a consistent threat over the middle too.

Matt Ryan is having another All-Pro caliber season despite failing to lead the Falcons to a winning record. Ryan has 3,683 yards passing and has added 24 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Despite their three-game losing streak, Ryan has thrown five touchdowns to two interceptions in those contests.

This is a big test for the NFL’s top ranked defense (LOL no really look it up). One welcomed sign last week for the Ravens was the emergence of Judon along the pass rush.  Throughout much of the offseason, we heard about what a huge season that Judon was in store for. He found himself on preseason watch lists and Judon himself declared he wanted to lead the league in sacks.

These were the Ravens’ only three sacks of the day and they will need the pass rushing group to be big this Sunday against the Falcons. As good as the Ravens’ secondary can be, if the pass rush fails to get pressure on Ryan, the Falcons wideouts will run wild on the Ravens.

Another stat to watch for: The Falcons haven’t scored 20+ points since a week nine win over the Washington Redskins. If that trend continues, the Ravens might be able to sneak out of at Atlanta with a key road win.

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John Harbaugh and the Ravens desperately need a road win this Sunday to keep their playoff hopes alive. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Desperation

The Ravens are currently the #6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. They will need to continue their winning ways in order to remain there.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Ravens after this week’s matchup in Atlanta. The Ravens are 6-5 and will likely need nine wins to be in the conversation for the last Wildcard spot when the final horn on the 2018 season sounds.

Of their three remaining road games, this one projects to be “the most winnable” on paper. The Ravens travel to Kansas City next week to take on the Chiefs (#1 seed in the AFC) before their final road contest against the 8-3 Los Angeles Chargers (#5 seed) in week 16.

Assuming the Ravens come up short in both of those contests, they would need this road win and wins in their two remaining home games to make the playoffs. Their opponents are the Tampa Bay Bucs, who boast the number one offense in the NFL, and the Cleveland Browns, who are looking more and more dangerous by the week. Those two games will not be gimmies either.

The Ravens need to win this game far more than the Falcons need to win this game. They’ll need to prove that this Sunday.

Predictions:

Jake McDonnell– Falcons 27 Ravens 24

Nolan McGraw– Ravens 24 Falcons 21

Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Falcons 20

Ian Schultz– Falcons 27 Ravens 10

While the Falcons have struggled offensively the past three weeks, I cannot see this Ravens defense being able to effectively shut them down. While they might be able to slow them down enough to keep the Ravens competitive, Jackson and the offense will struggle throughout and the Ravens will find themselves at 6-6 heading to Kansas City.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

 

 

 

 

 

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Podcast Episode 27: The $24.75 million Ravens quarterback decision, ‘Orioleball’ coming soon?

Image Credit: Camden Chat 

Welcome to Episode 27 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

The first 40 minutes of the show dive into all things Ravens, starting with revisiting Baltimore’s 34-17 win over the Oakland Raiders from Sunday (5:28). From there, the guys break down the ongoing Flacco vs. Jackson debate and the key quotes gathered from head coach John Harbaugh’s Monday press conference (13:49). As always, we go over Who’s Trending (25:52) and some key things to watch for on Sunday when the Ravens head to Atlanta to face the Falcons (37:07).

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest, 105.7 The Fan Digital and Carroll Varsity‘s Joe Schiller (44:38). Schiller gives his takes on the Ravens, Flacco/Jackson, and the recent addition of Sig Mejdal to the Orioles’ new front office headed by Mike Elias.

After Schiller’s call-in, Nolan and Ian provide further insight into the much improved Orioles front office (1:00:50). Can Elias and Mejdal recreate ‘Astroball’? Will the new regime reach out to free agent outfielder Adam Jones to spark a reunion? All of this and more coming your way on this week’s Orioles segment.

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 27 (1:13:27).

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.’

Five things we learned from Ravens 34-17 win over Raiders

BALTIMORE — The Ravens needed another win to lift them above .500 and keep ahold of the #6 seed in the AFC playoff race. On Sunday against the Raiders, Terrell Suggs scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery for the first time in his career, the Ravens’ offense combined for 242 total yards on the ground, and Matt Judon registered sacks on three consecutive plays as the Ravens took down the Raiders 34-17 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s five things we learned from the Ravens’ first win over Oakland since 2012.


1. Gus Edwards has earned the starting running back job 

Alex Collins missed his first game of the season on Sunday with a foot injury, leaving the door open for undrafted rookie Gus Edwards to start his first NFL game. Edwards was coming off a 115-yard performance in last week’s win over Cincinnati. Edwards, a preseason darling, wasn’t even on the 53-man roster until October 13, but injuries to Kenneth Dixon and De’Lance turner opened the door and now Edwards is a significant part of Baltimore’s offense.

Edwards seized his opportunity against the 31st-ranked run defense, totaling 118 yards on 23 carries (5.1 yards-per-run). The most impressive part of Edwards’ play was his ability to follow his linemen and storm over defenders with his thick legs. His newfound success in the Ravens’ offense has sparked a running game that was almost nonexistent prior to last Sunday’s win over the Bengals.

Along with Edwards, Lamar Jackson racked up 71 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, complimenting his 178 yards of passing with another touchdown. Ty Montgomery saw an increased role in his second game with the Ravens, ending the game with 51 yards on eight carries and 13 receiving yards on three catches.

It’s important to remember that the success of Edwards has come against the two worst run defenses in the league. With that said, both Atlanta’s and Kansas City’s run defenses rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL. No matter who’s the Ravens quarterback in Atlanta next week, Edwards has earned the opportunity to start, or at least receive the majority of the carries against the Falcons. The Ravens’ run attack has not been nearly as successful with Flacco under center. If Flacco starts, it will be intriguing to see if Edwards can sustain the momentum that he has now.


2. Ravens coaching staff can’t force Lamar Jackson into pass-heavy situations 

When John Harbaugh and Jackson spoke with the media earlier this week, both men emphasized that Jackson needs to pass more and cannot run the ball 26 times in one game. In Jackson’s second start, his run attempts went down from 26 to 11, and his pass attempts went up from 19 to 25.

Although the Ravens’ usage of Jackson became more balanced against the Raiders as a whole, the coaching staff tried to force the issue in the first half. Trailing 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, the Ravens had a 1st-and-10 from the Oakland 49-yard line. Jackson threw three straight passes, one incomplete and two going just one yard. Rather than stick with the read-option and play to Jackson’s strengths, the Ravens got into the same bad ‘pass-happy’ habits that they’ve gotten in with Flacco on several occasions.

The same happened again in the second quarter. With the ball at their own 30-yard line to start a drive, Jackson threw two incompletions before being intercepted by Reggie Nelson, leading to a Raiders field goal.

Jackson’s arm is a work-in-progress, but the Ravens shouldn’t force their rookie quarterback into pass-heavy situations. Like it or not, the Ravens need to realize that Jackson isn’t ready to make every throw that the average NFL quarterback needs to make. Much of Jackson’s success, at least for this season, should be through the read option and play action. Someday when Jackson establishes himself as a legitimate starting quarterback, putting the weight on him is rational. What the Ravens were calling on offense in the first half with a lead over Oakland was flat out dangerous.


3. For Ravens defense, the good stuff comes in bunches

In 2017, the Ravens defense led the NFL in turnovers. This season, turnovers have not been easy to come by, and the same can be said for sacks.

When Suggs recovered Derek Carr‘s fumble and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, it gave Baltimore’s defense their first turnover since the first quarter of the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Saints in week 7.

Judon got to Carr and caused the fumble. Then when the Raiders got the ball back, Judon got into the backfield on the first two plays, giving him three straight sacks in as many plays.

If it had not been for Judon coming alive in the fourth quarter and quickly piling up three sacks, the Ravens would have went the entire game without a sack. That would have continued what has been a puzzling theme for the Ravens as of late. The Ravens came into Sunday with three sacks in their last four games. Judon now has 4.5 sacks in his last three games after a quiet start. His breakout on Sunday gave some life to a pass rush that’s been nonexistent recently.

The Ravens defense has struggled for turnovers all season long. They were able to get away with it against teams like the Bills and the Broncos, but not coming up with turnovers or sacks against teams like the Steelers, Saints and Panthers isn’t good enough. If the Ravens want to stand a chance against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers on the road, they can’t keep going full games without registering a single turnover or sack.


4. Ravens finally find answer in the return game

Finding the right guy to return kicks and punts hasn’t been the easiest task for the Ravens this season. Both Janarion Grant and Tim White got their chances early on, but they struggled and were demoted to the practice squad. Cyrus Jones bounced back-and-forth between the Ravens and the Patriots in September and October, but since resigning with the Ravens on Oct. 8 he’s handled the punt return duties.

When the Raiders punted to Jones with less than a minute left in the first quarter, Jones took the ball at the Baltimore 30-yard line and dashed down the right sideline for a 70-yard return touchdown. The score put Baltimore up 10-7, and the Raiders never held another lead.

Jones, a Baltimore native and Gilman School graduate, scored his first NFL touchdown in front of his hometown crowd. It was Baltimore’s first punt return touchdown since Michael Campanero‘s 77-yard punt return touchdown against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 15, 2017. Jones wasn’t in imminent danger of being replaced at punt returner, but it was nice to see him break out for a long score given the lack of production from Ravens returners thus far in 2018.


5. Lamar Jackson is winning over the locker room (or at least his receivers) 

Lost in the celebration of the Ravens’ second straight win was what was said in the locker-room after the action wrapped up on the field. Michael Crabtree, who caught three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, sang some high praises for Jackson.

“It’s the Lamar show,” Crabtree said. “You just have to sit back and watch, because he’s electrifying.… Just his attitude. He’s got a winning spirit. Everything he does, he does well. I’m just a witness and a receiver at his disposal.”

That’s quite an endorsement from Mr. Crabtree. It’s no secret that the Ravens have a big decision to make at the quarterback position if Flacco returns to practice this week. Harbaugh, for both personal and competitive purposes, wasn’t ready to answer questions pertaining to who will be the starting quarterback next week in Atlanta.

“Im not going to get into that for a number of reasons,” Harbaugh said. “Whether that decision has been made or not is not important for anybody to know but us. If I decide to do it one way or the other, I don’t want our opponent to know.”

The Athletic‘s Jeff Zrebiec pointed out that Flacco’s hip injury required three or four weeks or rest. Flacco got hurt three weeks ago, meaning that his return to practice is imminent. Do the Ravens stick with their rookie quarterback and officially turn the page on the Joe Flacco era, or will Harbaugh decide to stick to his roots in a playoff race, even if it halts the offense’s momentum and potentially goes against the beliefs of the locker room? For a team trying to hold onto a #6 playoff seed, this makes for an intriguing final five weeks of the season.


Quick hits

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun