Three things to watch for as the Ravens welcome the Bucs

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.lamar-jackson-fantasy-football-starter

Lamar Jackson will be looking to keep the Ravens offense running successfully this Sunday. Image Credit: Sports Illustrated

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.

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The Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale will be looking for his defense to bounce back from a disappointing finish against the Chiefs. Image Credit: Baltimore Gridiron Report

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.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Minnesota Vikings

Eric Weddle and the defense continue to squander late leads. Image Credit: USA Today

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.

Preditions

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.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: WNST

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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

 

 

 

 

 

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.’