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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Predictions

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

 

 

 

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Podcast Episode 31: Ravens Holiday Special: Will Baltimore host an NFL playoff game for the first time in six years?

Image Credit: The Athletic

Welcome to Episode 31 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’ monumental 22-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers from Saturday night (6:23). Along with breaking down the Ravens’ playoff picture, we analyze the Ravens’ decision to retain head coach John Harbaugh following Friday night’s announcement (18:12). As always, we tell you Who’s Trending (28:41) and go over some things to watch for in week 17 when the Ravens take on the Browns (39:51) to try to clinch the AFC North and their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

At the bottom of the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 31 (52:37).

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. Happy Holidays and 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 (including Jimmy) or bartender the promo code ‘Charm City.’ 

*Offer expires after the new year*

Five things we learned from Ravens 21-0 win over Titans

NASHVILLE — The Baltimore Ravens advanced to 4-2 with a 21-0 shutout over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, who fell to 3-3. For the Ravens, this ended a three-game road trip with the team going 2-1 over that span.

The three-game road trip was filled with ups and downs, but it ended on a high note with Sunday’s win over Tennessee. Here are five things we learned about the Ravens in their first shutout of the 2018 season.


1. Holy crap, pass rush!

Ever since the Ravens’ defense tallied six sacks against the Buffalo Bills in the opening game of the season, the pass rush failed to put opposing quarterbacks on the ground more than five times in a game.

Sunday against Tennessee, that trend changed. The Ravens’ pass rush exploded on the Titans, finishing with a franchise-high 11 sacks and absolutely terrorizing Marcus Mariota. Speaking of Mariota, he finished the game being sacked more times than his completion total showed, which was 10 passes.

Za’Darius Smith led the pass rushers with three sacks. Patrick Onwuasor followed with two. Matthew Judon, Terrell Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Kenny Young, Anthony Levine Sr., and Chris Wormley all found their way into the Tennessee backfield on Sunday with one sack each. The 11-sack total the Titans allowed in this game was more than the total amount of sacks they had let up all season (9).

Mariota finished the game with 117 passing yards. He didn’t stand a chance, as his offense went 1-for-10 on third down with the running back tandem of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis combining for 30 yards on 12 carries.

With former defensive coordinator Dean Pees on the opposite end of the sideline, the Ravens’ defense wanted to send a clear message. Even though several players expressed their respect for Pees this past week, they wanted to stick it to their old play-caller. Not only did the defense’s performance on Sunday prove that they live on without Pees, it showed that the defense could be better than they ever were with him leading the way.


2. Michael Crabtree puts Cleveland nightmare behind him

Against the Browns last week, Michael Crabtree hauled in just six of 12 targets with multiple drops, including a potential touchdown grab in the fourth quarter that could have won the game for the Ravens. Crabtree has run into some issues with drops in his career, but he’s consistently bounced back from his struggles. That pattern continued against Tennessee, where Crabtree rebounded by leading the Ravens with 93 yards on six receptions, including a four-yard touchdown catch. It marked Crabtree’s first touchdown reception since the season opener against Buffalo.

Willie Snead caught seven passes for 60 yards, but the next leading receiver, John Brown, only caught two. Crabtree signed a three-year contract with the Ravens coveting him as a red-zone threat. The Ravens certainly expected more than two touchdowns through the first six games for Crabtree, but the Ravens will go forward and hope that Crabtree’s bounce-back today carries over in the next three games before the bye.


3. Ravens balance out offense, make honest effort to run the football

In the Ravens’ two losses this season, the ratio of run and pass plays has scewed much more towards the pass. In Marty Morthinweg’s sixth game called this season, he ran 35 run plays and 38 pass plays. The end result was Joe Flacco completing 27 passes for 238 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, with the run game compiling 123 yards on the ground.

On 19 carries, Alex Collins could only rack up 54 yards for an average of 2.8 yards-per-carry. Although many of his runs went short, he did break free for a 13-yard touchdown run in the first half.

After Collins, Gus Edwards carried the ball 10 times for 42 yards in his regular season debut. Lamar Jackson‘s lone rush attempt, a 22-yarder, awarded the Ravens a first down midway through the third quarter. Buck Allen caught three passes for 18 yards, but only received one carry which went one yard.

The results of the run game aren’t anything sexy and are aided by Jackson’s 22-yard run, but the encouraging sign was how many holes opened up for the running backs as opposed to the first five weeks. With Allen proving to be an asset in the passing game, Edwards will continue to split the load with Collins for the lion’s share of carries. Considering Edwards led the team with 174 rushing yards (53 carries) in the preseason, he’s a name to keep an eye on going forward.


4. Second-half defensive dominance continues

The Ravens may have compiled 11 sacks on Mariota on Sunday, but don’t forget that they again did not allow a second-half touchdown. Baltimore’s defense has not allowed an opposing offense to reach the end zone in the second half yet this season. The unit continues to put up incredible numbers, and it’s becoming fun to watch, not just in the game, but on social media too. Check out this Tweet from Barstool Banks with another interesting tidbit surrounding the 2018 Ravens defense.

The outstanding defensive performances are helping out the Ravens’ offense too. Two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, the Ravens got by on four Justin Tucker field goals because the defense shut out Ben Roethlisberger in the second half. Then this week, the only score the Ravens needed in the second half was a two-yard run by Collins midway through the third quarter. It’s no secret that Flacco performs better when his defense backs him up, and the defense has certainly held up their end of the bargain through the first six games.


5. Alex Lewis injury could present offensive line shuffling

A scary moment occurred in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win when left guard Alex Lewis went down with a neck injury. Lewis remained on the ground for several minutes before a cart was brought onto the field, where Lewis was placed on a stretcher and taken away from Nissan Stadium in an ambulance.

According to the Ravens, upon arriving at the hospital Lewis regained movement in all of his extremities and was even cleared to fly back with the Ravens on the team plane Sunday night. Lewis underwent a CT scan, and head coach John Harbaugh said that the team will release details on Lewis’ injury once they get the scan results back.

Unfortunately, Lewis’ issues with injuries continue and he’s likely to miss some time while healing this neck injury. Who knows, it could even be season-ending. The good news is that the Ravens have some depth along the offensive line.

After Lewis came out of the game, rookie center Bradley Bozeman filled in at left guard while James Hurst remained at right tackle. This seems puzzling, given that the Ravens have rookie tackle Orlando Brown Jr. waiting in the wings to make his regular season debut, but it’s worth noting that Hurst has not practiced much at left guard this season after starting all 16 games last year at left guard. If Lewis is out for a long period of time, the Ravens could absolutely move Hurst back to left guard and have Brown slide in at right tackle. Given the nature of a sudden injury, it’s understandable as to why the coaches kept Hurst at right tackle for the remainder of the game.


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