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50 Words or Less: A Target on Their Back And Not Backing Down

DB Brandon Stephens
DB Brandon Stephens

The Ravens are traveling to Los Angeles for a second straight primetime game.

Baltimore (8-3) has the best record in the AFC, but it's going to be a tough stretch run, and that includes Sunday's game against the Chargers (4-6).

Here are my thoughts on the game and where the Ravens stand, all in 50 words or less:

Brandon Stephens is still the NFL's most targeted cornerback, yet has allowed just 10.1 yards per target, fewer than 103 other corners (10.1). How long until teams figure out going at Stephens isn't the wisest choice? He welcomes their false confidence with his own swagger. "I love the island," he said.

Stephens will probably see plenty more passes come his way this week, as he's set for a heavy dose of Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, who leads the league in receptions and targets. Ja'Marr Chase last week. Allen this week. Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, and others after that. Strap up.

Stephens embodies the position the Ravens are in right now. Everybody is aiming at them, with a bunch of hurdles in their way, and they're smiling in the face of the challenge. Ravens on both sides of the ball feel like they still have a lot of room to grow.

Five of the Chargers' six losses have been by three points and four of those have been against some of the league's best teams (Dolphins, Cowboys, Chiefs, Lions). They're a better team than it says on paper. They're the most talented last-place team in the league.

Justin Herbert will be the toughest test the Ravens defense has faced this season. Joe Burrow was gimpy in Week 2 and exited early last week, and I'm giving Herbert the nod over Jared Goff. Herbert can do it all, but can he win? His career record is now 29-30.

The Chargers have had two of the game's top pass rushers (Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa) yet are 10 sacks behind the Ravens pass rush, which has featured two 30+ veterans (Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy). The Ravens are getting significantly more from less thanks to depth and coaching.

Lamar Jackson didn't miss a snap against the Bengals, but he's had to prove all week that his ankle is OK. After Jackson's injuries the past two years, plus season-ending injuries to Burrow and Deshaun Watson, it was a reminder of a how fragile a season can be.

Jackson has been challenged more this year in Todd Monken's more robust offense and he's passed the test. The next challenge is doing so without his safety blanket in Mark Andrews. One positive outcome from this horrible injury is maybe ripping off the Band-Aid helps Jackson become even better.

Jackson is averaging 9.2 rushing attempts per game this season. Last year, he averaged 9.3. So much for all that talk about him running way less. Jackson's yards per attempt have fallen from 6.8 to 5.3, but his legs are still very much a threat – which is a good thing.

The 2019 Ravens shattered numerous rushing records, including most rushing yards in a season, but could the 2023 Ravens be better? According to DVOA analytics, this year's team has the third-highest ranking ever, only behind the 1998 Broncos and 1999 Redskins. Monken might just be a run-game guru, too.

I wouldn't be shocked if Joe Flacco is under center for the Cleveland Browns in the not-so-distant future. The Browns have a playoff-caliber defense, and if they feel like rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson is holding them back, they'll turn to the steady veteran. I don't want to see Flacco in January.

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