Eisenberg: A Behind-the-Scenes MVP So Far 

102619_Eisenberg

Scattershooting about the Ravens:

No doubt, Lamar Jackson is atop the list of reasons why the Ravens are 5-2 and comfortably in first place in the AFC North as they take their bye-week break.

After his performance against the Seattle Seahawks, one online betting service (betonline.ag) lists Jackson as a 9-1 shot to win the league MVP award. Only four other players (Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, DeShaun Watson and Christian McCaffery) are deemed likelier winners. Tom Brady also is 9-1.

Impressive company.

Also on the short list of invaluable contributors to the Ravens’ cause are cornerback Marlon Humphrey (MVP of the defense), running back Mark Ingram II, kicker Justin Tucker and tight end Mark Andrews, just to name a few.

But the list also includes a guy who hasn’t taken a single snap – General Manager Eric DeCosta.

Remember, as sunny as the team’s prospects seem now, they appeared far darker just a month ago after the Cleveland Browns came to M&T Bank Stadium and won in a rout. The game made it clear that the Ravens’ defense, as then constituted, wasn’t going to cut it. DeCosta started making changes and hasn’t stopped.

The defense that won in Seattle included three starters who weren’t even on the roster for the Cleveland game -- cornerback Marcus Peters and inside linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort – as well as lineman Jihad Ward, who logged more than half of the snaps.

Combined, they’ve brought energy, stability and playmaking to a unit sorely in need of those qualities. The Ravens’ season might have gone off the rails, yes, even with Jackson, if DeCosta hadn’t brought in reinforcements on that side of the ball. The on-the-fly defense (that’s what I’m calling it) isn’t as dominant as last year’s and remains a work in progress, but it’s a lot sounder than it was a month ago.

Best of all, DeCosta added those players without giving up a first-day or second-day draft pick. Bynes, Fort and Ward were free agents. Peters came from the Los Angeles Rams for a reported fifth-round pick and a player who had fallen out of favor.

It’s hard to successfully fortify a struggling unit in the middle of a season, especially at bargain prices. DeCosta has pulled it off. The locker room owes him a tip of the cap.

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While we’re on the subject, it wouldn’t surprise me if DeCosta makes another move to bolster the defense before the league’s trading deadline next Tuesday at 4 pm.

The pass rush could use a boost, as the Ravens have recorded just 12 sacks in seven games. Yes, they lead the league in quarterback hits, so there are positives. And the rush was a difference-maker in Seattle, suggesting that players such as Tyus Bowser and Jaylon Ferguson might be growing into their roles.

Still, with Pernell McPhee out for the season, the rush could use some help. The names of numerous potential trade targets have been mentioned, but given how DeCosta has operated so far, I’d zero in on those who wouldn’t force the Ravens to part with anything resembling a high draft pick.

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Cheer for the Patriots?

Baltimore fans certainly won’t be doing that when the reigning Super Bowl champions visit M&T Bank Stadium next Sunday. But things are different this weekend. New England is hosting the Cleveland Browns and could help the Ravens’ cause in the AFC North by winning.

Some will suggest the smarter move is to root for the Browns to beat the undefeated Patriots because it would give the Ravens a better shot in the race for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. It’s an interesting idea. But the Ravens are facing a difficult down-the-stretch schedule, and for now, I think the focus should be on them protecting their division lead from rear attacks.

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Fact: Jackson has completed 62 passes to tight ends, 58 to wide receivers and 22 to running backs.

Opinion: The wide receivers will need to contribute more going forward.

Fact: The Ravens lead the league in rushing attempts, but if you take away Jackson’s total, 18 teams have more rushing attempts.

Opinion: It’s encouraging that the Ravens haven’t asked their running backs to carry too heavy a load, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more of Ingram and Gus Edwards with the ball.

Fact: Penalties on the Ravens are up just 4 percent this year compared to 2018 and penalties on their opponents are down 11 percent.

Opinion: Surprising. So much for the perception that flags are flying everywhere.

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