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50 Words or Less: Lamar Jackson's Laser-Sharp Focus Is Leading the Ravens

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

The Ravens know full well what's at stake when they line up against the Miami Dolphins Sunday.

Win and they're the AFC North champions and earn a first-round playoff bye.

The Ravens have been on a roll knocking off playoff-bound teams, but this is another massive challenge against a strong Dolphins team.

Here are my thoughts, all in 50 words or less:

The Ravens are not underdogs to the Dolphins on Sunday. Only a handful of pundits are picking Miami, an 11-win team, to beat the Ravens. But don't tell that to Lamar Jackson. "We're the underdogs," he told me this week. How? Why? "Because we're the underdogs."

When you have been doubted your whole football career like Jackson has, that chip never leaves your shoulder. But mostly, Jackson wants his teammates to stay locked in and is still angry about how the 2019 season ended. He's leading with his laser-sharp focus to avoid a repeat.

The Ravens' defensive collapse against the Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium feels like it was a decade ago, not last season. This team has changed so much since then. Per Next Gen Stats, the Ravens have the second-best defensive success percentage on throws 20 or more yards down the field.

Patrick Queen made waves after the win in San Francisco saying, "Everybody wants to be out here cute, playing basketball on grass and stuff, and we not with all that." That wasn't aimed at the Dolphins, but they took it that way. Queen doesn't care and neither do his teammates.

Taking away the Dolphins' big offensive plays and keeping a lid on Tyreek Hill is the key to the game. Kyle Hamilton's status is in question. If he doesn't play, even more goes on the plate of ball-hawking safeties Marcus Williams and Geno Stone. This is their time to shine.

Since the start of last year, the Ravens defense has a 75.7 passer rating allowed with Hamilton on the field and 96.1 without. Hamilton has been superb in every way this year, but this defense will be eager to show it's not a one-man show if it doesn't have him.

The Ravens will have all eyes on Tyreek Hill, especially if Jaylen Waddle is out.

Baltimore Ravens Editorial Director Ryan Mink
Ryan Mink

Editorial Director

The absence of Jaylen Waddle doesn't crush the Dolphins offense, but it's a big deal. Sure, Tua Tagovailoa's stats have been better when he hasn't been on the field, but this feels like one of those cases where stats can be misleading. Another very good player isn't out there.

The highlight of Rashod Bateman's career so far was his 75-yard slant for a touchdown against the Dolphins last season. Not long after, a foot injury provided a significant roadblock. Bateman's stats haven't matched how much he's been getting open. He has more big plays like that in his future.

There's a lot of attention on Miami's offense, and for good reason since it's No.1 in the league in almost every major category. But the Dolphins' defense has been one of the best in the league (No. 1 in EPA/play) since the midway point. Baltimore's offense needs to stay hot.

There are those who will harken back to the 2019 playoffs and don't like the idea of a first-round bye because of the "rust" argument. The Ravens are in pretty good health right now, but hearing from Odell Beckham Jr. Friday, it's clear the veterans very much want it.

The latest media grenade thrown Jackson's way is he isn’t “quarterbacky” enough. How are we still having this conversation? Every team wants a quarterback who extends plays with their legs and Jackson does it better than any. Defining QBs by passing yards alone is an antiquated (and freezing cold) take.

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