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Late for Work: Lamar Jackson Named NFL's Midseason MVP

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, in Baltimore.

Ravens Win Multiple Midseason Awards from Pundits, Including Lamar Jackson As MVP

It's midseason awards season and the mythical red carpet is awash with Ravens purple.

At the top of the list of superlatives for the Ravens is Lamar Jackson, who has emerged as the clear favorite for MVP.

Here's a look at the honors bestowed on the Ravens from various outlets:

"Scariest team: Baltimore Ravens. Nobody in the league has looked more impressive than Baltimore. Lamar Jackson is playing at an MVP level in an offense that is finally showing the promise that came with the change to new coordinator Todd Monken. Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald has blossomed into a rising star behind the strength of a unit that has become the league's best. Of course, Head Coach John Harbaugh already has one Super Bowl win and a secure place as one of the best coaches of his era. If that weren't enough, the Ravens are straight-up kicking tail these days. We can all agree that Detroit and Seattle are two of the best teams in the NFC right now. Baltimore beat those squads by a combined score of 75-9. This isn't Alabama vs. Bethune-Cookman. These are good NFL teams getting bullied in games they expected to compete in. This is what gives Baltimore the edge over teams like Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Kansas City. When the Ravens have turned it on this season, they've gone to levels nobody else has reached thus far."

"Most improved player (defense): Geno Stone, S, Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens had planned on having Marcus Williams thriving at safety this season. Instead, they've watched Stone produce a breakout season while Williams has battled a torn pectoral muscle and a hamstring injury. Stone hasn't just stepped in and stabilized the back end of the Baltimore defense; he's leading the league with six interceptions and making a pretty strong case for Pro Bowl consideration. Stone also has earned his success the hard way. His career has included being waived (twice as a rookie in 2020) and spending time on Baltimore's practice squad before thriving as a special teams player who showed promise while filling in for an injured Williams last season. Stone was good enough to play in three-safety looks when this season began. His performance with Williams sidelined proves that he's even better than the Ravens ever imagined."

"Best assistant coach (defense): Mike Macdonald, Baltimore Ravens. This has become a year when defense is taking center stage again, and nobody is creating more havoc than the Ravens. Baltimore has surrendered the fewest points this year (an average of 13.8 per game) and the second-fewest yards (262.6). The Ravens also have been proficient at creating pressure, as their 35 sacks top the league. Macdonald is even getting career years out of role players like Stone and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, who has 7.5 sacks. This is a unit that is strong on all three levels. There are other defensive coordinators enjoying a great year, like Jim Schwartz in Cleveland and Steve Spagnuolo in Kansas City. Macdonald beats them with the sheer consistency of his unit every week."

On a side note, Chadiha's revised Super Bowl prediction is the Ravens over the Eagles.

"MVP: Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens. Jackson is getting plenty of help from his defense, and we still need him to stay healthy deep into December and January after missing most of those months in 2021 and 2022 with injuries. Just based off the first half of the season, though, I believe he's the one left standing and the best player in football through two months.

"As a passer, Jackson has made major strides. He leads the league in completion percentage (71.5%) despite throwing downfield at one of the highest rates. He averages a league-high 10.2 yards per throw off play-action, and he has picked apart defenses dominating in the intermediate zone. On throws traveling 11 to 20 yards in the air, his 94.4 QBR is the second-best mark in football, trailing only Justin Herbert's. He ranks third in QBR under pressure. And as a runner, Jackson hasn't lost much off his peak. He is running for a league-high 48.9 yards per game, which tops all quarterbacks. His 32 first downs is second only to Jalen Hurts, who has the benefit of steadily operating a play that generates free first downs about 95%of the time. Jackson's 19 runs of 10 or more yards is by far the most of any passer in the league. He ran for 47 gains of 10-plus yards in his MVP campaign, and no other quarterback in recent memory has topped 33 such runs in a single campaign. He's on pace for 36 this season."

The Athletic's Chris Branch

"MVP: Lamar Jackson. Easy call, especially after Tua Tagovailoa's tough day. Remember when we thought the Ravens would trade Jackson before the season? And remember when no one made any worthwhile offer? Jackson has been electric this year. He's completing a career-high 72 percent of his passes and is on pace for fewer interceptions than he threw in 2019, when he was the unanimous choice for MVP. A-plus."

"MVP: Lamar Jackson. I think he's been more consistent than Jalen Hurts, Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow. He's top three in completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio. I also think he's the soul of the franchise. He got money, it made him better. … I think he's the MVP and I don't think it's that close so far."

"Head Coach of the Year: John Harbaugh, Ravens. The Ravens are atop the AFC North with the best scoring differential in the league, while facing about a league-average strength of schedule (in terms of DVOA). The Ravens are a couple of close games away from being undefeated, with a fluky loss to the Steelers and another close loss to the Colts, where kicker Matt Gay finished with four field goals of 50 yards or longer and Indianapolis also benefited from some iffy officiating. The Ravens are performing like a top unit on both offense and defense, and feature a quarterback who is playing at an MVP-level, all while battling a laundry list of injuries (what else is new in Baltimore). With some improved health and turnover luck, they could be scarier in the loaded AFC.

"Assistant Coach of the Year: Mike Macdonald, Ravens Defensive Coordinator. The Ravens have been consistently the best defense this season. Macdonald doesn't major in any one thing. Instead, he adapts and custom-tailors his game plans for opponents, messing with protection rules on one snap and the quarterback's reads on the next. The Ravens are at the top of the heap in defensive DVOA with some dominant performances to match. He has unlocked veteran stars like Roquan Smith and young ones like Kyle Hamilton, shoring up weakness for players like Patrick Queen, and has allowed other young players like Justin Madubuike to flourish. There are a lot of talented defensive coaches right now in the NFL. Macdonald is sitting right at the top."

Ravens Are 'Best Organization in the NFL'

Pundits continue to marvel over how dominant the Ravens have been during their four-game winning streak. As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, the Ravens are being hailed as the best team in the NFL and a dangerous threat to win the Super Bowl:

Sirius XM's Adam Schein: "I think the Baltimore Ravens have the recipe to win the Super Bowl. … You need to play an A-plus game in order to beat Baltimore. They've got guys you've never heard of running the football. That's an organization that gets it. Best organization in the NFL. When you talk about owner, [General Manager] Eric DeCosta, John Harbaugh, the assistants, players, Lamar, the Raven way – this is the best organization in the NFL."

ESPN's Shannon Sharpe: "They're the best team in the AFC and it's not even close. Not only can they run the football, but Lamar Jackson is throwing the football extremely well. Odell Beckham got into the end zone [Sunday]; those young receivers are starting to come along; we know what Mark Andrews is. But defensively, they're getting back to playing 2000 Ravens football. When you give up less than 14 points in today's NFL, that's saying something. … Yeah, this is the best team in the NFL, and head and shoulders above anybody in the AFC."

Ravens' Detractors Point to Jackson's Lack of Postseason Success

As good as the Ravens have looked, not everyone is convinced they're the best team in the AFC – or even their own division.

ESPN analyst and former NFL wide receiver Sterling Sharpe disagreed with his younger brother Shannon's take on the Ravens.

"I still have to get with Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals," Sterling Sharpe said on ESPN's "First Take." "They don't fear anyone but everyone fears them because they've gone into Kansas City and played big and gotten to a Super Bowl. Lamar Jackson for all his wonderful play, MVP in our league, couldn't get his team to the big dance. Joe Burrow did that."

Fox Sports’ Nick Wright also has his doubts about the Ravens based on their lack of success in the postseason with Jackson.

"I have seen Lamar get off to great starts every single year of his career," Wright said. "His rookie year, he took over and went 6-1, and then fell on their face in the playoffs. His second year, 14-2, they fell on their face in the playoffs. In 2020, they started 6-2, and they won a playoff game against Tennessee. In 2021 they started 6-2 and then he missed time. And in 2022 they started 7-3 and then he got hurt and missed time. … The Ravens are 100 percent in a category of 'I need to see them succeed in the playoffs before I believe in them as a contender at all."

Keaton Mitchell's Father Saw His Breakout Game Coming

Rookie running back Keaton Mitchell stunned the NFL world with his breakout performance in Sunday's blowout of the Seattle Seahawks, but former Ravens defensive back Anthony Mitchell wasn't surprised by what his son did.

When Keaton Mitchell had 37 yards on four carries midway through the second quarter, the elder Mitchell predicted that his son was going to break a long one during a group chat with friends and family via text. Keaton Mitchell would go on to run for a 40-yard touchdown and a 60-yard gain in the second half. He finished with 138 yards on nine carries.

"If you watch any of his games in college], if he had two good runs on his first two carries, he usually pops one over 50 yards for a touchdown,” [Anthony Mitchell told The Baltimore Sun on Sunday night. "It showed the line is giving him creases, and that's all he needs."

After flashing in the preseason, Mitchell started the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. He returned in Week 7, but played only on special teams, and the following week he got one touch – a 9-yard reception – before suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Week 9.

Despite those setbacks, as well as not being selected in the draft, Mitchell never lost confidence in his ability to make an impact, said his father, who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 1999.

"Of course he was disappointed over the draft, but [Sunday's performance] means a lot because he could show people what he could do," Anthony Mitchell told The Sun. "Of course he got a little frustrated [in Baltimore] because he wanted to play. But he understands this is a long-term goal, not a short-term one. You come back one game then get hurt the rest of the season, that's not what we're looking for.

"But we talk about control what you can control. When he went to college, they told him [as a freshman] he would be the No. 1 back but was fourth on the depth chart in his first game. He's always been in this position. His mindset doesn't change: put your foot on their throat. He's gonna compete."

On a side note, Keaton Mitchell was named to Pro Football Focus’ Team of the Week, as was the Ravens offensive line.

Roquan Smith Says Being a Raven 'Means the World to Me'

It's been just over a year since the game-changing trade that brought Smith to Baltimore from Chicago. The Bears were 3-5 at the time of the trade and would go on to have their fourth non-winning season in Smith's five years with the team.

Smith reflected on being with a winning organization during a conversation with Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer.

"Man, it's pretty crazy thinking back to when I was initially traded," Smith said from the winning locker room on Sunday. "It was bittersweet for me, just knowing Chicago and rightfully so. But if I would've stayed there, honestly, [I] wouldn't have been able to compete for a title anytime soon. And then when I came over here, it took me a while, like a couple of weeks, to really realize how stacked this team was, as well as how many good people there are on this team, and how they just bring in truly good people.

"And when I just think about it from the perspective of having the opportunity to compete for one year in and year out with the talent we have. Man, it makes me so happy, just knowing my career is not going down the drain, in the sense of playing somewhere where I'm not truly competing for a title."

Smith also talked about carrying on the legacy of great Ravens defenses.

"Honestly, man, it means the world to me, being a Raven," Smith said. "And how they came and got me when I was in Chicago and just all the love they showed me throughout my time here, I just only imagine it's gonna grow even bigger. So when I think about it from that perspective, I pride myself on playing until the whistle, playing every single play as hard as I can. But like just being here, there's something about that makes you want to go even harder, with all the legends that came before me, like Ed [Reed], Ray [Lewis], Bart [Scott] …

"When I just think about it from that perspective, man, it makes me proud just knowing that I'm playing behind such a historic tradition. And guys that was well before [me], man. How they set the standard for being a Raven. I believe it's playing lights out on the defensive side of the ball … not giving the offense time to breathe. Smothering them. And when they come up for a breath, you take them right back down. I feel like that's what being a Raven is all about."

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