Two Ravens Players Who Could Be Playoff X-Factors
We've talked extensively about Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' weapons, but who could step up as X-factors?
Every year, we see players nobody expected emerge on Super Bowl teams.
Pundits believe those Ravens this year could be Justin Tucker and Yannick Ngakoue.
"The Ravens' kicker will forever be their secret weapon, or perhaps their most unique weapon," ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler wrote. "It's an incredible end-game advantage for the Ravens to know that if they can just get him within 60 yards of the uprights, they have a genuine chance to win. The most recent example came in Week 14, when he drilled a 55-yard field goal to beat the Browns with 2 seconds left."
Tucker doesn't fly under the radar because he's widely considered the best kicker in the NFL, but he certainly gives the Ravens an advantage most teams don't have. And most people don't think of a kicker when talking about biggest weapons.
Tucker has been nearly automatic in the postseason, connecting on 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and 25-of-25 on extra-point attempts.
And yes, he's made the big kicks when they matter. During his rookie season, Tucker's 47-yard field goal in double overtime against the Denver Broncos sent the Ravens to the AFC Championship game. They went on to win the Super Bowl, where Tucker hit two more fourth-quarter field goals.
Kicking can decide a game, especially when opponents become more evenly matched in the postseason.
Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon also believes Ngakoue, a pass rusher the Ravens traded for early in the season, could be a difference-maker in the playoffs.
"While Tennessee's pass rush (or lack thereof) is a major issue, the Ravens had turned it on with 11 sacks in their previous two games before coasting in a Week 17 blowout victory over the Cincinnati Bengals," Gagnon wrote. "Yannick Ngakoue was a huge factor during that run and is quietly up to eight sacks, four forced fumbles and 10 quarterbacks hits on a season that has seen him bounce around from two other teams to Baltimore.
"He, Calais Campbell and Matt Judon will be tasked with setting the tone with big plays against a Tennessee offensive line that won't have either starter at tackle that it had when these teams met last January (Jack Conklin is in Cleveland, and Taylor Lewan is on injured reserve)."
General Manager Eric DeCosta sent a third-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for Ngakoue with the hope that it would bolster the Ravens' pass rush. Baltimore sacked Ryan Tannehill just once during the divisional round loss to Tennessee last season and twice in their regular-season matchup this year.
Ngakoue has just three sacks since coming to Baltimore, but he has the opportunity to take advantage of the Titans' tackles. David Quessenberry and Dennis Kelly have earned Pro Football Focus grades of 61.7 and 65.9 this season.
Power Rankings: Ravens Enter Playoffs as a Top*-5* Team
There's no question the Ravens are playing their best football as they head into the playoffs, and that's reflected in the power rankings.
Baltimore ranked as a top-5 team in five of the six publications we looked at this week.
"The Ravens are the wild card team no team in the AFC wants to face," Bleacher Report wrote. "After steamrolling the Cincinnati Bengals 38-3 Sunday, the Ravens head into the playoffs having won five straight. In each of the last three victories, the Ravens have outscored their opponent by at least two touchdowns.
"Baltimore had more than twice as many rushing yards (404) as the Bengals had in total (195). A team that looked to be in real danger of missing the playoffs a month-and-a-half ago now looks quite a bit like the steamroller that peeled off 12 straight wins last season."
The Ravens ended the season winners of five in a row. They moved up three spots from No. 8 to No. 5 in BR's rankings, but there wasn't much movement across the board.
We've seen pundits start to express more confidence in the Ravens as they head into a wild-card rematch against the Titans. Still, the biggest question remains, can they keep the momentum going?
"Dating back to last year, the Ravens blow out lesser teams but tend to come up short in big games," BR wrote. "Will that change Sunday?"
"This team has run for nearly 6,400 yards over the past two years – simply insane," USA Today’s Nate Davis wrote. "Now, can Baltimore get its first playoff win in six years?"
|Source||Ranking||Last Week's Ranking||Comments|
|NFL.com||No. 5||No. 5||“The Ravens enter their wild-card road matchup against the Titans with a level of momentum that will be difficult to stop. We certainly don't trust the Tennessee defense to do it.”|
|Bleacher Report||No. 5||No. 8||“Dating back to last year, the Ravens blow out lesser teams but tend to come up short in big games. Will that change Sunday?”|
|USA Today||No. 5||No. 6||“This team has run for nearly 6,400 yards over the past two years – simply insane. Now, can Baltimore get its first playoff win in six years?”|
|Sports Illustrated||No. 5||No. 5||“The Ravens failed to match last season’s gaudy record, but they still look scary heading into Lamar Jackson’s third crack at the postseason.”|
|CBS Sports||No. 8||No. 8||“It was the Titans who knocked out the Ravens last year in the playoffs, so they will be looking for revenge.”|
Pundit Believes Ravens vs. Saints Would Be a Dream Super Bowl Matchup
NFL.com’s Marc Sessler ranked five Super Bowl matchups he'd like to see and one is a matchup between the Ravens and New Orleans Saints.
"The Saints don't generate enough credit for returning to the playoffs after back-to-back-to-back soul-crushing defeats in January," Sessler wrote. "Instead of knocking meekly on a shuttered Super Bowl window, New Orleans rolls into the party with a nasty defense that would welcome the challenge of slowing Baltimore's ground game."
The matchup ranked third on Sessler's list, behind the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sessler said the appeal of a Super Bowl between the Ravens and Saints would be the rushing attacks. Baltimore rushed for an NFL-best 191.9 yards per game this season, while New Orleans has one of the league's most dynamic running backs in Alvin Kamara.
Pair that with possibly the last ride for Drew Brees and there's plenty of room for appeal.
"Aerial magic is pleasant, but I'd rather see a team scatter a defense with punishing runs," Sessler wrote. "The Ravens have shredded foes for 267 rushing yards per tilt during their five-game win streak (including 400-plus on the Bengals in Week 17, a feat accomplished just twice since 1956). Baltimore is the first team in NFL history with 3,000-plus rushing yards in consecutive seasons, but the bigger story is the current play of supercharged quarterback Lamar Jackson.
"New Orleans would counter with the game's most interesting runner in Kamara, a human-shaped tornado who posted six Christmas Day touchdowns against the Vikings before catching Corona. With Brees turning 42 before kickoff, we'd be treated to the classic ride-into-the-sunset game for a quarterback who was a freshman at Purdue when Lamar was brought to Earth by a mothership from The Pleiades."
More Rookie Recognition for J.K. Dobbins and Patrick Queen
The Ravens rookie class continues to make a big impact this season, and it's receiving plenty of recognition to go along with it.
J.K. Dobbins was named Pro Football Focus’ Rookie of the Week after rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns against the Bengals.
"Dobbins closed out his final regular-season game as a rookie with a big bang," PFF's Anthony Treash wrote. "He recorded a career-high 90.7 rushing grade against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, over 13 grading points higher than his previous NFL-best from all the way back in Week 8. Dobbins busted off three 20-plus yards against Cincy, with one of those being a career-long run of 72 yards. This was just one of nine performances we saw in the entire 2020-2021 regular season in which a running back had three or more 20-plus yard runs in a single game.
"Obviously, we have to give some credit here to the big men up front for opening up holes that gave Dobbins at least six yards before contact on all three of those runs. At the same time, though, Dobbins did his job by taking advantage of those holes and creating more yardage after contact on all three runs."
Since Week 8, Dobbins has rushed for 651 yards and seven touchdowns. In eight of those nine games, he's had at least 10 rushing attempts.
"When the Ravens need a spark, it seems to be Dobbins who gives it to them," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "In three of the last five games, Dobbins has a carry for at least 25 yards. He's capable of a big play and it can come out of nowhere.
"Derrick Henry may be the biggest star at the running back position, yet Dobbins may have his coming out party into the NFL postseason. If the Ravens play the way they've been playing of late, and the Titans' defense doesn't elevate for the postseason, Baltimore could play keep away from the Titans' offense."
On the other side of the ball, The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak named Patrick Queen to his All-Rookie Team. The 28th-overall pick finished with 106 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
"Queen has been far from perfect in his rookie year, but linebacker rarely sees an easy on-boarding process—there's just too much to process, and in a Wink Martindale defense, Queen's playbook is truly intimidating," Solak wrote. "With that said, Queen's been a highly effective blitzer given his play speed, the primary run stopper between the tackles, and has had his moments in coverage. Baltimore likes the return on its investment."
The most impressive part is that rookies had less time to prepare and transition to the NFL level because of COVID-19. Yet, the Ravens have seen a number of contributions from a number of their drafted and undrafted rookies this season. That certainly bodes well for the future.
- The Ravens open as four-point favorites against the Titans.
- ESPN announced it will debut its "MegaCast" for the playoff matchup on Sunday.
- Is tackling a concern for the Ravens in the playoffs? "Overall, they rank 26th and 30th in missed tackle rate and yards allowed after contact per carry," PFF wrote. "This is far from simply a front-seven problem; only the Packers, Buccaneers, Giants, Dolphins and Lions missed more tackles in coverage than the Ravens in 2020."