Confidence in Run Game With or Without Mark Ingram
As Mark Ingram II continues to recover from a calf injury suffered Week 16 against the Browns, there's been discussion as to how effective the Ravens rushing attack could be even without their lead running back.
NFL Network's "Good Morning Football" crew debated whether the Titans or Ravens have a better rushing attack. Nate Burleson gave the edge to Tennessee because of Derrick Henry, but Peter Schrager sided with the Ravens' record-breaking run game, even if Ingram isn't at full speed.
"Ingram 100 percent, 80 percent, [or] 60 percent, I'm still going with him because they've got three tight ends, a fullback, and maybe the best offensive line in football," Schrager said.
"Let's not be prisoners of the moment," Schrager added. "Let's talk about historic teams rushing the ball. The Ravens have the most rushing yards ever by a team in the history of the history of football. That is the stat I'm giving you.
"It's not just Ingram or Jackson. It's Gus Edwards, and they use the fullback [Patrick] Ricard, and of course, you get Justice Hill. … It's not just who's the best running back in football, who's the best rushing attack is the question. … It would be unfair for me to go anywhere else than the team that was historically good through 17 weeks of the season."
Even without Jackson or Ingram against the Steelers in Week 17, Edwards rushed for a career-high 130 yards against one of the league's top-ranked rushing defenses.
"While it will be tempting to run Ingram hard throughout the playoffs, let alone this week against the Titans, Baltimore has the depth at running back to stay away from this temptation," Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw wrote.
"Edwards finished 2019 with over 700 rushing yards and also plays with a punishing mentality similar to Ingram's. Edwards' body of work should give the Ravens confidence to run hard with him and obviously let Jackson do his thing."
Jamal Lewis: Ravens 'As Good' As 2000 Super Bowl Team
After winning a franchise-best 14 games in the regular season, this year's Ravens have a chance to solidify themselves as one of the best in team history. But how would they stack up against one of the best already?
Former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis, who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2000, thinks Lamar Jackson and company are as good as that team.
"I think it is as good [as the 2000 team], but the roles are reversed," Lewis told TMZ. "We had a super defense, but our offense kind of struggled. I think that's how they are now. The defense is not struggling, but they're not as good as the offense. The offense is explosive. Lamar is explosive, of course."
The 2000 Super Bowl-winning team was led by one of the greatest defenses of all-time. That team set record-breaking numbers on the defensive side of the ball. Ironically, Jackson and the offense have done the same.
In a hypothetical matchup, Lewis said it would be a "stalemate," but acknowledged having Ray Lewis would help stop Jackson.
Heading into the divisional round on Saturday, Lewis said he believes the Ravens can bring a third Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore.
"I think they're playing with a lot of energy," Lewis said. "But I think having the bye week, they need to come back and keep that momentum going [and] they can roll all the way through Miami."
How Teams Try to Simulate Lamar Jackson
Throughout the season, opposing defenses have struggled to contain Jackson. His athleticism and skill set have made it difficult for teams to mimic, frankly because there isn't another player like him.
As the Titans prepare to face the Ravens for the first time this season, Head Coach Mike Vrabel said the team is using backup quarterback Marcus Mariota to simulate Jackson.
That's one of the more conventional approaches, as ESPN’s Jamison Hensley chronicled the unique measures teams have taken to stop the second-year quarterback.
"Heading into Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game, the Tennessee Titans will probably find out what many Ravens opponents have come to realize," Hensley wrote. "The challenge to defend Jackson goes beyond game days. It starts in the practices leading up to the showdown with the NFL's best quarterback/running back/superhero."
Days before playing the Ravens in October, the Steelers flew Taryn Christion, a former South Dakota State quarterback, to Pittsburgh to simulate Jackson. The Chiefs used cornerback Alex Brown, the Bills used practice squad wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, the Texans used practice squad quarterback Alex McGough, and the list goes on.
Even Bill Belichick admitted the Patriots didn't have a player to mimic Jackson.
But as Hensley noted, it's not just about finding a dual-threat copycat. It's finding a player who can perform as well as Jackson does in Greg Roman's offensive system. And you can argue the closest to that is Jackson's backup, Robert Griffin III.
"The problem with prepping for Jackson is that locating someone as athletic and strong-armed as him is only the first step," Hensley wrote. "In order to run the Ravens offense as Jackson, you have to get down the precision of the system, from the snap to the option handoff and all the motions and fakes that go with it. It's all about timing and ballhandling. It's based on deception and misdirection."
How Jihad Ward Overcame Struggles To Find His Fit With Ravens
Eric DeCosta has been considered one of the top front office executives this season for revamping the Ravens' defense during the season, adding the likes of Marcus Peters, Josh Bynes, and L.J. Fort.
But one addition has flown under the radar.
Jihad Ward has quietly been a substantial addition to the Ravens defense. Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz profiled how Ward overcame struggles throughout his early life to find a fit in Baltimore this season.
"Ward's not one of the Baltimore's 12 Pro Bowlers or a household name; he did, however, play more than half of the defense's snaps in nine of the final 10 regular-season games," Kasinitz wrote. "He's one of the players who've made rarely-publicized contributions that morphed the Ravens from an exciting team into a dominant one."
Growing up in North Philadelphia, Ward endured "poverty-stricken" hardships. After not qualifying academically to Division I Football, Ward played two seasons at Globe Institute of Technology in New York City before transferring to the University of Illinois.
Ward was a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2016, but bounced around between Oakland, the Cowboys, and Colts before joining the Ravens. His resilience has translated to success on the field.
"Ravens coaches and teammates say resoluteness defines Ward," Kasinitz wrote. "Since he signed with the team in October, Ward has played a variety of positions in the Baltimore's defensive front, taking on any responsibility coaches ask him to shoulder. And he's helped engineer a stunning turnaround."
Ward told Kasinitz the goal is to make sure people remember he is one of the hardest working players on the field, and never to go back to his previous struggles.
"I always thought I was going to be an NFL player," Ward said. "And whatever path I was going to go through, I was going to get there. Because, shoot, I can't go back to Philly. You stop doing what you're doing, you're going to go back to the city."
- If the Ravens were to lose Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec highlighted some in-house replacements: "The Ravens could promote Quarterbacks Coach James Urban, who has done a terrific job with Jackson and has a close relationship with the quarterback, or they could promote wide Receivers Coach David Culley. Harbaugh has also said in the past that Tight Ends coach Bobby Engram has bigger and brighter things ahead of him."