Lamar Jackson Is the NFL's 'Most Dangerous Player'
Through five games, Lamar Jackson hasn't produced at the same level as he left off at last season, but that isn't fooling any of his opponents.
Just ask Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz, who's seen what the reigning MVP can do to opposing defenses.
"Jackson is probably the most dangerous player in the league," Schwartz said. "[B]ecause there are times you can do everything right on defense and can't catch him, or he can throw a ball sidearm underneath of a free rusher and complete a pass.
"I think that you've got to have a resilient attitude when you play him, and you know that a playmaker like him is going to make some plays. You just have to limit his big plays, and you have to stay resilient. You can't hang your [head] if he ends up making a play."
Schwartz added that there are a lot of ways teams can attack running quarterbacks, but the Eagles will have their hands full against Jackson. Philadelphia's defense ranks in the middle of the pack in passing yards (241) and rushing yards (114.2) allowed per game.
It's an opportunity for Jackson and the offense to rebound after a lackluster performance against the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson finished just 19-of-37 for 180 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Jackson and the offense have had good performances, but they haven't been consistent. That's caused fans and pundits to express some concerns.
"Jackson is the Ravens' franchise quarterback and is fresh off an MVP season," Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "We all know he can play better football than this but it's up to him to actually do it. In Week 5, Jackson missed a few wide-open receivers, instead, trying to target his favorites or looking for a deep ball that wasn't within a country mile of his intended target."
But NBC Sports’ Ryan Wormeli emphasized that it's not time to worry yet.
"It's important to reiterate just how young this Ravens offense is," Wormeli wrote. "Their quarterback and top two pass catchers are 24 or younger. Their entire starting offensive line are all still on their rookie contracts. And this group didn't have a full, normal offseason to continue to gel together.
"It's also important to remember that dominant teams don't always look the same in December as they did in September. Last year, the Ravens were a Steelers fumble away from finishing Week 5 at 2-3. Instead, they won 12 straight games and made offensive history in the process."
Ravens to Play in Front of Limited Crowd Against Eagles
There will be some sense of normalcy when the Ravens take the field Sunday, by way of real fans. The Eagles announced that they will allow a limited capacity of 7,500 fans back to Lincoln Financial Field.
"We have been working very closely with state and local officials, public health experts, and the National Football League on a number of scenarios to safely bring Eagles fans back to Lincoln Financial Field," Eagles President Don Smolenski said in a statement released on Tuesday. "After many thoughtful and active discussions, we are thrilled to announce that the fan experience will return to Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday."
Empty stadiums have been the reality for most NFL teams during the coronavirus pandemic, but this will be the first time the Ravens will play in front of a sizable crowd. Only 250 family members and staff that have been allowed at M&T Bank Stadium the past two games this season.
The crowd could be a big help to the Eagles, who are currently 7.5-point underdogs to the Ravens. According to The Baltimore Sun, it would be the first time in over 15 seasons that the Eagles would be at least touchdown underdogs at home.
"The Ravens have done well as seven-point favorites or better recently, going 6-1 against the spread and 7-0 straight up, according to CBS Sports," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer added. "In their past four games against AFC teams, the Eagles are 0-4 against the spread."
Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson Are Stepping Up on the Edge
One of the biggest questions coming into the season was how the pass rush would perform beyond Matthew Judon. The Ravens placed the franchise tag on Judon, but didn't add any new outside linebackers in free agency or the draft.
Well, many questions were answered when the defense racked up seven sacks and 15 quarterback hits in the win against the Cincinnati Bengals. It also offered encouraging signs for a veteran and a second-year outside linebacker.
Pernell McPhee was Pro Football Focus' fourth-highest graded edge defender (81.3) in Week 5 ahead of "Monday Night Football," and his contributions haven't gone unnoticed.
"McPhee had one quarterback hit over the first four games of the season," Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitx wrote. "Then he whacked Bengals passer Joe Burrow four times Sunday. He also tallied his first sack of the season, piled up a season-high five tackles and batted down a pass.
"McPhee doesn't need to fill up the stat sheet to contribute each week; his leadership and his strength as a run-setting edge defender are valuable even when he's not knocking down quarterbacks. Even so, Sunday's performance underscores the depth the Ravens have at outside linebacker."
The Ravens re-signed McPhee to a one-year deal this offseason, and his value on and off the field has made him an excellent addition to the defense. He played well in seven games last season before suffering a season-ending triceps injury.
Now at 31-years-old, the Ravens are still getting some of McPhee's best football.
McPhee's emergence has also elevated the play of Jaylen Ferguson, who pundits believe had one of his best games of the season against Cincinnati.
"Ferguson wasn't credited with a quarterback hit, but he was in on six tackles and his pursuit and hard hit on running back Joe Mixon, who caught a pass and was headed down the sideline, may have been his most impressive play as a Raven," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "It seems that Ferguson is playing a lot faster over the past two weeks."
"Ferguson (24 snaps) did not have a pressure but contributed to 6 tackles, of which 5 were defensive wins," Film Study Baltimore’s Ken McKusick wrote. "That's a remarkable total for an [outside linebacker] and this was one of his best performances as a Raven."
Rookie Class Providing Early Contributions
With a limited offseason and no preseason games, the pandemic has presented plenty of challenges for NFL rookies. But that hasn't stopped the Ravens rookies from making early contributions.
"You can file this one away under the bold prediction category, but I was extremely encouraged by what I saw out of the Ravens' 2020 draft class in Week 5 against the Bengals," Ravens Wire’s Kevin Ostreicher wrote. "While this draft class is certainly still a long way off from being called the best in Baltimore's history, there are certainly plenty of studs with incredibly high ceilings led by first-round linebacker Patrick Queen.
"Queen has been one of the stars of the Ravens' defense and looked the part again on Sunday, totaling nine tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown. His sideline-to-sideline speed is also a welcome trait and one that Baltimore was missing for years. He will only continue to grow and mature with time."
Queen was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Week and to Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie Team through the first quarter of the season. He's cemented himself firmly in the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation, but the contributions go beyond the first-round pick.
J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Devin Duvernay has shown flashes on offense and as a returner on special teams. Not to mention, Tyre Phillips has stepped in and started four games at right guard this season.
There's a good chance we will see more of Malik Harrison, Justin Madubuike, and Broderick Washington on the defensive side of the ball.
For a team that has its sights set on a Super Bowl this season, it's encouraging to see the rookies contribute early on.
Even Barry Sanders Was Impressed With Jackson's Spin
One of the reasons why Jackson is considered the most dangerous player in the NFL is his ability to turn any play into a highlight reel. He did that last season against the Bengals when he put multiple Bengals defenders in the spin cycle on one of the best touchdown runs you'll ever see.
Jackson's moves quickly captured the attention of many, including Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders. Known for having one of the best spin moves in the game, Sanders praised Jackson’s moves.
"It was such perfect timing and so beautifully executed," Sanders said. "You can't compete with current players. His [spin] move was better."