Is Steelers Game a 'Must-Win' for Ravens?
It's cliché to refer to a game as "must win," but that's how ESPN's Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon described Thanksgiving's game in Pittsburgh for the Ravens.
"It's a total must-win situation. Totally," Kornheiser said on "Pardon the Interruption." "Baltimore has to beat Pittsburgh in this. … Baltimore is in trouble. I think they're at a crossroads for this game."
Said Wilbon: "I do agree with you in terms of their circumstance, they desperately need this particular game."
The Ravens (6-4), who trail the Steelers (10-0) by four games in the AFC North with six to play, would officially be eliminated from the division race if they lose on Thanksgiving night. However, as far as the playoffs are concerned, the Ravens head into the game with the odds of playing in the postseason firmly in their favor despite the fact that they would not make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Because of their favorable schedule after the Pittsburgh game — four of their five remaining games are against teams with losing records — the Ravens still have an 85.5 percent chance of making the playoffs according to ESPN's Football Power Index, and a 75.1 percent chance according to Football Outsiders.
Data aside, Kornheiser and Wilbon believe the Ravens need to beat the Steelers to prove they're still a top team after losing three of their past four games.
Defeating a team playing as well as the undefeated Steelers on the road is difficult under any circumstances, but the task became even more daunting with yesterday's news that running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II and defensive tackle Brandon Williams have been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Kornheiser pointed out that Lamar Jackson is 1-3 against winning teams this season (not counting a season-opening rout of the Cleveland Browns, who are 7-3) and said Jackson needs to be the catalyst for a win in Pittsburgh.
Wilbon said it's unfair to place too much blame on Jackson for the Ravens' skid and the offense's regression.
"Look, as good as Lamar Jackson was and has been, and still is in terms of his talent, he is not the player you want to saddle up like a young John Elway and just try to go through an entire season," Wilbon said. "They need to now help him, Lamar Jackson. The Baltimore staff, the coaches, I don't know what they can do with juggling of talent at this point, but he needs some assistance out there.
"So it is a must-win, but you know what, I don't see them winning. Not with the personnel missing that we've just gone over."
Where Does Lamar Jackson Rank Among Young Franchise Quarterbacks?
Although Jackson hasn't performed at the same level he did last season when he was named the second unanimous MVP in NFL history, there aren't many other young quarterbacks you'd want to lead a franchise.
In Pro Football Focus' rankings of the 10 franchise quarterbacks from the 2017-2021 draft class, Jackson was No. 4, trailing the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and the Houston Texans' Deshaun Watson.
"He's one of the highest-floor quarterbacks in the league because of how dynamic he can be as a runner and what that does to opposing defenses," PFF's Mike Renner wrote of Jackson. "His 1,730 rushing yards since the start of 2019 rank sixth among all players in the NFL – not just quarterbacks. And he has had to do it this season with an offensive line hurt by injuries. His offense will never look like that of other quarterbacks on this list, but Jackson is one of the scariest players for opposing defensive coordinators."
Jackson was ranked ahead of players such as the Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Burrow, Arizona Cardinals' Kyler Murray and Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen. But behind a quarterback (Lawrence) who has never seen an NFL snap?
Analyzing Yannick Ngakoue Snap Count
As noted in yesterday's Late for Work, outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue is coming off his strongest game since the Ravens acquired him in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings last month.
However, it's worth noting that Ngakoue played a season-low 22 snaps (31 percent) against the Titans. The previous week, he played 25 snaps (43 percent) against the Patriots.
"Does that make him one-dimensional?" Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "And might it cause the Ravens to think twice before using the franchise tag on Ngakoue or handing him a long-term deal?"
Ngakoue is expected to be one of the most sought-after free agents if he hits the open market this offseason.
Despite his lower snap count, Ngakoue still had a sack and forced fumble against the Titans. His specialty is rushing the passer, so he would likely see more snaps against more pass-heavy teams (such as the Steelers or Chiefs).
Derek Wolfe Boosts Injury-Depleted Defensive Line
Defensive end Derek Wolfe blamed himself for Derrick Henry's game-winning, 29-yard touchdown run in overtime on Sunday, which is admirable, but he was one of the bright spots in the game.
"Wolfe was the Ravens' best defensive player Sunday," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "He had six tackles and was noticeable with his effort and energy throughout."
With Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams both sidelined the past two games, Wolfe has picked up the slack on the defensive line, playing a combined 105 snaps against the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans.
"The absence of Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams was a clear storyline to [the Titans] game with expectations of Henry running rampant on Baltimore all game long," Baltimore Beatdown's James Trefy wrote. "The Ravens were able to limit Henry for almost the entire game and that feat is thanks to Wolfe's play on Sunday."
On a side note, Head Coach John Harbaugh said yesterday he is "sure hopeful" Campbell (calf injury) will be able to play against the Steelers.