Quarterback Question Looms Over Victory
Thanks to a dominant second-half performance, the Ravens defeated the Oakland Raiders, 34-17, yesterday. The victory gives the Ravens a 6-5 mark and keeps the team in the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff picture.
After the game, pundits shifted their focus to next week, and namely to one big question: Will rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson continue to be the team's starter, or, if healthy, will Joe Flacco get his job back?
"Why can't you just let me enjoy this win?" safety Eric Weddle said after he was asked about it by a reporter.
Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked about the team's quarterback situation, but unsurprisingly didn’t name his starter for next week. Flacco hasn't even been cleared to practice yet. Sorry Ravens Flock, but it looks like you might have to wait perhaps till Sunday to find out who'll be under center in Atlanta.
Though it'll be some time before the team makes that decision public, it didn't stop pundits from weighing in on who they believe should start if both quarterbacks are healthy. And, unsurprisingly, there are analysts on both sides of the debate.
Jackson has shown plenty of ability during his two starts. On Sunday, he completed 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown, while also tossing two interceptions. He was successful on the ground as well, gaining 71 yards on 11 carries and another score.
More than anything though, the Ravens offense was able to effectively run the ball for the second straight game. Running back Gus Edwards finished with 118 yards, eclipsing the 100-yard mark two weeks in a row.
"The offense, specifically the ground game, is clicking," Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy wrote. "They have amassed 509 total rushing yards the last two weeks, and this trend will open up more in the passing game. The possibilities of play designs the Ravens can run with Lamar Jackson due to the opposing defenses likely overcommitting to stopping the run is endless."
Another point in Jackson's favor are some of the offenses the Ravens are about to play. The Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs both have dynamic offenses that can score points in bunches. As The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec put it "If there was ever a time to stay with Jackson, this week would be it against a team that struggles to stop the run and has an explosive offense that is better kept on the sideline."
Still, there are parts of Jackson's performances that have pundits concerned, starting with the turnovers. He has thrown three interceptions in two games, while Flacco threw six in nine appearances.
"With the run game finally coming to life, it's easy to imagine Flacco at least being able to best Jackson's production in the passing game," RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens wrote. "At the very least, throwing fewer interceptions is a game-manager role that fits perfectly with a run-heavy offense."
There's also the experience factor that Flacco has. Though Jackson has looked poised during his two starts, Flacco has been in just about every situation that you can be during his NFL career. Jackson, meanwhile, has never started an NFL game on the road.
"[Flacco has] been around long enough to have seen most of what defenses will do," Stevens wrote. "That experience opens up the playbook a little further for him compared to Jackson and results in a better passing rate naturally."
"The team might feel more comfortable going with the battle-tested option," Yahoo Sports’ Shalise Manza Young wrote.
Ultimately, NFL Network's Shannon Sharpe believes the Ravens should stick with Jackson, saying "I don't know how they go back to Joe Flacco because I think this is more than making the playoffs this year. You get an opportunity to groom this kid for the future because you know what Joe Flacco is, and I don't believe he is part of their long term plans moving forward."
Meanwhile, The Baltimore Sun’s Child Walker believes the team should give the job back to Flacco.
"The Ravens won more convincingly with Flacco slinging the ball from the pocket early in the season," Walker wrote. "The ideal scenario would feature Flacco starting and Jackson coming in to run an entirely different offense for whole series."
It's an extremely difficult choice that many are glad isn't theirs, including cornerback Jimmy Smith, who said "I'm happy I don't make [any] decisions like that." Walker referred to it as a "a season-defining decision."
Though it will be tough, PressBox’s Bo Smolka thinks it shows how fortunate the Ravens are.
"It's a good problem for them to have, because it means Jackson succeeded while Flacco was ailing," Smolka wrote.
Quiet Day for Pass Rush Ends with a Bang
Matching up with Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who has been sacked a whopping 35 times, which is third-most in the NFL, the pass rush had a golden opportunity to get its season back on track.
Though outside linebacker Matthew Judon ultimately closed the game out with a strip sack late in the fourth quarter that outside linebacker Terrell Suggs recovered and returned for a touchdown, the pass rush was absent for much of the game. The Ravens managed just three sacks, and all came via Judon in the fourth quarter.
Outside of those sacks, Carr was hit just two other times, all in the second half.
"It was great to see the defense finally get a turnover, and the fact that it resulted in Terrell Suggs' 36-year-old self sprinting to the end zone for a touchdown was really icing on the cake," Russell Street Report’s Derek Arnold wrote. "Now, where the pass rush was for the first three-plus quarters … your guess is as good as mine."
It was a fantastic moment for Suggs. But to Walker, the play "obscured another game in which the veteran linebacker struggled to mark the box score." Suggs didn't register a tackle the entire game, and has now gone four straight games without a sack.
"He used to draw automatic double teams. Now, opponents often block him with one lineman…," Walker wrote. "Whether you look at his raw numbers or his grades on Pro Football Focus, he's a solid player more than a game-wrecker."
To pin the pass rush's recent struggles on Suggs would be misguided, though. With Suggs being 36, the Ravens should have younger options that can be the focal point of the pass rush.
Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith has shown flashes of being that player this season, and the return of injured outside linebacker Tim Williams would definitely help. Or, maybe it could be Judon. He certainly made a huge impact on Sunday, registering his three sacks on three consecutive snaps.
"Judon has boosted his play since the first quarter of the season, so perhaps he can become a catalyst," Walker wrote. "The Ravens will need more plays like his strip sack if they're to handle the offenses that await them in December."
Indeed, it's about to get quite difficult for the defense in upcoming weeks. The Ravens face the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan next, followed by a matchup with the Chiefs and MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who set an NFL record on Sunday by completing 25 straight passes, is looming in Week 16.
The pass rush will need to be far more destructive and make an earlier impact against those quarterbacks for the defense to be successful.
Ty Montgomery Makes First Impact in Baltimore
The Ravens rarely make moves at the trade deadline, but made an exception this season to bring in running back Ty Montgomery from the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a reported seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft.
Montgomery's start in Baltimore had been quiet, but that changed Sunday when he rushed for 51 yards on eight carries and hauled in three catches for 13 yards. This was clearly the sort of impact General Manager Ozzie Newsome envisioned when he made the trade.
"He's dynamic, fast and agile enough to get around the edge and slip loose from tacklers," Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber wrote. "He's also a great pass-catching tailback."
Montgomery also caught the attention of Smolka, who was impressed with how he "had a couple of key blitz pickups."
To Smolka, Montgomery, along with Edwards, has taken the running back depth chart and "flipped [it] upside down in two weeks."
Alex Collins, who has been the starter for much of the season, was inactive Sunday (foot), while Javorius Allen was only on the field for one snap. It may be a bit premature to say the depth chart is completely flipped, but it's certainly gotten more competitive these past two games.
"Every team needs a player with Montgomery's skill set, and he reminded the Ravens of that at an opportune time," Walker wrote.
As for Montgomery, he's due to become a free agent at the end of the season, meaning he only has five more games to prove he should stay in Baltimore. You can count Barber among those who want Montgomery to remain in purple and black.
"I hope he re-signs with the Ravens because he is a great tool for this offense," Barber wrote.
PFF Offensive and Defensive Rankings
- Tight end Nick Boyle was given the best grade (3.3) for the Ravens on offense by Pro Football Focus. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was given a 2.3, while right guard Marshal Yanda and Montgomery both scored a 1.6.
- Left guard Alex Lewis registered a -1.5 PFF score, while wide receiver Willie Snead IV was given a -0.7. Edwards accumulated a -0.4 score.
- Outside linebacker Matthew Judon scored top marks on the defense with a 3.3. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams registered a 1.8 while cornerback Marlon Humphrey accumulated a 1.4.
- Safety Eric Weddle finished with a -0.9 PFF score. Cornerback Brandon Carr was given a -0.7, while inside linebacker Kenny Young scored a -0.5.
- Judon was named one of the winners of Week 12 by The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman. "If a player records a sack on three straight plays, the game should be over," Sherman wrote. "If one team can't even get a pass off on three straight pass plays, that's bad enough. If the same guy is responsible for dragging down the quarterback on all three plays? Even after the offense saw him get two sacks in a row? Just call the [darn] game."
- Punt returner Cyrus Jones was named one of NBC Sports' Peter King's Special Teams Players of the Week in his weekly article, "Football Morning in America." "The beauty of Jones' 70-yard tightrope-sprinting first-half punt return for a touchdown was in three steps along the right sideline," King wrote. "Jones might have been an inch from the white stripe on those steps, and how he stayed in-bounds is hard to figure. A tremendous return."