Are Lamar Jackson's Recent Turnover Issues a Concern?
It's a positive sign that the Ravens can find a way to win even when Lamar Jackson throws a career-high four interceptions, as was the case in Sunday night's 16-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
It's a testament both to the Ravens' resilience as well as Jackson's ability to make enough dazzling plays to overcome the bad ones.
However, Jackson's subpar performance Sunday continued what The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec called "a concerning trend."
"In his past five games, Jackson has thrown nine interceptions. That's three more than he threw over the entirety of his unanimous MVP season in 2019 and ties his total number of picks in 15 regular-season games last year," Zrebiec wrote. "Jackson threw only 18 interceptions over his first 37 starts. He's now thrown 12 in just 10 games this year."
Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski wrote: "Baltimore has done a wonderful job of building around its quarterback. In turn, Jackson has thrived and developed into the type of quarterback every opposing defensive coordinator fears. Everything can go wrong for the Ravens offense, and Jackson still finds a way to make a play. It's already happened multiple times this season in games Baltimore had no right to win.
"At the same time, Jackson can't keep making the same mistakes. The next six weeks of play are brutal. The Ravens face the Pittsburgh Steelers twice during that span, which are always tough matchups. The Browns, Green Bay Packers, Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams are sandwiched between those two rivalry games."
Jackson will never make excuses, but it can't be dismissed that he has played all season without running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and behind a makeshift offensive line that has been without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley for all but one game.
While Jackson's recent turnover issues have predictably provided ammunition for his detractors, he's certainly not the only star player to ever go through a rough stretch. For example, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was atop the MVP chatter not long ago, has thrown five interceptions (including three pick-sixes) over three straight losses.
That Jackson can still win when not playing his best is the mark of a winner. It's a trait Head Coach John Harbaugh certainly appreciates.
"Lamar is a guy who makes so many plays for us," Harbaugh said Sunday night. "The interceptions … One of them was tipped, whatever, but he wants those plays back. He's mad about them. He's a massive competitor, yet he doesn't let it take control of him. Alright? He's able to push it aside, and he's able to play the next series and give you great football.
"It's really a rare trait. To me, that's one of the things that makes him the quarterback that he is. That's why I'm so excited that he's on our team, one of the reasons."
Zrebiec wrote: "His dissenters refuse to acknowledge that they were wrong, that Jackson can make all the throws and is truly one of the most unique quarterbacks the league has ever seen, that he's having to shoulder so much of an offensive burden that mistakes are inevitable. What's indisputable is the Ravens, who will have little margin of error against better competition because of the state of their injury-marred roster, need him to play better."
Jackson is the first to admit that he needs to play better, and he made it clear after Sunday night's game that he's determined to do so.
"It would be foolish to bet against him given his career arch," Zrebiec wrote.
ESPN’s Bill Barnwell also expressed confidence that Jackson would get back on track. He wondered whether Sunday night's performance was due in part to Jackson not being fully recovered from the illness that prevented him from playing the previous week against the Chicago Bears.
"Unless the illness lingers, or Jackson's dealing with another undisclosed injury, I would expect him to get back to being the guy we saw over the first month of the year by the end of the season," Barnwell wrote.
Are the Bengals the Team to Beat in the AFC North?
The Ravens (8-3) are currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC, but some pundits believe they're not even the best team in the AFC North. That distinction belongs to the Cincinnati Bengals, they say.
Hours before the Ravens won ugly Sunday night, the Bengals (7-4) steamrolled the Pittsburgh Steelers, 41-10. That performance prompted NFL.com’s Adam Schein to declare the Bengals the most dangerous team in the AFC North, thanks in large part to running back Joe Mixon.
"It all starts with Joe Mixon, a certified stud who ranks third in the NFL with 924 rushing yards," Schein wrote. "Squarely in his prime at age 25, Mixon followed up the 123-yard, two-touchdown destruction of the Raiders by gashing the Steelers for 165 yards and two more scores. Mixon has now scored a touchdown in eight straight games. This offense — this team — goes through Mixon. He helps second-year QB Joe Burrow. He helps the playmaking defense. The Bengals control the clock and bust your will. All of the elements are there for Cincy to make the playoffs and win a game or two. I really dig this team."
"Good Morning Football's" Peter Schrager also is loving the Bengals, who are 3-0 against traditional AFC powers Baltimore and Pittsburgh this season and have outscored them 106-37.
"It's a totally different team than what we expected them to be, and it's a totally different team than what they've been in past years, and it happened pretty quickly," Schrager said. "Shout out not only to Joe Burrow and the free-agent signings and [Head Coach] Zac Taylor, but the front office for putting all of this together, because this team's really good."
Schrager's colleague, Michael Robinson, isn't ready to crown the Bengals just yet. He said the Ravens are deserving of the top spot in the conference.
"I think they're battle-tested," Robinson said. "I think all of these close games, they're going to call on this experience later on in the season. … And I can't overstate this defense. They get after the quarterback. They just held one of the top rushing attacks in football to 40 yards. … So I would have to say that the Baltimore Ravens are playing the best football in the AFC."
The Ravens, who lost 41-17 to the Bengals at home in Week 7, play in Cincinnati on Dec. 26.
Justin Houston Named Ravens' Best Buy of Offseason
The Ravens always preach "right player, right price." Bleacher Report's Sobleski named every team's best buy of the offseason, and for the Ravens it's veteran edge rusher Justin Houston.
"Houston's addition has been crucial on two levels," Sobleski wrote. "At 32, he's been the defense's most consistent edge-rusher. … Secondly, he serves as a mentor to the young players in the room, particularly [rookie Odafe] Oweh, who entered the league with so much potential yet little refinement."
Houston signed a one-year deal with a reported base salary of $1.075 million with a $1 million bonus and other incentives. He took less money to come to Baltimore.
Houston and fellow outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played key roles in shutting down Cleveland's running game and pressuring quarterback Baker Mayfield Sunday night.
"How about Justin Houston?" Harbaugh said after the game. "We don't talk too much about him. I joke with him, [I said], 'It's kind of like you run silent, you run deep, but you're playing great football.' And he is."