Which Team Is Biggest Postseason Threat to the Ravens?
The Ravens have won 10 straight and with the NFL's best record (12-2), they can lock up the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the AFC with a win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
There's not much that's been able to slow down Head Coach John Harbaugh and Co., but what could be the Ravens' postseason kryptonite?
ESPN's Bill Barnwell looked at the fatal flaws for all 12 teams in the playoff picture and identified matchups they'd want to avoid. Barnwell believes the Ravens' playoff kryptonite is facing quarterbacks who can beat the blitz, and the postseason matchup to avoid is the Kansas City Chiefs.
"Since the Ravens traded for Cornerback Marcus Peters before Week 7, their defense is allowing the league's stingiest passer rating (72.5) and yards per attempt (5.8)," Barnwell wrote. "Adding Peters has led the Ravens to blitz even more frequently, upping their rate to 53.5%. Their success rate with those blitzes has doubled; after sacking teams on 5.9% of their blitzes before Peters arrived, they're up to 10.8% after Week 7.
"The kryptonite for blitzes can also be screen passes. Teams haven't been able to hit many screens against Baltimore's blitzes this season, but since the Peters trade, the Ravens are allowing a passer rating of 124.2 when teams throw screens against their blitzes, which ranks 24th in the NFL. Naturally, the Ravens want to avoid quarterbacks who consistently make blitzing defenses pay."
The Chiefs bested the Ravens 33-28 in Week 3 at Arrowhead, and Patrick Mahomes went 10-of-16 for 104 yards with two touchdowns against the blitz. Baltimore has one of the highest blitz rates on drop backs this season, but one of the lowest sack rates with a four-man rush.
The Ravens didn't have Peters, Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, or Jimmy Smith in the first matchup, which is why ESPN's Rex Ryan gives Baltimore the advantage.
"Clearly, this is the biggest threat to the Ravens," Ryan said. "However, the Ravens added two corners, Marcus Peters and they got [Jimmy] Smith back. I think that gives the Ravens an edge.
"I think you're going to get bad weather and we see that the Chiefs look great in bad weather. But it plays into the hands of the Ravens. I just think they're the best team."
Barnwell and colleague Dan Orlovsky argued against Ryan's point with the improvements of Steve Spagnuolo's defense. The Chiefs did one of the best jobs (along with the Buffalo Bills) slowing down Jackson in the run game.
"The Chiefs seemed to focus on stopping Jackson at all costs, limiting him to eight carries for 46 yards and a lone rushing touchdown," Barnwell wrote. "[W]ith Jackson averaging just 6.2 yards in the air across his 43 passing attempts, the Chiefs were able to keep the Ravens quiet for most of the game before allowing three late scoring drives with a big lead.
"Baltimore's offense is based upon [physicality] and speed to the perimeter," Orlovsky added. "The Chiefs defense, if you watch them run, their linebackers can run. Their secondary can run. They have the speed to match up with Baltimore."
Both of the Ravens' losses to the Chiefs in the last two seasons have come on the road, but Baltimore would likely be the home team in the postseason, leaving Fox Sports' Michael Vick eager for a rematch.
"I know this was before [the Ravens] got Peters, but when you've got a guy like Mahomes who can do it all," Vick said, "… I think they're the biggest threat to the Ravens because they haven't faced too many quarterbacks like Mahomes."
Barnwell also said the Ravens pose the biggest postseason threat to the New England Patriots due to their ability to minimize Stephon Gilmore and Tom Brady.
"It would be wrong to say that Gilmore would be wasted against the Ravens, but the game doesn't optimally set up for him to shut down a heavily targeted player," Barnwell wrote. "... Of course, the Ravens also gave Brady fits when they were on defense. Brady's numbers have fallen across the board this season, but he has been notably bad when blitzed."
Lamar Jackson Named The Athletic's NFL Person of the Year
Jackson has been a transcendent talent under center, and he continues to rack up the accolades. This time, he was named The Athletic's NFL Person of the Year.
At 22-years-old, Jackson has quickly developed into the face of Baltimore sports, and that doesn't seem to be changing any time soon.
"Before the 2018 draft, the notion of thousands of kids wearing Lamar's number and playing quarterback would have been laughed at," The Athletic wrote. "Even though Lamar won the Heisman Trophy in 2016 after his sophomore season at Louisville, he was considered a risky NFL quarterback prospect.
"Now less than two seasons into his career, the 22-year-old has become a quarterback unlike any the NFL has seen, one who is crashing through barriers as well as tacklers. For those reasons, Lamar has been named The Athletic's 2019 NFL Person of the Year."
In his first full season as a starting quarterback, Jackson has excelled on the field. He leads the NFL in touchdown passes (33) and broke Michael Vick's elusive single-season quarterback rushing record.
Meanwhile, Jackson has earned profound respect from pundits, fans, and players.
"Many NFL quarterbacks have an air about them that emanates from the realization they can do something the rest of us cannot," The Athletic wrote. "If Lamar thinks he is special, he is pretty good at hiding it.
"He never seems too busy to have a word with someone or too preoccupied to be kind to someone he encounters. At the Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md., he knows the names of the people washing dishes in the kitchen and the people emptying the trash. He addresses people he especially admires in an endearing way. "Mr. Ozzie," for Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome, "Mr. Peter," for sports writer Peter King."
Baltimore has endured its hardships over the years. In a predominantly African American city, Jackson has served as a positive figure and leader in the community. When Jackson was scheduled to speak to a group of men at the Baltimore City Youth Detention Center, he stayed for 90 minutes when he was only scheduled to be there for 30 minutes.
"Lamar literally stole the show with his passion talking to these young men. It was not something I had seen or expected," Ravens Vice President of Security Darren Sanders told The Athletic.
Jackson was also named Press Box's Athlete of the Year.
Terrell Suggs Expected to Report to Chiefs
Despite a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter suggesting Terrell Suggs would strongly consider not reporting to a team that claims him if it's not the Ravens, the veteran pass rusher is expected to report to the Chiefs.
NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that four teams, the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and Chiefs attempted to claim Suggs.
"Should Suggs choose to join Andy Reid and Co. and play out what could be the last season of his career, he could find himself in a prominent position for the Super Bowl-contending Chiefs, given their need for effective pass rushers with defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Alex Okafor out with injuries, and Frank Clark playing through a variety of ailments," NFL.com's Jelani Scott wrote.
Tyus Bowser Has Been One of the Ravens' Most Improved Defensive Players
Before Suggs was claimed on Monday, one of the arguments against a potential return to Baltimore was the improvement of the Ravens' pass rush this season.
Tyus Bowser is one of the young players who have stepped up following Suggs' departure, and The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes the third-year outside linebacker has quietly been one of the team's most improved defensive players.
"Bowser, who had a strip-sack of [Sam] Darnold last Thursday, is now up to five sacks for the season," said Zrebiec. "That's 1½ more than he had over his first two NFL seasons. That's pretty decent production for a guy who has played more than 50 percent of the team's defensive snaps just twice all season."
Bowser's first career forced fumble set up Lamar Jackson's 24-yard touchdown pass to Brown in the 42-21 win over the New York Jets. Without Suggs and Za'Darius Smith, the team's sack leaders from last season, Bowser is having a breakout year with five sacks and nine quarterback hits.
- Ravens safety Anthony Levine Sr. surprised a group of Cockeysville students with new bikes and team gear.
- WNST's Luke Jones said the Ravens' rushing production this season shouldn't go unnoticed: "The Ravens shattering the 2003 team's rushing record with two games to go probably deserves more attention. That was the year Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards — third best in NFL history — while rookie Kyle Boller and journeyman Anthony Wright played quarterback. Slightly different than having the MVP there."