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Late for Work 12/21: Ravens Are Becoming the Team 'No One Wants to Play'

QB Lamar Jackson

Ravens Are Getting Hot at the Right Time

After a dominant 40-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday, the Ravens are still on the outside looking in at the playoffs, but pundits believe they could be poised for a run.

"Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens are playing their best football of the season at just the right time," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote.

"Baltimore has won three in a row and finish with the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals," Pro Football Network’s Matt Williamson wrote. "The Ravens, led by Jackson, set up perfectly as the hot team that no one wants to play in the playoffs."

The Ravens have a long history of thriving when the odds are against them. After enduring three straight losses and a COVID-19 outbreak, Baltimore has now won three straight games. They're 40-0 entering games as double-digit favorites and 12-2 in the month of December.

"After all the craziness of Monday's game and the uncertainty that brewed in the next five days, the Ravens would've settled for a close win over Jacksonville," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "The Jaguars have played a lot of very good teams competitively. Instead, the Ravens took care of business and showed their superiority in every phase of Sunday's game. Would they have sacrificed a touchdown or two for a Dolphins loss? Maybe. But they're rounding into shape for a potential postseason run."

We've seen the Ravens hit their late season stride before. Remember the 2012 Super Bowl team? They lost three straight late in the regular season before clinching a playoff berth with a blowout win against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants in Week 16.

The Ravens now find themselves in familiar territory again, and Yahoo! Sports’ Frank Schwab believes Baltimore is quietly starting to look like contenders.

"If the Ravens put their playoff disappointments of the past couple years behind them and make a run, they'll have to do it the hard way," Schwab wrote. "They can't win the AFC North but the three-game winning streak has pretty much made them a wild-card lock.

"Just making the playoffs won't be enough. Questions about Jackson will persist if the Ravens go one-and-done again. But Baltimore is finally looking like a team that can fulfill some of its preseason expectations. The key to that is Jackson, who might never reach his ridiculous 2019 levels again, but is a player no AFC playoff team will want to see in the postseason."

J.K. Dobbins Finds the Record Books and Late Season Stride

The Ravens said they were excited when J.K. Dobbins fell to them in the second round of the draft and it's easy to see why. The rookie running back is emerging, and put together another strong performance on the ground in the win on Sunday.

Dobbins led the Ravens with 64 rushing yards on 16 attempts and his 2-yard score in the second quarter set a franchise rookie record for the most consecutive games with a touchdown (4).

"Dobbins has emerged as Baltimore's top option in the backfield late in the season," NBC Sports’ Ryan Homler wrote. "His rookie season has been much of what the Ravens were looking for when they selected him, and now he holds a place in the team's record books."

"Dobbins is just so exciting to watch — seemingly igniting into a different kind of speed when he hits his plant foot. It feels like the Ravens have uncovered another key to the offense for the next several seasons," Ebony Bird’s Darin McCann wrote.

Added Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens: "Dobbins owned the first half of this game, averaging nearly six yards a carry. He was explosive in all areas; showing burst to the hole and through it, vision and speed on the outside, and tough running through contact. He also added a little to his game as a receiver out of the backfield, catching a 17-yard pass."

It hasn't been at the same record-breaking pace as last season, but the Ravens' rushing attack has continued to be the focal point of the offense. They took advantage of a Jaguars team that came into Sunday allowing the most yards on the ground this season.

The three-headed monster of Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Mark Ingram II have different skill sets that defenses must plan against.

With Dobbins, the Ravens have been able to utilize his speed and quickness. Press Box’s Bo Smolka pointed out that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman has schemed up plays with Dobbins lined up as a slot receiver and used in motion.

"[A]s the defense pursues laterally, Dobbins has shown the vision and burst to cut back upfield and elude the pursuit," Smolka wrote. "At its basic level, it's essentially about giving a dynamic back a running start. But it also forces the defense to spread horizontally across the field, and that should open room inside for Jackson, Edwards or Ingram to operate.

"During the past few weeks, the Ravens have shown formations with both Dobbins and Edwards on the field, and this could be precisely why. Jackson's longest runs this season have come when motion or other misdirection clears out the middle by getting inside linebackers moving the wrong way, and with his acceleration, it doesn't take much. … To be sure, this play will be on tape and dissected by Ravens future opponents, but it just gives them one more thing to worry about."

Defensive Line and Secondary Step Up Amid Key Injuries

The Ravens were without two of their top cornerbacks in Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, and one of their top interior defensive linemen in Calais Campbell, but pundits were still impressed with the defensive performance.

"Against a banged-up Ravens secondary on Sunday, there was room for belief that Jacksonville's weapons could make some plays," Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote.

The defense got back on track, and the Jaguars' passing attack was never a factor in the game. Gardner Minshew was held to just 226 passing yards and didn't throw his first touchdown until midway through the third quarter. By then, the game was already out of reach.

"Jacksonville did little damage through the air until later in the second half when the game was already decided. Even when their receivers did make receptions, more often than not the coverage was tight and defenders were in good position," Platko wrote. "The strength of the Ravens defense is their secondary, so it's encouraging to see backups and recent call ups from the practice squad step up when their number is called."

While the Jaguars haven't necessarily been a dangerous offense this season, Platko said it was an encouraging sign to see the reserve players in the secondary step up. He praised the play of Anthony Averett, Tramon Williams, and Pierre Desir.

The Ravens understand the importance of secondary depth. They have the fourth-most cap space invested into the defensive back group this season. And while the injuries to Smith and Peters aren't expected to keep them out long term, it's a good sign that Baltimore can count on other players to step up in their absence.

The defense also held James Robinson, who entered the game with the third-most rushing yards in the league, to 35 rushing yards and 2.2 yards per carry. The Jaguars have relied on Robinson and the run game to keep them competitive but it was hardly a factor on Sunday.

"The Ravens didn't have Calais Campbell, who missed the game against his former team with a calf injury, but they didn't need him with the way the Ravens, led by nose tackle Brandon Williams, dominated up front," Smolka wrote. "The Jaguars have struggled all year offensively, but one bright spot has been running back James Robinson, who entered the game ranked third in the league with 1,035 rushing yards. Robinson, though, could get no traction against a Ravens defensive front led by Williams in the middle along with Derek Wolfe and rookie Justin Madubuike. Justin Ellis and Broderick Washington rotated in as well."

More Reactions to Dez Bryant's Touchdown

It's been an emotional journey for Dez Bryant as he battled his way back onto the NFL field, and it paid off on Sunday when he hauled in an 11-yard touchdown catch late in the first half.

Bryant said he had to hold back tears after scoring his first touchdown since 2017, and plenty of notable names in the sporting world expressed their support for the veteran wide receiver.

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