Late for Work 12/23: Pundits Agree Ravens Should Rest Starters Against Steelers

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QB Lamar Jackson

Takeaways From Ravens vs. Browns

Out of all the records the Ravens have shattered at a franchise and national level this season, they accomplished their most important goal to-date.

They secured the No. 1-overall seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs with a 31-15 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Week 4 seems like forever ago, and the Ravens have proved they're a completely different team. After losing two straight, they've reeled off 11 consecutive wins, and they're the unquestioned Super Bowl favorites.

"This victory was a perfect cap to a near-perfect regular season," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "The Ravens handled the one team that had beaten them decisively this season, battering the Browns at the line of scrimmage and playing sound defense against NFL rushing leader Nick Chubb. They earned home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and what amounts to a double-bye."

Here are some pundits' takeaways from the win:

Pundits Agree Ravens Should Rest Their Starters Against Steelers

With the AFC North, No. 1 seed, and home-field advantage wrapped up, the conversation shifts to how the Ravens will handle their Week 17 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The game, which was one of five flexed to 4:25 p.m. ET, has playoff implications for the Steelers. The Ravens could play their part in keeping their division rival out of the postseason, but pundits agree that resting key starters should be top priority.

"Why would John Harbaugh even think about throwing his most precious players into such a maelstrom?" Walker wrote. "The Ravens were reminded of the potential risks in the fourth quarter of the Browns game as Ingram limped off with a calf injury and Jackson and Andrews both rose uncomfortably from late-game hits."

"Some will argue that by sitting out the Week 17 game, and then having a bye in the first round of the playoffs, key Ravens will lose their edge with three weeks between games," Press Box's Bo Smolka added. "But this team needs its key players healthy for a playoff run. Seeing injuries – minor or not – mount in the late stages of this game underscores the importance of avoiding any such scenario next week.

"Granted, this isn't the preseason, when the locker room is crammed with 90 players. The Ravens still have to dress 46 players, but key veterans and banged-up players should sit this one out."

Lamar Jackson came up limping in the fourth quarter but stayed in the game. Mark Andrews told reporters after the game that he feels fine. The biggest concern surrounds Mark Ingram II, who left the game and did not return after suffering a calf injury.

"Ingram's calf strain appears to be the only injury of significance, but that doesn't mean that Harbaugh will take any chances by unnecessarily playing certain guys next week," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

Earl Thomas III reportedly told ESPN's Josina Anderson that he expects to practice this week, but not play against the Steelers. Jackson told reporters after the game that he wants to play. However, that doesn't mean Harbaugh will let the soon-to-be MVP quarterback on the field.

The other side of the argument is concern that extended rest could attribute to rust in the Divisional Round. The players who don't see the field against the Steelers could be off for almost three weeks, but this isn't anything new for Harbaugh. He followed a similar plan during the 2012 season when the Ravens clinched the division in Week 16.

Baltimore went on to win the Super Bowl.

"[Harbaugh] rested some of his best players in a similar scenario at the end of the 2012 season," Smolka wrote. "So don't expect Harbaugh to be swayed by any arguments about his team rusting over a three-week layoff. He'll likely take full advantage of the precious gifts of rest and recovery bestowed by the Ravens' superior play."

Offense Shows It Can Score Quickly and In Numbers

Despite putting up 31 points, the league's top-scoring offense was uncharacteristically held scoreless through most of the first half. The Ravens started slow but struck twice inside two minutes in the first half. Jackson connected with Andrews twice on touchdown passes to take a 14-6 halftime lead, and the offense showed another wrinkle to add to their season-long dominance.

"In doing so, the Ravens sent another message to the AFC's playoff field," Zrebeic wrote. "All season, they've been a grind-it-out, control time-of-possession-and-ride-the-running-game-offense. They showed Sunday afternoon in Cleveland that they can score differently. They can strike quickly."

As Zrebiec pointed out, the Ravens haven't had to run the two-minute drill often. They've rarely trailed in games, but Smolka said it was perhaps the best two-minute sequence he's seen this season.

The momentum carried over into halftime, too. On the opening drive of the third quarter, the offense marched 69 yards down the field on 13 plays and took a 21-6 lead as Jackson found Ingram for a 12-yard touchdown.

NBC Sports' Peter King named Jackson one of his Offensive Players of the Week.

"The Ravens got outplayed and were down 6-0 at the two-minute warning of the first half. Two quick touchdowns later, and they were in control of the top seed in the AFC playoffs. It's Lamar's world of highlights, and we're just living in it."

"The Ravens offense might have learned something about itself, too," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens probably won't be able to drive up and down the field at will against defenses in January. There will be times in the postseason when they'll probably need to score quickly or just go to the no-huddle as a change of pace.

"On Sunday, the situation — less than two minutes remaining in the first half and no timeouts — dictated that they go to the no-huddle offense. They scored, and less than 90 seconds later, they scored again."

"All-in-all, the remarkable change of events served as another reminder that when this offense is clicking, it's an absolute buzz saw," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote.

Defense Exacts Revenge Against Browns Offense

In the first meeting between the two teams in September, the Browns racked up over 500 yards of total offense and 40 points. That was before the Ravens traded for Marcus Peters and added Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort, and other defensive pieces.

Fast forward 12 weeks later, and Wink Martindale's unit exacted their revenge. They held Cleveland to 241 total yards and the NFL's leading rusher in Chubb to 45 yards on the ground.

"Whenever [Chubb] tried to get wide, he seemed to meet two or three black-helmeted defenders," Walker wrote. "No Raven finished with more than five tackles, but eight finished with at least three stops. Pro Bowl linebacker Matthew Judon went without a sack but played one of his steadiest games as an edge-setter. Linebacker Josh Bynes reminded us of the stability he brought to the middle when the Ravens signed him after the previous Browns debacle.

"The Ravens used nine defenders who did not suit up in that Week 4 scorching. They've delivered flashier defensive performances, featuring more sacks and turnovers, during their 11-game winning streak. But their collective work against Chubb was quietly some of their best in this run."

According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, the Ravens entered Week 16 blitzing opposing quarterbacks on 49.5 percent of drop-backs and allowing the lowest completion percentage and yards per attempt when doing so. Mayfield wasn't sacked on Sunday, but he faced plenty of pressure in the pocket.

Martindale's aggressive tendencies forced Mayfield to throw interceptions on three separate occasions – two of which were called back.

"Mayfield entered the contest with the clear intention of attacking the Ravens' aggressive defense with aggression of his own," Kasinitz wrote. "Sunday, Baltimore's talented secondary held up, avoiding noticeable breakdowns on the back end. And Martindale didn't dial back his pressure after Mayfield's deep shots.

"Martindale seems hellbent on continuing to blitz quarterbacks, no matter how they react to the pressure. It's a formula that's worked for the Ravens for much of the season and it's likely to get tested in a few weeks when the games grow more meaningful."

Jackson Has Perfect Reaction to Ingram Reaching 1,000 Rushing Yards

To say Jackson has had a special season is an understatement. He's broken multiple franchise and NFL records along the way and will be the league MVP when it's all said and done.

In the middle of a historic campaign, Jackson has continually deflected the attention away from himself and towards his teammates. His reaction to finding out Ingram reached 1,000 rushing yards on the season tells you all you need to know about how the 22-year-old quarterback operates.

"He got it?" Jackson asked CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson, as he expressed his excitement. "There's a family thing going on here. I love it; everyone else loves it. Like I said when I talked to you guys yesterday, every time we are in the building, it's a family thing going on, no bad blood with anybody. I love it. We just gotta keep it going."

"Jackson is a quiet, humble leader," CBS Sports' Jordan Dajani wrote. "He likes to talk about his teammates' accomplishments rather than his own."

Jackson and Ingram also etched their names into the history books, becoming just the seventh pair of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards each in a single season. Carolina Panthers running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were the last to do so in 2009.

How Spanish Radio Announcers Have Added Flare to Ravens Broadcasts

Think Jackson is exciting enough to watch on television or in person? Try listening to his performance on a Spanish radio broadcast.

Trust me. You won't regret it.

The Baltimore Sun's Colin Campbell profiled how David Andrade, Gustavo Salazar and Ximena Lugo, Spanish radio announcers and producer for WDCN La Nueva 87.7 FM, have brought a soccer-style flare to Ravens broadcasts.

"In their first year covering the Ravens together for La Nueva, Andrade, Salazar and producer/reporter Ximena Lugo Latorre have introduced — to new and longtime football fans alike — a soccer-style Spanish broadcast as energetic and captivating as the on-field highlights of quarterback and breakout star Jackson," Campbell wrote.

Whether it's nicknaming Mark Ingram II "Toro de Pamplona" because of his "bull-like tendency to run through opposing defenders as often as he runs around them," or comparing Jackson to one of soccer's all-time great players, Lionel Messi, Andrade and Salazar have added their style to over 150,000 listeners.

"Star kicker Justin Tucker is always referred to in English as 'automatic,' and 'best in the game,'" Campbell wrote. "A last-second game-winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers gave them a chance to shout the well-known soccer broadcasting call, 'GOOOOOOOOAL!'"

You can check out the entire story here.

Quick Hits

  • The Ravens open up as early three-point favorites against the Steelers.
  • The Ravens' 2020 opponents are set.
  • CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora reported that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman continues to be a popular name mentioned among head coach candidates this offseason.

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