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Late for Work 9/24: Ravens Are Unanimous Pick to Beat Lions

LB Pernell McPhee
LB Pernell McPhee

Ravens Are Unanimous Pick to Beat Lions

After the Ravens' euphoric win over the Kansas City Chiefs, it's not unreasonable to wonder if they will suffer a letdown when they travel to Detroit on Sunday to face the 0-2 Lions.

However, the Ravens' track record against teams they are heavily favored against since Lamar Jackson became the starter suggests there's every reason to believe they will take care of business.

The Ravens (1-1) are favored by eight points over the Lions. When favored by eight or more points in the regular season, Jackson is 14-0 with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information per ESPN’s Jamison Hensley.

"Our guys understand that it's business," Jackson said. "We wanted to win that game [against the Chiefs]. We got the 'W', and we have to transition over to Detroit now. [We have to] focus on those guys, because those guys are hungry. That's a fighting defense."

The pundits are in agreement that the Ravens won't let down against the Lions. All 47 pundits we looked at picked Baltimore to win, and 19 of the 26 who predicted the score have the Ravens winning by double digits.

On a side note, Jackson, who missed yesterday's practice because of an illness, had a slight stomach bug and is expected to be fine by Sunday's game, according to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec.

Here's a sample of what the pundits are saying about the game:

The Ravens offense will thrive against the Lions defense.

Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms: "There's just too much to worry about. The Ravens' O-line can bludgeon you and beat you in the run game, and then, of course, what Lamar Jackson brings to the table. It's not a great secondary in Detroit, either. I know Baltimore's pass offense isn't 'wow' but I think it's going to be good enough to move the ball when they need to against this group here."

Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer: "Jackson, his backs, wide receiver Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews can all do whatever they want in this matchup to stay well ahead of [Lions quarterback] Jared Goff."

CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco: "The Lions showed on Monday that they have major defensive issues. The Ravens came alive on offense against the Chiefs in a big way. That will show up here, and the Lions won't be able to keep up. The Ravens take it in a blowout."

FB Patrick Ricard is the Ravens' X-factor in this game.

Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos: "Detroit recorded seven quarterback hits and three sacks against Green Bay's shorthanded offensive line on Monday night. Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn will likely stack the box and blitz his linebackers in an effort to stifle Baltimore's potent rushing attack. Ricard's prowess as a lead blocker, pre-snap motion man and pass catcher out of the backfield will be valuable."

The Ravens should return to their blitz-heavy approach on defense.

Russell Street Report’s James Ogden: "You only need to go back to 2019 for evidence of why this is a viable strategy against the Lions. … When the Ravens faced the Rams in 2019, Jared Goff proved that he finds this particular blend of defensive football very hot to handle. On that night the Ravens forced pressure and turnovers, and played their part in a one-sided rout of an otherwise impressive Rams team. Goff now returns with far less viable weapons at wide receiver to bail him out. He does have a surprisingly competent offensive line, even without Taylor Decker, as Penei Sewell has looked good alongside Jonah Jackson on the left side (though I'd like to see [Defensive Coordinator Wink] Martindale test him with Odafe Oweh early). Matt Nelson on the right side has struggled and could well be the weak link that the Ravens scheme up creative ways to attack."

Bleacher Report’s Connor Rogers: "The Ravens are going to blitz Jared Goff all day and should come away with a few turnovers in this one."

Lions TE T.J. Hockensen could be a matchup problem for the Ravens.

CBS Sports’ Will Brinson: "The Lions probably won't be popular this week because of how things ended on Monday night [in a loss to the Packers], but they've definitely been a friskier than expected club through the first two weeks of the season. And there's a good chance Detroit can give Baltimore some fits here. We've seen Darren Waller and Travis Kelce as focal points of the offense for Ravens opponents already and now they're getting T.J. Hockenson, who should eat in this spot."

The Ravens will win, but it won't be easy.

Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith: "This game will be closer than people are expecting, but in the end the Ravens will grind out a win in the fourth quarter."

Ravens Have Created an Offensive Juggernaut With Run-Heavy Approach

The Ravens' run-heavy offense has often been described as the team zigging while the rest of the NFL is zagging. On Sunday night, the Ravens' zig-zagged all over the two-time defending AFC Champion Chiefs, and in doing so, further validated that their unorthodox approach is not only legitimate, but lethal.

The Ringer’s Steven Ruiz said the Ravens have created an offensive juggernaut with a scheme carefully constructed around the run game.

"This win wasn't proof that the passing game is good enough or that the front office's offseason investment in the receiving corps was a success," Ruiz wrote. The "It was proof that the Lamar-led run game can function with the efficiency and explosiveness of the NFL's most dangerous passing attack."

Ruiz said the Ravens' decision to stick with the run despite trailing for almost the entire game showed how much confidence they have in their Jackson-led rushing attack.

"The Ravens averaged 0.25 expected points added per run on Sunday night, and Lamar's runs averaged 0.55 EPA," Ruiz wrote. "If you're unfamiliar with the expected points model, here's some context: Aaron Rodgers led the NFL in EPA last year at 0.37 per play. The Ravens aren't your typical 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust run team.

"That's the Lamar Jackson Effect. His preternatural ability with the ball in his hands breaks our modern (analytics-based) conceptions of the game — the ones that tell us passing the ball is inherently good and running the ball is not. The fact that the Ravens, a team that has welcomed the analytics movement as much as any other NFL franchise, have embraced this particular style speaks to Lamar's ability to change the math."

What sometimes gets lost about Jackson, Ruiz wrote, is that he's also an efficient passer.

"Since 2019, he ranks third in passing EPA per dropback and tied for ninth in adjusted net yards per pass," Ruiz wrote. "Even in obvious passing situations, Jackson has performed like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Only [Patrick] Mahomes has been better on those plays. Not bad for a guy who can't throw."

Should Ty'Son Williams Have a Bigger Role?

Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton identified one player from each team who has earned more playing time. For the Ravens, it's running back Ty'Son Williams.

"Williams has played only 50 percent of the offensive snaps. Yet he's the Ravens' second-leading ball-carrier (142 rushing yards) behind quarterback Lamar Jackson," Moton wrote. "The 2020 undrafted product out of BYU has also caught five passes for 45 yards — two going for first downs."

"Baltimore signed Latavius Murray, Le'Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman to fill the running back room, but Williams has done enough to claim the featured role. While the Ravens have some decorated veterans who may have more gas left in the tank, they should feed the player with the freshest legs on the ground."

Moton's point about Williams' effectiveness is well-taken, but there's plenty of carries to go around in the Ravens' run-heavy offense. Employing a one-two punch at running back — which is what the team envisioned with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards before they suffered season-ending injuries — should keep both Williams and Murray fresh.

Williams, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, has 27 touches to Murray's 19 through two games.

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