'Old School' Football Leads Ravens to Playoff Berth
With Lamar Jackson sidelined Saturday, the Ravens were tasked again to win without their starting signal caller. Offensively, on the backs of the running game and backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, the Ravens claimed victory over the Atlanta Falcons, 17-9.
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker gave credit to the game plan developed and called by Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, saying "Greg Roman gave the people what they wanted with a game plan straight out of the 1970s."
"The oft-pilloried offensive coordinator did not make the same mistake against the Falcons, leaning on his running attack to build a lead — 20 carries for 110 yards in the first half — and again to seal the game in the fourth quarter," Walker wrote. "When the Ravens needed to get off their own 2-yard line with 6:39 left in the game, they handed the ball to Gus Edwards, and he rumbled for 14. When they needed a first down to send them to victory formation, they handed it to Edwards twice more, and he picked up 11. Game over."
Press Box's Bo Smolka also credited Roman for the play-calling and Edwards in particular.
"After being pilloried for abandoning the run last week, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman got reacquainted with his running backs — except for one puzzling sequence — and they delivered," Smolka wrote. "Gus Edwards finished with 11 carries for 99 yards, including a 37-yarder that led to the Ravens' third field goal early in the fourth quarter."
NFL.com's Eric Edholm noted running back J.K. Dobbins' contributions, along with Huntley chipping in on the ground and helping score the lone touchdown in Saturday's affair.
"After forcing a turnover on defense, the Ravens took over and ran the ball 11 straight times before Tyler Huntley hit Demarcus Robinson for the 6-yard TD, which held up on replay," Edholm wrote. "Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins fueled that drive and combined for 158 yards on 23 carries on the day, with Huntley chipping in 31 yards on his first eight runs (before three kneeldowns). Dobbins' recent resurgence is a good sign for the Ravens. It wasn't a pretty performance, but it's what the Ravens know they need to do with Lamar Jackson still on the mend."
Ravens Defense 'Winning in Silence'
The Ravens have stitched together hard-earned victories recently with the aforementioned run game and a stalwart defense. CBS Sports John Breech shared how impressive they've been over the stretch of games sans-Jackson.
"The Ravens have quietly won three of their past four games, and those wins have come courtesy of a defense that's shutting everyone down," Breech wrote. "Including [Saturday's] win, the Ravens have now surrendered 14 points or less in six of their past seven games."
Baltimore Beatdown's Spencer Schultz helps put in perspective just how solidly the defense has performed.
"The Baltimore Ravens defense hasn't allowed a touchdown at home since October 23. Their defense has gotten them to ten wins with an incredible second half of the season performance," Schultz wrote. "If Baltimore's defense can hold opponents under 20 points like they have in every game but one since acquiring Roquan Smith, they're a tough out."
Winning Formula 'For Now,' Pundits Say
Though the Ravens won Saturday and are 3-1 in their last four, some familiar concerns were revealed once more against the Falcons. According to Walker, these flaws may be fatal in the postseason when the competition is more formidable.
"We saw some of the trends that have haunted the Ravens in recent weeks, including blown plays in the red zone and lax defense in the two minutes before halftime," Walker wrote. "That formula won't work when they're facing the AFC's best in January, but they kept pushing toward a postseason berth with their most important player on the sideline for most of the last month. We can't say they lack determination."
Walker did recognize the team is, and has been, playing without its star quarterback. However, Baltimore Beatdown's Dustin Cox expressed concern that the defense won't be capable of such feats come the playoffs.
"I don't know how far their rushing attack and defense can carry them in the postseason, but right now all that matter is getting into the dance," Cox wrote. "Baltimore's defense is capable of shutting down teams like the Atlanta Falcons, but I'm not sure how well they will fare against the top passing attacks in the AFC in the playoffs."
While some pundits think the formula could be halted in the playoffs, former Raven Robert Griffin III believes this gameplan, paired with the return of Jackson, has them on a trajectory to the Super Bowl, and Russell Street Report's Chad Racine agrees.
"The offense did have a little more life today with deep shots to Watkins, Mark Andrews and a touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson," Racine wrote. "The run game continues to hum along with a stout defense to help a struggling offense. As long as the Ravens keep winning style points don't matter. A solid run game along with the defense can make them competitive in the playoffs."
Will Jackson Practice This Week?
Last week there was a report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport stating that the Ravens "anticipated Jackson is going to be back at practice." Rapoport now believes this could be the week, but suggests plans could change since the Ravens clinched a playoff spot.
"This is the fourth week now of his PCL sprain. [It's] supposed to be a 1–3-week injury," Rapoport said on Good Morning Football. "This was the week he was supposed to come back. Either back last week—I know the team thought it would be last week but instead this week is where all eyes turn [to]. Are they going to put him on the field this week [and] see if he can make football moves, see if his knee is ready? But it's going to be fascinating to see, does the Ravens having already clinched a playoff spot alter the timeline for Lamar? Do they not want to put him in harm's way and make sure that he's healthy for the playoffs?"
While it makes sense for the Ravens and Jackson to be patient and allow Jackson to fully recover, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes the Ravens clinching a playoff berth shouldn't alter Jackson's timeline and that if healthy, getting him reps before the playoffs would be wise.