Second-Half Predictions for Lamar Jackson, Odell Beckham Jr., and And More
At the midpoint of the season, the Ravens are in first place in the NFL's toughest division, tied for the second-best record in the league, and No. 1 by a wide margin in point differential.
So what's in store for the team in the second half? The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec made predictions for each position group. Here are some excerpts:
"Lamar Jackson will win his second league MVP award. With an offensive line that is coming together nicely and a better grasp of what the Ravens do best offensively, Jackson is in a position to have a monster second half, if he remains healthy."
"Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell will steadily become the team's No. 2 back and Justice Hill will morph into a third-down and special teams role. After rushing for 138 yards and a touchdown in his first extensive action, Mitchell is primed for more touches."
"Odell Beckham Jr. will win the Ravens a game down the stretch with a late touchdown. The 31-year-old may not be what he was, but he loves the big stage and knows how to rise to the moment."
"Mark Andrews sets a career high in touchdowns. He has six now and had 10 in 2019. The Ravens have been running the ball well in the red zone, but Andrews is the guy Jackson trusts most inside opponents' 20."
"Justin Madubuike will break Trevor Pryce's franchise single-season sack record for an interior defensive lineman. Pryce had 13 in 2006. Madubuike is well on his way."
"Injuries will complicate things at some point. The Ravens have done a good job weathering the storm, but John Harbaugh's comment Monday about how the team will have an announcement soon on David Ojabo was ominous — and there seems to be no expectation that Tyus Bowser returns imminently, either. The Ravens are relying heavily on two older players."
Rob Gronkowksi Gives Jackson Edge Over Joe Burrow
Jackson and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow are both playing at an MVP-level, which has prompted a conversation about which one is better.
As noted in yesterday’s Late for Work, Cleveland Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett went with Burrow when posed the question by Kay Adams on FanDuel TV's "Up & Adams."
Former NFL tight end Rob Gronkowski subsequently appeared on the show and had a different answer.
"Lamar Jackson is currently the better quarterback," Gronkowski said. "He's throwing the ball better than he ever has and while he is sitting in the pocket he is leading the NFL with 71.5 completion percentage rate. Just think about that. That's when he's in the pocket. When he's not in the pocket he's running the ball for another 20 yards."
The Athletic analyst and former NFL general manager Randy Mueller also weighed in on the Jackson-Burrow debate. He said it's a two-man race between them for MVP at this point.
"Jackson, this year, is a much-improved version with a new offensive scheme and new assets on the perimeter to throw to," Mueller wrote. "He is looking to extend plays with the idea of throwing downfield instead of just taking off and relying on his great athletic ability. His vision to second and third options in what used to be a passing game of predetermined targets is taking his performance to the next level. He also is throwing with timing and anticipation that we had not seen, at least to this level, in the past.
"As great as Jackson has played, his AFC North division rival Burrow is close in his rear-view mirror. Forget about the first month of the regular season when Burrow was playing on one leg and couldn't set his feet to drive a throw downfield. The last three weeks he is completing a league-best 77.6 percent of his passes. Burrow's advantage in this comparison is that he not only has all the physical tools but also the frame of a traditional pocket-passing NFL QB. His accuracy is surgical to go with a consistent trajectory and touch without needing a window to throw through. Burrow just doesn't miss throws, and he layers the ball over underneath coverage as well as anyone in the game. He might be the best pure passer in the NFL. He has performed his best in the biggest games, and his ability to bring his team back when needing to throw from the pocket might be better than Jackson's."
Harbaugh Named Midseason Coach of the Year
While Jackson continues to be the popular pick for Midseason MVP, Harbaugh is beginning to get some support for Coach of the Year.
Harbaugh was Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio’s pick for the midseason honor.
"They scrapped the offense and installed a new one. And they instantly got better," Florio wrote. "Harbaugh, who has been one of the best coaches in the NFL since 2008, has done some of his finest work so far this year. In a season when too many 'good' teams are barely beating lesser opponents, Harbaugh's Ravens have put the entire league on notice by recently blowing out a pair of the NFC's better teams, Detroit and Seattle."
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler chose Harbaugh and the Browns' Kevin Stefanski as Midseason Co-Coaches of the Year.
"Harbaugh is a bold decision-maker, walking away from good coordinators in back-to-back years to revamp both sides of the ball," Fowler wrote. "Now, with [Offensive Coordinator Mike] Macdonald and [Offensive Coordinator Todd] Monken, the Ravens are humming. He has emboldened Lamar Jackson to take more ownership as a passer."
On a side note, Fowler and his colleague, Dan Graziano, said they expect both Macdonald and Monken to be among the leading candidates for head coach jobs during the next hiring cycle.
Marlon Humphrey Says He Was '85 Percent' That Ravens Were Trading for Derrick Henry
There was considerable buzz heading into the trade deadline last week that the Ravens were targeting Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry. One person who thought the deal was going to happen is cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
During the latest episode of his "Punch Line" podcast, Humphrey said: "I got a text that somebody was gonna walk into Baltimore, Maryland, with a height of about 6-4. I got a text that there was a very high chance that a guy that usually goes by 'King' was gonna be in purple and black in M&T Bank Stadium very soon. I was about 85 percent that King Henry would be suiting up for the Ravens. It did not happen. My source was incorrect. He had me basically thinking it was a done deal."
Humphrey said he reached out to Henry, his teammate at Alabama, but "he didn't give me any details."
While Henry undoubtedly is one of the top running backs in the league, Humphrey acknowledged that the Ravens are in excellent shape at the position.
"But anyway, do we need another running back? No sir," Humphrey said.
The Ravens are No. 1 in the league in rushing and coming off a 298-yard performance against the Seattle Seahawks. Gus Edwards has run for five touchdowns over the past two games and has seven on the season, which is tied for third among running backs. As previously mentioned, Mitchell had a breakout performance this past Sunday, and Hill has 251 rushing yards and three touchdowns in addition to 15 receptions.
Ravens Have Rarely Trailed This Season
A testament to the Ravens' dominance this season is the fact that they have almost never trailed. In fact, they have been playing with the lead or tied at an unprecedented level.
"Over nine games and nearly 549 minutes of game clock this season, the Ravens have trailed for just 28 minutes, 46 seconds — not far off the average runtime of an episode of 'Schitt's Creek,' which isn't too far off in describing where most Ravens opponents have found themselves," The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "According to TruMedia, no team since 2000 has trailed for less time over the first nine games of their season. Only five others have trailed for less than an hour."
In the Ravens' two losses this season, they led for most of the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 and for nearly 50 minutes against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5. The Steelers didn't take their first lead until there was 1:17 left in the fourth quarter.
History suggests the Ravens' penchant for rarely playing from behind will translate to postseason success.
"The 2010 Green Bay Packers, who trailed for just 46 minutes over their first nine games, won the Super Bowl," Shaffer wrote. "The 2021 Buffalo Bills, who trailed for just 48 minutes, might've won it, too, if not for the Chiefs' clutch 13-second field goal drive in their divisional-round meeting. The 2007 Patriots, who trailed for just 51 minutes, went 16-0 and were a David Tyree catch away from another title."
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley noted that the Ravens have led entering the fourth quarter in all nine games this season.
"That's tied for the fifth-longest streak to begin a season in the Super Bowl era (1966), according to ESPN Stats & Information research," Hensley wrote. "The only teams to start with longer streaks include a Super Bowl champion (1998 Denver Broncos), a Super Bowl runner-up (1984 Miami Dolphins), and two teams that finished the regular season at 15-1 (1998 Minnesota Vikings and 2011 Green Bay Packers)."
- Wide receiver Zay Flowers was a unanimous selection to The Athletic's Midseason All-Rookie Team.