Rapoport: Ravens Should Get Lamar Jackson Back vs. Falcons
On Saturday, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the Ravens "anticipate that [Jackson] is going to be back at practice this week and [the team is] described as hopeful that he'll be able to start against the Falcons on Christmas Eve."
Of course, any team regaining their starting quarterback makes a difference, but Jackson's impact is major.
Some are a bit more hesitant to expect Jackson, who is returning off a knee injury, to right the offensive struggles immediately, including Hensley.
"Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley couldn't push the ball downfield (138 yards passing), but Baltimore's problems won't be totally solved even if Jackson (knee) returns for the next game," Hensley wrote. "Over his past nine outings, Jackson has thrown seven touchdown passes and five interceptions."
Fourth Quarter Play-Calling Questioned by Pundits
The Ravens' 13-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns marked a low point for Baltimore's offense.
The Ravens have scored just two touchdowns in the past three games, and after the loss, Head Coach John Harbaugh made it clear what needs to improve.
"[We] have to put up more points – bottom line," Harbaugh said. "We have to just have a better passing game, basically. It's not a good enough passing game right now across the board to do the things that we're hoping to do. So, that will be priority one."
The struggles of the pass game were in stark contrast to the success of the Ravens' rushing attack in Cleveland, as Baltimore piled up 198 rushing yards against a Browns defense that has had trouble stopping the run.
That left numerous pundits wondering why the Ravens didn't run the ball more, particularly late in the game.
Pressbox's Bo Smolka: "The play-calling fails to acknowledge that the Ravens' best quick-strike ability in this game, with this passing attack, was its running game, and it seems that Roman called the fourth quarter as if his team were trailing by 30, not 10. It turns out that the only thing that stopped Dobbins and Edwards was the Ravens' play-calling."
The Baltimore Sun's Tim Schwartz: "This was a failure on offense, and the fingers should be pointed at the coaches, specifically offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Baltimore ran all over the Browns, totaling 198 yards on the ground, and somehow Tyler Huntley threw 30 passes against the NFL's worst run defense."
Baltimore Positive's Luke Jones: "The problem is this offense appears broken, and it's looking less and less likely that offensive coordinator Greg Roman is capable of getting it back on track in time for a serious January run. No, it isn't all bad as Baltimore averaged 7.1 yards per carry against the Browns six days after gaining 5.1 yards per rush against the Steelers. But Saturday was the latest example of Roman lacking a proper feel for this offense as it's currently constructed."
Ebony Bird's Kristen Wong: "At the beginning of the game, the running plan seemed to work fairly well — the Ravens handed the pigskin off the Dobbins and Edwards 19 times through three quarters, generating 176 rushing yards. Then, for some unknown reason, Baltimore just…. stopped running the ball. In the fourth quarter, the Ravens were down 13-3 in a still winnable game, yet Dobbins had zero carries and Edwards had just one carry for four yards. Given how feeble the pass attack was for the majority of the game, why draw up more plays in the air in the final quarter?"
ESPN's Jamison Hensley: "The Ravens' offense is in shambles. Saturday marked the first time Baltimore was held to three or fewer points in a regular-season game since 2008. It's been a tough stretch for the Ravens, who have been held to 16 or fewer points in three consecutive games -- the team's worst such rut since 2000."
Ravens Lose AFC North Lead; Still Control Own Destiny
After the Ravens' loss on Saturday and the Cincinnati Bengals 17-point comeback win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Ravens fell out of first place for the AFC North.
Though the Ravens are now slotted into the No. 5 seed, their odds to make the playoffs stand at 98 percent, according to fivethirtyeight.com. They also hold their own playoff destiny firmly, with two wins over the next three weeks securing a playoff seed.
If the Ravens beat the Falcons on Christmas Eve and the Patriots (vs. Bengals) and Jets (vs. Jaguars) lose, they will be assured a playoff spot. No other team in the playoff chase could get to 10 wins.
The Ravens can still win the AFC North, but the odds took a drop, according to Hensley.
"This loss put a dent in Baltimore's hopes to capture the division and opened the door for the Bengals to take control. Baltimore's chances to win the AFC North dropped to 52% with the loss, according to ESPN's Football Power Index," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens showed no signs of panic after the deflating defeat in Cleveland, though, and they know they can take the division if they win out. Baltimore's final three games are home against the Falcons and Steelers before finishing the regular season at the Bengals."
Easy as it may be to start circling in the Week 18 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens will need to take care of business over the next two weeks, as noted by Smolka.
"The Pittsburgh game looms large, because if the Ravens win that, they will have four AFC North wins — assuming a series split with Cincinnati — and would therefore gain the tiebreaker over the Bengals, who can finish no better than 3-3 in divisional play," Smolka wrote. "First things first, though. The Ravens have to figure out how to hold on to the ball, convert in the red zone, and stop the other team."
- NBC Sports' Peter King thinks the Ravens need to sign Roquan Smith for the long term. "The former Bears linebacker, acquired before the trade deadline this year, has been invaluable," King wrote. "He's the perfect sideline-to-sideline playmaker the Ravens have yearned for."