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Late for Work: Ravens-49ers Is the Best Regular-Season Game Since 2007

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Ravens-49ers Is Best Regular-Season Matchup Since 2007, According to Analytics

The showdown between the Ravens (11-3) and 49ers (11-3) in San Francisco on Christmas night isn't just the game of the year. It's the best regular-season game in 16 years based on DVOA, which uses advanced analytics to identify the top teams in the league.

The 49ers have the third-highest DVOA through 14 games since the inception of the metric in 1981. The Ravens have the 12th-highest.

"I think the strongest regular-season game would be the Week 9 2007 contest between the undefeated Patriots and the undefeated Colts. This is probably the second-strongest regular-season game," Aaron Schatz wrote.

Not Pursuing Lamar Jackson Was Major Blunder for QB-Needy Teams

Remember back in March when any team in the league could have signed Lamar Jackson to an offer sheet?

Almost immediately after the Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on the star quarterback, which allowed him to negotiate with other teams, franchises that were considered logical suitors for Jackson stated they would not pursue him, perhaps because they knew the Ravens would match any offer.

It worked out great for the Ravens, who went on to sign Jackson to a five-year extension reportedly worth $260 million, making him the highest-paid player in the league at the time. Jackson is at the forefront of the MVP discussion, and the Ravens (11-3) currently hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC and have already clinched a playoff berth.

As for the teams that decided not to make Jackson an offer, they should be kicking themselves.

"When you watch the NFL this month, with all the backup quarterbacks and even some preferred starters flailing around as teams fall further out of the playoff race, remember that none of those teams wanted Jackson," Yahoo! Sports Frank Schwab wrote. " … If you're the fan of a team that stinks at quarterback and doesn't have a lot of hope for next season either, you should be mad every time you watch Jackson play."

Schwab acknowledged that there were "some drawbacks" to pursuing Jackson, but they didn't justify not making the effort.

"He was going to be very expensive," Schwab wrote. "Jackson had an injury history. It would have cost the signing team two first-round draft picks if the Ravens didn't match, though that's not much for a quarterback. Look at the Russell Wilson or Bryce Young trades. Pursuing Jackson and failing would have been awkward for teams that had returning quarterbacks.

"Also, the rest of the NFL seemed to figure the Ravens were matching any deal anyway. And the correct answer to that is: So what? You still try with a player that valuable. Make the most difficult contract possible for the Ravens to match and if they do match it, well, you move on with no regrets.  … And none of the excuses really let teams off the hook. When you watch Jackson playing at an MVP level again, perhaps leading the Ravens to the AFC's No. 1 seed, and then watch how many teams are suffering through horrendous quarterback play, it becomes more maddening how many teams showed no interest."

Dan Orlovsky: Ravens Offense Is Like a Chameleon

ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky was effusive in his praise of the Ravens offense and coordinator Todd Monken after Baltimore's 23-7 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday night.

Orlovsky said Monken is keeping opposing defenses guessing because of the offense's versatility.

"This offense in many ways is like a chameleon. It's constantly changing and there's so much that it can do," Orlovsky said. "Todd Monken is fantastic. Sometimes it's their drop-back pass game and Lamar's hitting crossers. Sometimes they isolate [Odell Beckham Jr.]. Sometimes there's under-center play-action, dumping it off to a checkdown. There's the designed quarterback run that's a little bit of the old when it comes to Lamar. There's the red-zone stuff to the tight ends. There's the zone reads where he can hand it off.

"There's just so much variance with this offense, and I think that's the really difficult thing. I think that in the past, you kind of knew what this offense was, as awesome as it was. Now you go into every week and there's so much that you have to be prepared for schematically, let alone the creativity of the special element that Lamar has post-snap."

Host of Ravens Recognized for Being the Best at Specific Skills

ESPN's Matt Bowen picked 101 different traits and identified the best player for each. Here's a look at the Ravens who were recognized:

Best off-platform passer: Jackson

"I nearly picked [Patrick] Mahomes here — he can throw from any platform and make highlight-reel plays — but it's Jackson this season. His second-reaction skills to extend plays and create outside of structure really pop."

Top dual-threat: Jackson

"Jackson has 741 rushing yards this season, including five TDs. And 372 of them have come on designed carries, at a 5.8 per-attempt clip. He's a sudden mover with elite body control and the straight-line juice to produce on the ground."

Best seam-stretcher: TE Mark Andrews

"Andrews has a great feel for finding the seam void against three-deep coverage. He can widen safeties within the stem and use his frame and catch radius to create leverage against man schemes. His 12.1 yards per reception ranks fourth among tight ends with at least 40 catches this season (Andrews is likely out for the season with a left ankle injury)."

Best snapper: Tyler Linderbaum

"Linderbaum's snap mechanics are really quick, and it allows him to gain immediate blocking advantages and create angles on combos."

Best hand usage: DT Justin Madubuike

"Madubuike's 12 sacks lead all interior rushers this season. He uses his quick and active hands to create separation from blockers."

Most rangy on second level: ILB Roquan Smith

"Smith has the second-level range and pursuit speed to clean up as a run-defender while also closing windows in the pass game. Smith has 142 tackles (fourth) and six pass breakups in '23."

Best second-level blitzer: ILB Patrick Queen

"Queen has the downhill power to run through backs in pass protection, and he can attack edges and close with speed in the Ravens' pressure schemes. He has 3.5 sacks and 11 pressures on blitzes, both top-15 numbers in the NFL. His 17.6% pressure rate in 2023 is a career high, as well."

Most coverage discipline: S Geno Stone

"Stone has six interceptions this season, the second most in the league, and he makes a lot of plays because of his alignment/assignment discipline in the secondary. He gets to his landmark, identifies the concept and plays within the structure of the defense."

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