What Are the Ravens' Potentially Fatal Flaws?
The Ravens are one of the elite teams in the NFL, but no team is perfect.
The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer identified potentially fatal flaws for Baltimore. Here's a look at three:
"Lamar Jackson has fumbled 11 times this season and lost six of them, second most in the NFL, behind only Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs. (Two of those turnovers, it should be noted, came on botched handoffs with running back Justice Hill.) And still, things could be worse. Jackson lost a fumble in two of the Ravens' three losses, but neither was converted into a touchdown. The first, which came after an Indianapolis Colts sack, led to a go-ahead field goal late in the second quarter of the Ravens' Week 3 overtime loss. The second had worse timing: Jackson was strip-sacked with over a minute remaining in Week 5, leading to another field goal in the Raven' 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh. Of the Ravens' remaining opponents, only the Steelers rank in the top 10 in strip-sacks (five), according to TruMedia. But poor ball security and a leaky offensive line could give everyone a chance."
Wide receiver firepower
"The Ravens have invested heavily at wide receiver. Now more than ever, they need those investments to pay off. With tight end Mark Andrews sidelined indefinitely and Jackson facing more heat in the pocket, the pressure is on for the Ravens' wide receivers to deliver. According to ESPN's receiver tracking metrics, which quantify a player's route-running efficiency, catching ability and production after the catch, the team has two top-20 wideouts in Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 9) and rookie Zay Flowers (No. 17). Rashod Bateman, another former first-round pick, is No. 52 overall."
"Excluding defensive and special teams touchdowns, the Ravens have allowed 174 points this season. Nearly half (83) have been scored in the fourth quarter or overtime. The differences between the early-game Ravens and the late-game Ravens are as stark as they are confounding. Over the first three quarters of games, when the scoring margin is between two touchdowns, the Ravens' defense easily leads the NFL in expected points added per play, according to TruMedia. Over the fourth quarter and overtime, in those same circumstances, they rank 19th.
"The Ravens stiffened up against the Chargers, allowing one touchdown and getting three stops in the fourth quarter, but more tests are on the way. The Rams, 49ers, Dolphins and Steelers all rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency in those clutch situations. And in the playoffs, if the Ravens meet Kansas City, there's maybe no more reliable late-game performer than Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes."
Where Does Lamar Jackson Stand in MVP Conversation?
A month ago, Lamar Jackson was a popular choice for Midseason MVP. The Ravens quarterback is still firmly in the MVP conversation, but he's no longer at the forefront of the discussion.
NFL.com columnist Jeffri Chadiha ranked the top 10 MVP contenders, and Jackson was No. 6. Chadiha looked at the case for and against Jackson winning his second MVP award in five seasons.
Why he could win
"The Ravens have been the most complete team in the AFC all season, with Jackson proving he can be more of a playmaker from the pocket. He's already on pace for career highs in passing yards and completion percentage. He also remains dangerous as a runner, and it's not hard to see him throwing for almost 4,000 yards and running for about 800 yards. That's some serious production for a team that could end up with the top seed in the AFC. Jackson would look even more impressive, but star tight end Mark Andrews, who is Lamar's longtime security blanket, is on injured reserve."
Why he couldn't
"Jackson has a lot of yardage, but not many points. He's been responsible for just 18 touchdowns this season (13 on passes and five on the ground). That's not going to excite voters in the final analysis. Jackson's own high bar of success works against him as well. He won the MVP in 2019 after passing for 3,127 yards, rushing for 1,205 and amassing 43 total touchdowns. Simply put, he needs more highlight-reel plays."
"Jackson will be a strong candidate if Baltimore nabs the No. 1 seed. The Ravens will have to beat some serious competition to get there — they'll see Jacksonville, San Francisco and Miami in three straight games to close out this month — but it's doable. If signature moments are what he'll need, that is where he'll find them."
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is No. 1 on Chadiha's list, followed by 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud, and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Pundit Says Ravens Defense Is Only One Capable of Slowing Juggernaut 49ers Offense
The San Francisco 49ers are the hottest team in the league and will likely be a unanimous No. 1 in the power rankings after blowing out the Philadelphia Eagles, 42-19, on Sunday.
The 49ers have averaged 33.5 points during their four-game winning streak. The Ringer’s Steve Ruiz said the Ravens defense is the only one that has a legitimate shot at slowing San Francisco's offense. The 49ers host the Ravens on Christmas night.
"If a defense can win big on first down with negative plays, it can negate the play-calling advantages that [Head Coach Kyle] Shanahan typically provides. Winning the early-down matchup is easier said than done, of course. It requires not only the personnel to win one-on-ones across the field but also a sharp defensive mind,' Ruiz wrote. "Fortunately for football nerds, San Francisco's Week 16 opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, checks both of those boxes.
"(I'm fully expecting the 49ers to steamroll over their next two opponents, the Seahawks and Cardinals.) If Mike MacDonald, the NFL's best defensive coordinator, doesn't have the players and tactics to slow down the 49ers, then we might as well hand them the Lombardi Trophy right now."
Ravens Cannot Afford to Sleep on Rams
With the Ravens having the toughest schedule in the league over the final five weeks of the season, Shaffer ranked the games from least difficult to most difficult.
The "easiest" opponent is the Los Angeles Rams, who come to Baltimore this Sunday. That the Rams game might be the least difficult is a testament to just how brutal the schedule is, as they've won three in a row, outscoring their past two opponents, 73-33.
"[Head Coach] Sean McVay entered training camp with 36 rookies on his 90-man roster. Wide receiver Cooper Kupp has missed four games with a hamstring injury and hasn't recaptured his Pro Bowl form. The offensive line remains a bottom-half-of-the-NFL unit. And yet the Rams are 6-6, with a surprisingly efficient offense," Shaffer wrote. "When quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receivers Puka Nacua and Kupp and running back Kyren Williams have been on the field together, they've averaged 6.9 yards per play, according to TruMedia, which would be one of the NFL's best marks.
"Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is the biggest star on an otherwise anonymous, relatively young defense. That unit could be rounding into form just in time for a playoff push. After giving up 43 points to the Cowboys in Week 8, the Rams have allowed just two touchdowns in consecutive games against the Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Browns."
The Ravens opened as a 7.5-point favorite, but Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones warned that they cannot look past the Rams.
"Baltimore sleeping on Sean McVay's team would be a big mistake coming out of the bye," Jones wrote. "Matthew Stafford is coming off his best two games of the season, and the Los Angeles defense has also been playing better in recent weeks."
Head Coach John Harbaugh made it clear yesterday that neither he nor the players are underestimating the Rams.
"It's just very impressive what they've done. So, we recognize the challenge that's in front of us," Harbaugh said. "We understand what they're bringing. They're fighting for a playoff spot, but we're fighting for things, too. We have a lot to play for, so I'm confident our guys are going to be out there playing well and playing their best."