Two Factors That Could Determine How Ravens Fare Against Tough Second-Half Schedule
The Ravens just completed a grueling five-game stretch that began with two physical road contests against division rivals, followed by a trip to London, a home meeting against one of the top teams in the NFC, and a game out west.
After winning four of the games to improve to 6-2 and take a 1.5-game lead in the AFC North, the Ravens play six of their final nine games at home, including the next three in a row. Sounds good, right?
Not so fast. Seven of Baltimore's nine remaining games are against teams that have winning records, beginning with Sunday's home game against the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks. The Ravens also will face powerhouses such as the Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, and Jacksonville Jaguars.
"According to FTN, it is the NFL's second-toughest remaining schedule, and even that might be underselling it," The Baltimore Banner's Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Shaffer identified several factors that could determine how the Ravens fare the rest of the way. Here's a look at two:
"There might not be a better deep-ball defense in the NFL than the Ravens'. There might not be a better deep-ball thrower in the NFL than Seattle's Geno Smith. Last season, Smith went 24-for-51 (47.1%) for 719 yards, 13 touchdowns and two interceptions on passes at least 20 yards downfield, according to the NFL's Next Gen Stats. Among regular starters, only the Miami Dolphins' Tua Tagovailoa (54%) had better accuracy. This year, Smith's 13-for-29 (44.8%) for 383 yards and three touchdowns on deep shots.
"Will that be enough to challenge the Ravens? On deep passes this season, opposing quarterbacks have combined to post a 19.7 passer rating, with as many completions as interceptions (three). Take out the Ravens' Week 5 performance against the Steelers, and their defense has allowed just one of 20 passes of at least 20 air yards. They should see a lot more down the stretch. Smith is sixth in the NFL in deep shots, the Chargers' Justin Herbert is seventh, the Rams' Matthew Stafford is eighth and Tagovailoa is 10th. Among regular starters, Tagovailoa is second in expected points added per deep shot, Stafford is third, the 49ers' Brock Purdy is fourth, Smith is fifth and the Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence is eighth, according to NGS."
"Over Devin Duvernay's first three years in Baltimore, he had 572 receiving yards from Week 1 to Week 8 and just 308 yards from Week 9 on. Rashod Bateman's first two seasons produced a more equal split — 394 yards through Week 8, 406 yards thereafter — but wear and tear remain a concern. Odell Beckham Jr. has averaged more receiving yards in November (89.9 per game) and December (88.0) than in any other month, but he's also coming off a season away from football and has perhaps the most concerning injury history at the position. Zay Flowers played in 48 games over his Boston College career but never more than 13 in a season. The so-called rookie wall could get in his way at some point. Nelson Agholor, in his final season with the New England Patriots, entered last November with 15 catches for 227 yards. He added only 16 catches for 135 yards the rest of the way.
"The Ravens' offensive makeover this past offseason — a new coordinator in Todd Monken, a new wide receivers coach in Greg Lewis, a rejuvenated Lamar Jackson — could render their track record at wide receiver obsolete. But, with four pass defenses ranked in the top 11 in DVOA looming, the Ravens will need all the late-season help they can get."
Analytics Projections Have Ravens Finishing As No. 2 Seed in AFC
NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund took a midseason look at win projection totals for all 32 teams. Her data has the Ravens at 11.8 wins, making them the AFC North champions and No. 2 seed in the conference behind the Kansas City Chiefs (11.9 wins).
Frelund said the Ravens' meeting with the Seahawks looks like one of the keys to their season.
"The game forecasts to be close, with Baltimore winning in 52.5% of simulations, meaning it currently adds 0.525 to the team's win total," Frelund wrote. "If the Ravens can beat Seattle and turn that 0.525 into one full win, they'll give themselves some insurance against some tough stretches on the horizon: back-to-back matchups with AFC North foes in Weeks 10 (vs. the Browns) and 11 (vs. the Bengals), plus a trio of coin-flip-close contests in Weeks 15-17 (at the Jaguars, at the 49ers, vs. the Dolphins)."
Frelund's model has two other AFC North teams making the playoffs, with Cincinnati (10.0 wins) and Cleveland (9.7 wins) projected to be the sixth and seventh seeds.
Mike Macdonald Named Potential Candidate for Raiders' Head Coach Job
In the wake of the Las Vegas Raiders firing Head Coach Josh McDaniels this week, speculation about who his replacement might be has begun. Not surprisingly, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald is getting some buzz.
Both The Athletic's Tashan Reed and Sports Illustrated's Conor Orr included Macdonald on their list of leading candidates to replace Daniels:
Reed: "In Macdonald's first season as the Ravens' defensive coordinator in 2022, his unit was elite. It allowed just 18.5 points per game (third) and helped Baltimore make the playoffs despite quarterback Lamar Jackson suffering a season-ending knee injury late in the year. This year, the defense has been even better. It's allowing just 15.1 points per game (first), 276.5 yards per game (second) and 4.2 yards per play (first). Macdonald has only been an NFL coordinator for two years, but with that sort of production, it won't be long before he's a head coach. Macdonald, 36, has held several roles across nine seasons with the Ravens and has been groomed by Baltimore Head Coach John Harbaugh. Macdonald has shown he's someone who can orchestrate defenses that flat-out dominate. That's something the Raiders haven't had in a long time."
Orr: "Macdonald, Don 'Wink' Martindale's heir apparent in Baltimore, is having an incredible season with the Ravens. I spoke with his former coworker, Leslie Frazier, for our coaches' list feature on Macdonald. He noted how, as a young assistant, Macdonald was adept at understanding offenses from a defensive perspective, and unearthed a good number of the Ravens' maniacal third-down pressures that are a hallmark of the franchise's defensive style. Baltimore leads the league in sacks this year despite a relatively conservative 24% blitz rate, meaning that Macdonald is finding different ways to get to the passer without sacrificing bodies in pass coverage. He would fit with the Raiders in that, before [Jon] Gruden and McDaniels, Vegas had a history of hiring young, upstart coaches known for their smarts."