J.J. Watt: 'Roquan Smith Is a Special, Special Player'
As a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time All-Pro, former defensive end J.J. Watt knows a great defensive player when he sees one, and he sees one in inside linebacker Roquan Smith.
"The fact that Roquan got out of Chicago and got put into this situation on one of the best and helped make it even better than it already was, he's a special, special player," Watt said on "The Pat McAfee Show." "It's a lot of fun to watch him play in that defense."
Watt also spoke highly of the atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium.
"The Bank is a great place to play," Watt said. "I've played playoff games there and it's a phenomenal atmosphere. It's a really cool place and they do a good job."
Smith was heavily mic'd up for last week's divisional playoff win against the Houston Texans and showed his intensity.
If Patrick Mahomes Beats Ravens, It Will Be 'Best Win of His Playoff Run'
Patrick Mahomes is a two-time Super Bowl MVP, has a 13-3 record in the postseason, and will be playing in his sixth consecutive AFC Championship Game when his Kansas City Chiefs take on the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
ESPN analyst Marcus Spears believes the Ravens, who are led by presumptive MVP Lamar Jackson on offense and have the No. 1 defense, present the biggest challenge the star quarterback has ever faced in the playoffs.
"If Patrick Mahomes goes into Baltimore and wins this game, I think this will arguably be his best win of his playoff run," Spears said on "Get Up." "They are very outmatched in this game. And let's not forget, the other quarterback has overcome and dominated a tremendous amount of opponents as well. … This is going to be [Mahomes'] toughest task."
Spears' bold statement is a testament to how well the Ravens have played against winning teams this season. Looking at the matchup from the Ravens' perspective, it's fitting that they will have to beat the defending champions to reach the Super Bowl.
"Going against a team like the Chiefs who have been a juggernaut in the league for a while, it is a privilege and added pressure," safety Kyle Hamilton said. "But pressure either makes diamonds, or pressure busts pipes, so we are hopefully going to make diamonds out of it."
Joe Buck Reveals What Impresses Him the Most About Jackson
ESPN play-by-play announcer Joe Buck, who called the Ravens-Texans divisional playoff game last week, appeared on the “This Is Football” podcast and discussed a variety of Ravens-centric subjects. Here are some highlights:
The most impressive thing about Jackson: "Beautiful directness. We went into that game, everybody was talking about 1-3 in the playoffs, haven't been in a playoff game in three years, pressure, pressure, pressure. It's almost like you feel scared to ask when you're in a production meeting, like, 'Hey, Lamar, are you feeling any pressure because you're 1-3 in the playoffs?' Troy [Aikman] asked it and he's just like, 'No, no. That's the past. It doesn't matter. I can't wait to go out and play. I'm antsy. I just want to win a Super Bowl.' And I believe him. I think some guys talk about pressure and say that they're able to put it to the side, and I don't believe them. You can just see it; it's dripping off of them. And when Lamar Jackson said that and you take in the body language and the way said it, and then you go on and add it in the way he played, especially in that second half, I believe him."
How good Ravens coaches are in production meetings: "John Harbaugh is unbelievable. Their defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, I hope he never changes. Todd Monken, their offensive coordinator. We just left the best group. This was the one where we went into the game thinking, 'My god, we've got the entire game plan. He's saying stuff to us that he knows we will not see him out on, but that will give us background information to make better observations in the game.'"
Which player in the league is different than he is often perceived: "Odell Beckham Jr. Even back in his early days with the Giants, and we were doing the game when he had that fight with the kicking net on the sideline, he was wonderful, and was very open, and really thoughtful in what he shared with us, and had a real deep understanding of the game, and cared about the personal side of it. And when you talk to the Ravens, John [Harbaugh] was talking about that."
Depth Has Allowed Ravens to Thrive Despite Injuries
One of the most impressive things about the Ravens this season has been their ability to overcome injuries to key players.
Kay Adams of FanDuel TV's "Up & Adams" noted that the Ravens only have seven starters who have not missed a game due to injury this season. That they still won a league-high 13 games speaks volumes about their depth.
"Eighty percent of the offensive line has missed multiple games," Adams said. "Stars like Mark Andrews, Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Williams — they've missed half of the season. J.K. Dobbins missed the whole year; he's rehabbing with Aaron Rodgers. The Ravens weren't going to go anywhere because every year they have injuries and they end up not going as far as you want them to go, or as far as the talent and the roster, or the coaching and the culture can take them.
"Somehow, despite all of this, this year the Ravens completely dominated everyone over the last two months. It is a credit to [General Manager] Eric DeCosta, the amount of depth that he's built, how seriously he's taking it; Harbaugh and the staff for adapting and evolving; players stepping in when they needed to."
One name Adams didn't mention is rookie running back Keaton Mitchell, who exploded onto the scene in November before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 15. In his absence, Justice Hill has stepped up, just as tight end Isaiah Likely, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Arthur Maulet, safety Geno Stone, offensive linemen Patrick Mekari and Daniel Faalele, and others have risen to the occasion when called upon.
This week, Andrews and Humphrey returned to practice and both Pro Bowlers could play Sunday.
"This is a scary thought, but if the Ravens do get Mark Andrews back and they get Marlon Humphrey back this weekend, this is going to be the healthiest they've been since Thanksgiving," Adams said.
Geno Stone Is the Ravens' Unsung Hero
As noted above, Stone has been a valuable contributor. The 2019 seventh-round pick started 11 games in the regular season and has played in every game.
NFL.com’s Kevin Patra named Stone the Ravens' unsung hero.
"All the pieces of coordinator Mike Macdonald's defense work harmoniously, like a smashmouth symphony — and while some instruments make more noise than others, all filled chairs are vital for the concert to sound its best," Patra wrote. "Geno Stone is one of those overlooked brass horns that brings a big sound when it's his turn to shine. The fourth-year pro came into his own this season, generating seven INTs, second-most in the NFL, along with nine passes defended and 68 total tackles, all career bests by far.
"The Ravens have leaned on Stone's flexibility and range on the back end. Five of his picks came when he was aligned as a safety in zone coverage, the most by any player in such an alignment in 2023, per Next Gen Stats. (The Ravens ran zone at a rate of 71.9%, 17th-most in the NFL.) Stone's -0.54 EPA per target ranked fifth-best among all DBs (minimum 250 coverage snaps)."