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Ravens News 11/30: Winning on the road, key players and more

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Oakland Raiders v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson will start for the Ravens, and the Falcons will have to be ready - Dave Choate

The reality is that this is now Lamar Jackson’s job, and he’ll have to play poorly to lose it temporarily. Sometime in the next year or so, it’ll be his job, period, but for now Harbaugh has Flacco’s injury as a built-in excuse to keep him out of the lineup on Sundays. Jackson has his weaknesses as a passer—he’ll take shots Flacco won’t, and he’s missed defenders to ill effect at least a couple of times—but his game is well-rounded and it’s not a coincidence that the Ravens are winning games with him under center.

If you’re wondering what Jackson brings to the table that the Falcons should fear, SB Nation’s Charles McDonald breaks it down effectively here. The Falcons are going to have to figure out in a split second whether Jackson is taking the ball down and running or passing, and they haven’t been particularly great at stopping either of those things even without the element of surprise.

Against mobile quarterbacks this season, Atlanta allowed 42 rushing yards to Cam Newton in Week 2, 39 rushing yards to Taysom Hill in Week 3 and a rushing touchdown to Dak Prescott in Week 11.

Ravens RB Gus Edwards riding high after strong two-game stretch - Austin Gayle

Arguments in favor of the Edwards hype train staying on the tracks all revolve around his ability to create yards for himself on the ground. The undrafted Rutgers product ranks first in forced missed tackles per carry (0.33) and third in yards after contact per attempt (4.1) among the 25 NFL backs with 20-plus carries in Weeks 11 & 12. His NFL-high 133.3 elusive rating in the two-week span also leads the same group of backs.

Edwards’ unparalleled elusiveness led to high box-score production, as he finished fifth in percentage of carries resulting in a first down or touchdown (30.0) and fourth in total rushing yards among the stable of backs with at least 20 attempts the past two weeks. His 5.8 YPC average also ranked seventh.

Adding to his two-game feat, all but one of the backs (Saquon Barkley) listed ahead of him in first down/touchdown percentage, total rushing yards and yards per carry averaged more yards before first contact per attempt than Edwards. The Baltimore back averaged just 1.78 yards before first contact per carry across his 40 carries in Weeks 11 & 12, good for just the 14th-most among qualifiers.

Edwards gained just 29.6% of his 233 rushing yards before first contact in the previous two games, the fifth-lowest percentage among the 19 NFL backs with at least 100 rushing yards in said span.

At nearly 240 pounds, Edwards is a tough to bring down once he reaches the second level. He also displayed some pass catching ability with three receptions for 34 yards in the preseason.

Lamar Jackson can end Ravens’ QB debate with third straight win - Jamison Hensley

If Jackson beats the Atlanta Falcons, he would improve to 3-0 as a starter, which would make it extremely difficult for the Ravens to go back to Joe Flacco even if he has recovered from a right hip injury. A victory on the road -- which would check another box off Jackson’s list -- and it’s legitimate to wonder whether Flacco has played his final game in a Ravens uniform.

Jackson has brought a much-needed dose of excitement, a new offensive identity and momentum at the right time of the season.

There are certainly pitfalls looming. Jackson could struggle to match the points put up by the Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs in the next two games. His running style -- 37 attempts in two games -- increases the chances of injury.

Barring that, Flacco may not play another down for Baltimore this season and beyond. The Ravens can create $18.5 million of salary-cap space if they part ways with Flacco at the end of the season and designate him as a post-June 1 cut (or wait to trade him after June 1).

With a win in Atlanta, it would be clear: The future is now for the Ravens and Jackson.

Eric DeCosta will have approximately $57 million of salary cap space to use in free agency if he releases Joe Flacco, Eric Weddle and Michael Crabtree in the spring. With this amount of space available, a post-June deferral that would burden the 2020 team is unnecessary.

7 Baltimore Ravens who could be especially important against the Falcons - Aaron Kasinitz

C Matt Skura

With Jackson likely to make another start Sunday and the Ravens facing a Falcons defense that gives up the third-most yards per carry in the NFL, Baltimore has reason to turn back to a surging ground game Sunday. That means Skura, along with the rest of the Ravens’ interior linemen, will need to get to the second level to block the Falcons’ linebackers. Such a task grows more challenging if Atlanta activates Deion Jones off of injured reserve. And beyond that, Skura will serve a key role in helping set offensive line set protections and communicate well in what’s setting up to be Jackson’s first start on the road.

S Chuck Clark

With Tony Jefferson nursing an injured left ankle, Clark could enter the starting lineup Sunday for the first time this year. And if he does, he’ll likely take on the task of covering Falcons tight end Austin Hooper, who’s piled up 19 catches over the past three weeks. Anthony Levine could also help out in the defensive backfield if Jefferson misses the game.

Skura will have his hands full when up against defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who leads the Falcons with 10 quarterback hits. Clark also has a potentially difficult matchup in Hooper. The third-year tight end has an 81-percent catch rate with 476 yards and three scores this season.

Ravens Have Key to Winning on the Road in December? - Clifton Brown

Baltimore’s December road record is 1-6 over the past three seasons. Not coincidently, the Ravens have missed the playoffs the past three seasons.

The Ravens (6-5) can make or break their season with their road performance down the stretch with games left at Atlanta this Sunday, Kansas City on Dec. 9 and in Los Angeles versus the Chargers on Dec. 22

With quarterback Lamar Jackson and running back Gus Edwards putting up a league-high 509 rushing yards the past two weeks, and with the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense, the Ravens believe they have the ingredients to travel well this December.

“We have a good run game and a defense, and that’ll carry us,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “So hopefully, that’ll be how we get it done.”

“Momentum is everything – getting the win last week, playing well [is] definitely going to help you a little bit going into this week,” Smith said. “It doesn’t win the game for you but it’s definitely going to help you riding high with confidence. Going against a team like this, it’s what you need.”

The Ravens defense has posted mixed results on the road this season. They played well in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Tennessee but allowed more than 30 points in Cincinnati and Carolina. Baltimore currently ranks 5th in defensive DVOA.