Heading into the final third of the season, John Harbaugh had a decision to make. He’d watched his offense sputter under Flacco in the season’s first nine weeks, and after Flacco went down with a hip injury, he’d seen the new dynamic that Jackson could bring to that unit. When Flacco returned, Harbaugh had to choose between an underwhelming and predictable option and a volatile rookie with a completely different skill set. The Ravens’ head coach went with Jackson, transforming the team’s offense midseason and in turn choosing a path that not nearly enough NFL teams do. The Ravens conceded that, if their approach wasn’t going to be effective in a traditional way, they might as well get weird with it.
Baltimore’s offense is a totally unique entity, and that goes beyond just the sheer number of carries the team gives to its quarterback. The Ravens use an array of motions and fakes that creates headaches for opposing defenses. And by embracing their shotgun-based rushing attack, they’ve made the extreme nature of their offense their most significant advantage on that side of the ball. Getting ready to face the Ravens is different from preparing to go up against any other team in football, and that alone makes them a dangerous challenge in any given week.
The Ravens 35-22 run-pass split in Week 16 was not as dramatic as it has been recently and the three minute time of possession advantage was below their season average, yet they still earned a victory with a more flexible offensive approach.
The vital members of the Baltimore’s defense didn’t think their ability to hold the Chargers to a season-low 198 total yards Saturday stemmed from any specific advantage they had against Los Angeles’ players or system. Raven after Raven said it’s just that they have a top-notch defense that would cause any team fits.
It sure looked that way Saturday. The Ravens (9-6) flew around the field and routinely battered quarterback Philip Rivers to the tune of four sacks and eight hits. They stuffed running back Melvin Gordon. They forced three turnovers, one on the first snap of the game and two late in the fourth quarter to close out the victory.
In December, all four of Baltimore’s opponents have ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in total offense. The Ravens held three of them — the Chargers, Buccaneers and Falcons — to their worst yardage outputs of the season. All three of those teams came at least 175 total yards short of their per game average when playing Baltimore.
Baltimore’s defense has ranked at the top of the league in yards and points allowed all season. Nevertheless, the rediscovered tradition of generating turnovers is what has forged this 2018 group into a truly elite unit.
BALTIMORE GET BEHIND HARBAUGH—AND WHY NOT?
There was a time a couple months ago when most of the league assumed Harbaugh and the Ravens were driving towards a separation, however you wanted to term that, following this, his 11th season as coach in Baltimore. But as the team got hot, upper management started asking a very simple, sensical question: In a year when the pool of candidates is shallow, why are we going to walk away from the man who’ll be the No. 1 candidate on most teams’ lists?
So Baltimore decided over the last week that, at the very least, they’re not going to just let him walk. Which is wise of them, in the same way it’s wise of other teams to make sure they’re happy with what’s out there in the marketplace before deciding to sever ties with the coach they’ve got now.
And there’s also the way that Harbaugh handled the situation with his players when the rumblings really got going. Veteran safety Eric Weddle explained that the coach told them he’d been in contact with owner Steve Bisciotti throughout and that, while he wasn’t certain of his own future, they didn’t need to worry about him. He then told the players, “I’m with you and I’m for you.”
The decision to retain Harbaugh was immediately supported by the most impressive win in recent Ravens history.