Five Thoughts on Ravens at Falcons - John Eisenberg
Perhaps not surprisingly, Jackson’s first road start had its rocky moments. Most came in the first half. The rookie overthrew a wide-open John Brown, missing out on a near-certain touchdown. He fumbled three times, losing one that the Falcons returned for a touchdown. “That turnover got to us a little bit. We had to get back our composure and calm down,” Jackson said. But we’re learning more about him every week, and one of his most positive attributes is he doesn’t let negative plays linger and possibly produce more trouble. At the end of his rocky second quarter, he calmly led the offense on a drive that produced a field goal that tied the game. Then he continued to make plays and move the chains after halftime, and soon enough, the Ravens were in control. Staying calm on the road can be a challenge for a young quarterback, but Jackson acts and plays as if he has been through it all before.
Jackson made several rookie mistakes during his first start on the road. However, if he can improve his ball security, Lamar’s ability to keep the offense ahead of the chains likely gives the Ravens their best chance to win in December and January.
This was the finest hour of 2018 for Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense.
The Ravens didn’t set records the way they did in their 11-sack shutout of the Tennessee Titans. But considering the stakes and the quality of the opponent, they played their best defensive game of the season.
With Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey taking turns covering Jones, he caught just two passes for 18 yards on eight targets. His previous season lows were five catches and 62 yards. Not many cornerbacks can match Jones’ combination of size, speed and combativeness. It’s an incredible luxury for the Ravens that when everyone is healthy, they have two such defenders.
The secondary’s sound play, especially impressive given that Chuck Clark filled in for the injured Tony Jefferson at strong safety, facilitated the fiercest pass rush we’ve seen from the Ravens since Week 6.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan rarely had clean chances to look downfield, as the Ravens hit him seven times and held him to 131 passing yards, about 200 below his season average.
Though the Falcons had struggled to finish drives in recent weeks, the Ravens were the first opponent to stifle them to this degree.
Coordinator Martindale was extremely aggressive in Week 13, both with his coverage calls and pressure packages. He thoroughly out-schemed Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, challenged Matt Ryan with a variety of pre-snap looks and kept attacking until the final whistle.
NFL Coaching Hot Seat: Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles Under Pressure After Week 13 Losses - Jonathan Jones
WARM: JOHN HARBAUGH
Others: Doug Marrone, Steve Wilks, Jason Garrett
During the Ravens’ Week 10 bye, Harbaugh belonged squarely on the hot seat. But since then the Ravens have rattled off three straight wins with Lamar Jackson under center and Joe Flacco on the bench, cooling the fire beneath Harbaugh. After a 26–16 win over the Falcons yesterday, the Ravens are 7–5 and currently own a wild card spot, with tough road games against the Chiefs and Chargers but winnable home games against the Bucs and Browns still on the schedule. Nine wins may get them into the playoffs, and getting back to the postseason might be enough for Harbaugh to earn his 12th year in Baltimore. He needs to demonstrate to future GM Eric DeCosta that he’s the guy who can properly coach Jackson into the future with the franchise. Like the other three coaches in this group (but especially Garrett’s 7–5 Cowboys), it’s all about how the team finishes.
Harbaugh may in fact remain the Ravens head coach of the future. This three-game win streak has proven that his coaching staff can foster success using nontraditional game plans.
Lamar Jackson’s Option-Keeper Touchdown
Jackson’s development as an NFL passer remains a work in progress—he completed 12 of 21 passes for 125 yards against the Falcons—but the rookie proved once again that his ability to run changes the way teams must defend the Ravens. Jackson leaned on his legs early and often to confound the Atlanta defense, carrying the ball 17 times for 75 yards and a touchdown—including this option-keeper run that gave the Ravens their first lead.
The Ravens dominated the Atlanta defensive front and held the ball for 39 minutes and change—nearly twice as long as the Falcons—which helped boost the team’s defense. With fresh legs all the way into the fourth quarter, the Ravens held a typically explosive Atlanta offense to just 131 yards and 2.9 yards per play.
In its three games with Jackson at the helm, Baltimore’s gone 3-0 and has averaged 28 points and 395 yards per game, both significant jumps over the Joe Flacco–led unit from earlier this season, which averaged 23.6 points and 366.5 yards.
Jackson’s clearly green as a passer; the rookie missed a wide-open John Brown for what should’ve been a touchdown in the first half and overthrew him again in the second half. And, after coughing up a fumble on Sunday, he’s now turned it over four times in three starts. Flacco boosts the team’s ability to throw deep, and hasn’t been quite as turnover prone.
For my money, though, the Ravens are simply more dangerous with Jackson leading the offense. They’re capable of weathering the rookie’s growing pains as a passer because of the profound, game-changing impact he brings as a runner. Jackson gives this offense an identity it never had under Flacco, the rookie QB serving as the centerpiece of an unstoppable smashmouth run game that pairs perfectly with the team’s suffocating defense. That combination gives the Ravens the type of winning formula that could make them a very tough postseason out. Without it, it’s hard to see how Baltimore can separate itself from the rest of the AFC elites.
A case can be made that the Ravens offense has a higher ceiling and a higher floor with Jackson at quarterback. Connecting on a higher percentage of deep passes is the path to reaching that ceiling.