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Ravens News 12/23: Clinching the #1 seed and more

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Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

What we learned from Sunday’s Week 16 games - Nick Shook

The Browns drew up the only plan that has actually beaten Lamar Jackson since the first month of the season, and they were following it again, albeit with lesser defensive personnel, through 25 minutes of game action. Then Jackson tore it to shreds in less than two minutes.

Jackson and Co. went right down the field not once, but twice, scoring two touchdowns to wipe out nearly two quarters’ worth of positive momentum for Cleveland and remind folks of who rules the AFC North. After gaining 120 yards on its first four possessions, Baltimore racked up 138 yards, seven first downs and two touchdowns in 1:18 of game time, then followed it up with a methodical drive to its third straight trip to the end zone in as many possessions to start the second half. In a flash, a break and a march, the Ravens won the game.

So cements the reality that the Browns’ Week 4 win over the Ravens was an aberration, a product of a past moment in time in which they were a stronger and hopeful squad.

NFL Week 16 ReFocused: Baltimore Ravens 31, Cleveland Browns 15 - PFF

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Although MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson had a slow start to the game — he had a couple of inaccurate passes and also fumbled as a result of a miscommunication on a handoff — he made up for it later in the game as he kept his poise and led the Ravens to a win. In the end, Jackson ran for more than 100 yards and had a passer rating of 120.1.

Tight end Mark Andrews continued his effective season against the Browns. Andrews led the team with nine targets, six receptions and 93 receiving yards as he hauled in all of his catchable targets and also scored two touchdowns.

Ravens safety Chuck Clark had an excellent day, as he led the defense in the win against the Browns. Clark got his hands on the football a total of four times — he batted down two passes after rushing the quarterback and also made two pass breakups in coverage.

It was tough to tell that cornerback Marlon Humphrey was on the field for 58 snaps against the Browns, as he was targeted so rarely. Humphrey did make one big play, though, as he picked off Baker Mayfield’s throw in the fourth quarter to seal the win for Baltimore.

Ravens React to Clinching No. 1 Seed for First Time in Franchise History - Clifton Brown

Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda is in his 13th season, and he has won a Super Bowl with the Ravens, yet he has never entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed. He’s very much looking forward to it.

“We’ll get that week off to rest and recover,” Yanda said. “We’re a running team, so we play a physical game every Sunday. And obviously we’ll play at home. We won’t have to travel. We’re right in our backyard and that’s where we want to be. It’s definitely an advantage.”

“It’s a great accomplishment,” Harbaugh said. “It’s something I’m sure we’ll always take pride in. It’s something to look back on at some point. But right now we’re looking forward.”

Ravens to use franchise tag on Matt Judon if a long-term deal can’t be worked out - Jason La Canfora

Baltimore has not been a fan of the tag in the past, but the team has extensive cash and cap flexibility next year, and with likely MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson still making peanuts on his rookie deal, the team is in the middle of a fertile window in which to re-sign other key young chips. Judon earned Pro Bowl accolades and is having a monster season, thriving despite hot having any other proven pass rushers on the roster. A year after letting Za’Darius Smith hit the market to land $34 million over the first two years of his Green Bay deal – understandable given his limited previous production – letting Judon walk would be difficult, and the Ravens have a better cap situation than they have had for years.

They are no longer stuck under former quarterback Joe Flacco’s hefty contract, and while securing long-term extensions with corner Marlon Humphrey and left tackle Ronnie Stanley are also priorities, Stanley still has a fifth-year option for 2020 and Humphrey may not be inclined to do an extension after just three seasons with corner salaries soaring and Jalen Ramsey still yet to do his new deal with the Rams.

The defensive end tag for 2020 should be roughly $17 million -- and Judon is very likely to exceed that figure on the open market given the lack of stalwart pass rush available. The Ravens, who have only one player set to make over $10 million in 2020 (Stanley), will have over $60 million in cap space once a few veterans are let go.

Ravens’ John Harbaugh is PFF’s pick for 2019 NFL Coach of the Year - Solomon Wilcots

HE’S BEEN A GREAT DECISION-MAKER

John Harbaugh has not only made his quarterback a better player, but his in-game strategy has proven to be a difference-maker. He has embraced the enlightenment of data analytics and leveraged his new-found perspective to help his team become the league’s most productive team during the most critical, high-leverage times in the game — third and fourth downs. Entering Week 16, no team has more successful third- and fourth- down plays than the Ravens (95); they are tied for first in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys for the most yards per late-down attempt (7.0) and they’ve generated 0.421 EPA per late-down play which is first in the NFL by a comfortable margin.

Specifically looking at fourth downs, of the 21 times that the Ravens have attempted to get the edge on their opponent by going for it, Harbaugh has decided “correctly,” based on PFF’s expected points model, on 16 of those attempts, which is the most of any coach this season. With the dynamic offense at their disposal, they’ve also recorded the league’s highest fourth-down conversion rate at 76%.

So far this season John Harbaugh’s Ravens have already beaten the Patriots, Texans, Seahawks, Rams and 49ers to grab hold of the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC, and the more you peel back the layers on Jon Harbaugh, the more you can appreciate the critical chess-like moves he’s made to turn his team into a contender.