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Ravens News 12/5: Cast-offs, offensive continuity and more

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Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Lamar Jackson is NFL MVP favorite, but Ravens’ coaches and front office deserve credit for revamping team - Jason La Canfora

Of the 22 men who started Sunday’s possible Super Bowl preview against the 49ers, one of the most anticipated games of this season so far, nearly half were what you could term steals – players whose presence in such prominent roles is a testament to the tremendous work of general manager Eric DeCosta and his predecessor, Ozzie Newsome. Of those 22 starters, three were undrafted free agents on their rookie deals (DT Michael Pierce, DT/FB Patrick Ricard, C Patrick Mekari), four were drafted in the fifth-round or later (LB Matt Judon, S Chuck Clark, G Bradley Bozeman, TE Nick Boyle), one was acquired for a fifth-round pick in-season (CB Marcus Peters) and one was a veteran-minimum free-agent signing midseason to strengthen a struggling linebacking group at the time (LJ Fort).

That is nine of 22 starters, folks, and when you add in undrafted free-agent linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who generally plays regularly on defense as well but missed time with injuries on Sunday. Plus, LB Josh Bynes, who played more than half the snaps Sunday, and, like Fort, was signed off the street a month ago. And C Matt Skura, an undrafted free agent who was excelling as a starter until his season-ending injury opened a spot for Mekari, you get an ever clearer picture out of how well the evaluations have gone. Heck, defensive linemen Jihad Ward and Domata Peko, who were also signed off the street recently due to injuries, have contributed well, also, for the most part, and round out a cast of cast-offs or players other teams didn’t want.

Patrick Ricard’s Extension Part of Long-Term Plan to Maintain Offensive Continuity - Ryan Mink

The two-year extension signed by fullback/defensive lineman Patrick Ricard on Tuesday means every starter on the Ravens’ offense is already under contract for next season. Wide receiver Seth Roberts is the only regular offensive contributor whose contract is set to expire in March.

As the Ravens predicted, their offense has revolutionized how the game can be played. Now the building blocks are in place for sustained success.

“I think we’re happy with that situation on offense. I know [General Manager] Eric [DeCosta] is and I know I am,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “Hopefully we can do more of that.”

“We have a young team, fast team,” Jackson said. “We have a difficult system we’re running, and the guys who are here, we’re running it smoothly. We’ve been progressing each and every week, each and every day, so it’s best when everyone is doing their job and keeping the guys here.”

Lamar: It would be an honor to break Vick’s record - Nick Shook

“It would be an honor,” Jackson said Wednesday. “You know, like I said, Michael Vick’s my favorite player. For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time. It would be pretty cool.”

Thirteen years later, we’re in the heart of the spread offense era. Jackson is averaging 7.0 yards per carry in an offense built around his ability to run and pass, carrying over concepts seen much more in college (zone read, inverted option) than on Sundays. Greg Roman’s attack has weaponized Jackson’s rare combination of agility and speed, helping create opportunities for his quarterback, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers because the defense must always first account for the danger of Jackson with the ball in his hands.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills: 4 advanced stats that could tell the story - Aaron Kasinitz

Josh Allen averages 9 intended air yards per pass

Many of the toughest opponents the Ravens have faced during their winning streak — like the Steelers, Patriots and 49ers — center their offenses around short passes. The Bills are different.

Buffalo likes to lean on the running game and then let Allen air the ball out deep. His 9 air yards per pass attempt are tied for the sixth most in the NFL, according to NextGen Stats, and it helps that Allen has a target at his disposal like wide receiver John Brown.

The former Raven has averaged 14.5 yards per catch this season and helps the Bills stretch the field.

Baltimore cornerbacks Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey will face a challenge Sunday.

Top 7 storylines for Bills vs. Ravens | Week 14 - John Murphy

RAVENS OFFENSE – A THROWBACK OR TREND-SETTER?

Thanks to Jackson, the Ravens offense is the talk of the NFL. They’re second in the league overall, first in rushing – averaging 208 rushing yards per game. No team, since the creation of the 16-game regular season, has rushed for 200-or-more yards per game through an entire season.

They average 5.6 yards per rushing attempt. If they finish the season at that pace, they’d finish second all-time to the 1963 Cleveland Browns.

“They’re a powerful running team,” says Brian Baldinger, former NFL offensive lineman and now a color analyst on the NFL on Fox. “They can run power at you. They can run read-option at you. They can run misdirection at you. They’re really good. “

“The one thing you cannot do is you cannot be discouraged,” he said, “because Lamar is going to make plays. He’s going to ‘wow’ you. He did it against the 49ers, there are things he’s just going to do. You cannot get demoralized, you can’t hang your head after a big play—you just gotta play the next play.”