In the wildcard round of the playoffs, Lamar Jackson notched his first postseason victory as the Ravens found the physical toughness to stonewall Derrick Henry’s Titans and the mental toughness to overcome a double digit deficit.
Now set to square off against Buffalo, they face a very different challenge - outscoring an explosive pass offense that is content to abandon the run.
Thoughts on the divisional round matchup:
- The most impressive aspect of their wildcard win was the rediscovery of a Ravens swagger reminiscent of the Brian Billick era and early Harbaugh years. The lack of fans in the stands led to some lapses in energy for Baltimore this season. Maintaining the ferocious attitude and imposing their will on the opposition, as they did against Tennessee, will be crucial on Saturday night.
- Running back production is largely dependent on situation. Most backs are interchangeable because blocking determines the vast majority of their production. In J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore has found one of the rare exceptions, a runner with the elusiveness to exceed the blocking provided. His ability to provide chunk plays make this rookie a legitimate x-factor against Buffalo’s mediocre run defense.
- The Ravens have enjoyed tremendous regular season success by committing fully to a run centric offensive identity. However, offenses are usually best served by taking what the defense gives them in the postseason. If Buffalo decides to stop the run by stacking the box with numbers to eliminate angles, while trusting their talented defensive backs with cover-zero coverage responsibilities in the secondary, coordinator Roman should adjust to a gameplan that features Willie Snead IV and Mark Andrews in the seams.
- Baltimore enters this game with a near optimal injury report, the major exception being cornerstone left tackle Ronnie Stanley. While Orlando Brown Jr. has stepped in on the blindside with minimal drop-off from Stanley, the right tackle position has become a major vulnerability. If the Ravens are forced to chase points this week, a passable performance from D.J. Fluker or Tyre Phillips would be quite helpful.
- Stefon Diggs has elevated Josh Allen’s game to an MVP level. Following an offseason trade, the former Terp has cemented himself as a top-3 overall, if not best overall, wideout in the league this season. The Ravens will counter with the best cornerback group in the league and Marlon Humphrey, a cover man whose physicality and agility can be effective against Diggs. But completely shutting down an elite receiver is nearly impossible in the modern NFL. Mixing assignments and coverages is the path to limiting splash plays from Diggs and burner John Brown.
- Allen’s efficiency against the blitz has improved dramatically since his last meeting with Baltimore. Nonetheless, no team combines the sheer volume and cunning deception of coordinator Martindale’s blitz scheme. The defensive line boasts multiple effective stunters, Patrick Queen has the range to chase down Allen and Tyus Bowser the coverage ability to take away Allen’s outlet options. Shrewd deployment of the linebackers could force Allen into game-changing negative plays.
- Eric DeCosta focused his offseason strategy on shoring up the run defense but his midseason acquisition of situational pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue was made for contests versus pass-first teams. His contribution to the pass rush, whether sacking Allen himself or creating opportunities for his teammates, may be the deciding factor when DeCosta is considering whether he wants to retain Ngakoue or versatile Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon in the offseason.
- The weather forecast could play a factor. Gusting winds or snowfall does not necessarily favor one team or another, each would provide their own issues for either team. Yet a weather game would impact coaching decisions. John Harbaugh has dialed down some of his aggressiveness after receiving praise for his approach in 2019. Foul weather could give Harbaugh a prime opportunity to tap into the edge offered by analytical decision making.
- Throughout their history, the Ravens postseason wins have often been earned on the strength of incredible individual performances. Almost all of their playoff victories have been highlighted by a single outstanding individual play. With two very different by still evenly matched teams and a close match expected, one single shining moment could determine the outcome. And Harbaugh’s consistency excellent special teams might just provide the winning play.