Every NFL Playoff Team’s Path to Winning the Super Bowl - Ian Hartitz
Yes, the Ravens benefited from an easy schedule, but they accordingly dominated and now boast a league-best plus-165 point differential entering the playoffs.
Jackson bumped his yards per carry from 5.6 yards per carry over the first 10 games of the season to 7.7 over the last five.
Improved passing ability in the intermediate areas of the field has helped lower his uncatchable pass rate and ultimately reduced the effectiveness of zone coverage against this offense.
Jackson’s unparalleled rushing ability makes this offense a borderline cheat code when he’s also functioning as an above-average passer. Fourteen players averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry this season among 51 dudes with at least 100 rush attempts; three played for the Ravens.
Corners Marlon Humphrey (No. 13 in PFF coverage grade), Jimmy Smith (No. 17) and Marcus Peters (No. 36) will certainly be needed to help slow down opposing passing attacks, but we’ve seen them have all sorts of trouble containing Patrick Mahomes in their last two meetings. Jackson and company are capable of outscoring just about anybody when everything is clicking; the 2019 league MVP putting the team on his back is the Ravens’ best chance of making it back to the promised land.
How can anyone hope to stop this version of the Ravens?
Jackson sports a 115.8 passer rating, 8.9 adjusted yards per attempt, and an insane 11 percent touchdown rate since Week 13. He has also taken just five sacks (one per game). Those are passing numbers that rival his MVP season’s efficiency marks. And of course, it’s just the base of an ice cream sundae, which also features 430 yards and four touchdowns as the cherry on top.
When Lamar Jackson’s full story is written — when his playing days are done — one of the more impressive chapters will be his play in the final days of 2020. The former MVP guided what looked like a ship lost at sea out of a huge COVID outbreak all the way to a 5-0 run. He vaulted Baltimore to a playoff appearance that in early October looked to be anything but guaranteed.
That’s what top-end players do. The Ravens have that type of player in Lamar Jackson. That alone makes them as dangerous as anyone in the AFC this side of Kansas City.
Before you harken too hard on the quality of opponents Baltimore ran through in Weeks 11 to 17, take a gander at the defensive metrics for Tennessee. The Titans rank 30th in pass-defense DVOA and have no hope of constructing a pass rush. The run defense is not much better.
Can Tennessee outscore the Ravens? That is possible. All season the Titans have been one of the most efficient and versatile offenses in the NFL. That alone is their path to victory in wild-card weekend.
Because they cannot stop the Ravens. When Jackson and the scoring unit is playing at their peak, few teams remaining in the postseason scrum can hope to slow them down.
To his credit, Roman has been the creative architect of one of the most prolific rushing attacks in NFL history. The Ravens last season set the all-time NFL single-season rushing record with 3,296 yards, and this year’s team ran roughshod over opponents during the final month of the season, capped by a team-record 404 rushing yards at Cincinnati in the regular-season finale.
But in high-profile losses, including last year’s playoff game against Tennessee, whether rattled by early deficits or trying to attack an opposing weakness, the Ravens seemed to quickly veer away from that dynamic ground game. That has taken the Ravens out of their element, putting the onus on a passing game that hasn’t been nearly as effective.
“We’re a running team,” Harbaugh added. “We want to run the ball as much as we can. We also want to … complete passes and keep drives alive. And the more first downs you get, the more drives you extend, the more opportunities you have to both run and pass.”
NFL picks for wild-card round: Lamar Jackson nabs first playoff win, Steelers send Browns home - Pete Prisco
These two make no secret about what they want to do on offense, which is to pound the football. Baltimore was the top rushing team in the league, while the Titans counter with Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher. Tennessee beat Baltimore earlier this year and also beat them last year in the playoffs in a big upset. This time around I think the Ravens get revenge of sorts. Their defense is much better than the bad unit the Titans put on the field. Lamar Jackson will have a big day to advance the Ravens.
Pick: Ravens 33, Titans 23
It should be obvious by now the Titans match up well with the Ravens. Tennessee can handle the physicality and diversity of Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens’ increasingly efficient but low-volume passing attack doesn’t take full advantage of the Titans’ biggest weaknesses in pass rush and pass coverage. The Titans prove they can hold on to a big lead against the Ravens last January and completed a double-digit comeback this November.
Baltimore’s Week 11 loss to Tennessee proved to be the Ravens’ low point. Instead of trying to hammer teams with interior runs, they adapted to a spread attack that emphasized Lamar Jackson and J.K. Dobbins on the edge. They have fewer tight ends on the field on early downs and more creativity with players like Devin Duvernay. The team’s defensive resurgence may be more about the opponents and the offense holding the ball so long.
There is every reason to expect a shootout. The Titans aren’t just bad on defense; they are ranked 28th in special teams DVOA. (The Ravens are second.) Ryan Tannehill is seemingly built to withstand vicious hits, blitzes and pressures. Derrick Henry, after 378 carries, appears indestructible and can victimize a Ravens front that’s not as good as its reputation.
I’m picking the Ravens here because Jackson is still my choice as the best player on the field and I don’t want to imagine another offseason of talking about his playoff struggles.
Baltimore Ravens 30, Tennessee Titans 28