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Ravens News 11/5: Passing Calculus and more

NFL: OCT 24 Bengals at Ravens Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As sacks mount for Lamar Jackson, Ravens try to strike a balance between risk and reward - Jonas Shaffer

Two months into the 2021 season, Jackson’s getting his wish. His 225 attempts — just over 32 per game — are the most he’s ever thrown over a season’s first seven games as an NFL quarterback. Jackson’s made the most of the offensive shift, too, averaging 277.6 passing yards per game, completing 64.9% of his passes and averaging 8.6 yards per attempt, all career-best marks through seven games.

But for all his athletic gifts, Jackson hasn’t been able to outrun the attendant risks of a more pass-first approach. The 21 sacks he’s taken are also the most he’s ever had at this point in the season. Jackson was taken down five times in the Ravens’ Week 7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, tying a career high.

“They got a few sacks on us,” Jackson acknowledged after the 41-17 blowout in Baltimore, but that appears to be a part of the team’s calculus on offense. With a quarterback as elusive as Jackson, the Ravens are willing to take more chances on longer-developing pass plays. They trust their offensive line to keep their quarterback clean and, failing that, their quarterback to turn nothing into something.

If the Ravens’ pass protection is due for a second-half turnaround, Sunday’s game against the Vikings would be a good place to start. Minnesota has one of the NFL’s highest pressure rates and the second-most sacks (24), though the Vikings will be without star defensive end Danielle Hunter (team-high six sacks) after a season-ending pectoral injury.

Marlon Humphrey, Secondary Seek A Bounce Back Performance - Clifton Brown

“Marlon’s my dude,” Elliott said. “Marlo’s always going to be All-Pro Marlo. It’s not just Marlon. We’ve got to play better as a whole, together. When we do that we’re going to be great. Everybody has a bad day. Make up for it by playing with each other as brothers. He’s going to be alright. Marlon’s the best corner in the NFL. He’s going to continue to show y’all that.”

Shutting down’s Minnesota’s receivers will be another difficult assignment, regardless of how Defenisve Coordinator Wink Martindale decides to deploy Humphrey, Anthony Averett and nickel corner Tavon Young.

Minnesota has two of the NFL’s top receivers in Justin Jefferson (63 catches, 563 yards, three touchdowns) and Adam Thielen (43 catches, 471 yards, six touchdowns), both on pace for over 100 catches and 1,000 yards. They bring different skillsets to the table but both are dangerous targets, playing with a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who has confidence going against the Ravens.

Cousins has only been sacked 10 times this season, but he’ll get rid of the football quicker than many quarterbacks, sometimes before Jefferson and Thielen have a chance to uncover. If the Ravens do a solid job containing running back Dalvin Cook (444 yards, 4.45 yards per carry), it will put Minnesota in obvious passing situations that will make it easier for the Ravens’ pass rush to get after Cousins.

Kevin Zeitler: Ravens ‘Excited To Crush These Last 10 Weeks Of The Season’ - Bo Smolka

“We know what we need to work on,” guard Kevin Zeitler said before the team’s practice on Nov. 3, admitting that the Bengals “simply outplayed us that day. They got us good.”

Now with the team back together after a long weekend off, Zeitler said, “There’s a good energy in the building, and we’re excited to crush these last 10 weeks of the season.”

“We are in first place after seven games,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We need to be in first place after 17 games. That’s what we’re shooting for. To do that, we really need to win this next game. It will go a long way toward that, and that’s how you look at it.”

The Vikings are coming off a 20-16 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys and have gone 0-2 against the AFC North this year, losing to Cincinnati (27-24 in OT) and Cleveland (14-7).

Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 10-3 coming off a bye.

“We just want to start off right,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said, “start 1-0 this round.”

10 predictions for the Ravens: Lamar Jackson’s numbers, a first-time Pro Bowler and AFC North quest - Jeff Zrebiec

Marquise Brown will be the first homegrown Ravens WR to make the Pro Bowl.

Brown’s six touchdowns rank only behind Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase among AFC receivers. He’s on pace to finish with just under 90 catches and 1,400 receiving yards. Even with Rashod Bateman’s role expanding and Watkins returning soon, Jackson will still look for Brown on deep passes and in the red zone. Ravens wide receiver Jermaine Lewis made the Pro Bowl in 1998 and 2001, but it was as a return specialist. It’s been a long wait for the Ravens to get a homegrown receiver into the Pro Bowl and Brown is in a good position to end it.

The Ravens will return a punt or kickoff for a touchdown in a big spot.

They’ve gotten close. Devin Duvernay has a 47-yard kickoff return and a 42-yard punt return. He’s been a broken tackle away. He ranks seventh in kickoff return average (25.1) and first in punt return average (16.9). As the weather gets colder and the footing becomes worse for kickers and punters, returners get more opportunities. That bodes well for the Ravens. It feels like only a matter of time before they take one to the house.

Week 9 NFL game picks: Colts roll past Jets on Thursday night; Jordan Love-led Packers stun Chiefs - Gregg Rosenthal

Baltimore Ravens 27, Minnesota Vikings 23

WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)

WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX

SPREAD: Vikings +6 | O/U: 49.5

The Week 8 bye didn’t solve all of Baltimore’s injury problems, with wideout Sammy Watkins, starting tackle Patrick Mekari and a trio of starting defensive linemen out of practice Wednesday. But vital blocking tight end Nick Boyle is coming back, and there’s reason to believe the Ravens will learn how to cover up their weak spots, because they always have in the past. Losing pass rusher Danielle Hunter for the season, on top of cornerback Patrick Peterson’s absence, limits what Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer can do defensively. This feels like a spot where the Vikings play better than most people expect, yet find a way to lose painfully.

NFL Week 9 against the spread picks: Ravens vanquish Vikings, Bengals rebound vs. Browns, Chargers beat Eagles - Jordan Dajani

Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens are going to try to pressure Kirk Cousins this week, and they should. Cousins is averaging 3.5 yards per attempt when under pressure — which is by far the fewest of any quarterback in the NFL. Lamar Jackson is much better than Cooper Rush, and he’s going to find success against this defense.

The pick: Ravens -6

Projected score: Ravens 30-17