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Ravens News 12/30: Gashing Opponents and more

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NFL: DEC 11 Ravens at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How Finally Slowing Down Helped J.K. Dobbins Speed Up - Clifton Brown

The return of Dobbins, who has averaged 101.3 yards per game over the last three games, has added an undeniable spark to Baltimore’s running attack. With Dobbins and Gus Edwards back in the lineup, operating behind an offensive line that’s one of the best in the NFL, Baltimore has a running game that is gashing opponents.

However, Dobbins has gone through hell since his devastating knee injury in the 2021 preseason. In addition to losing a year of football, months of grueling rehab took Dobbins to dark places mentally. He remembers when he couldn’t lift his leg following surgery. Weeks later, he was still walking with a cane, taking showers while sitting in a chair, unable to stand up or bend his leg.

Even when Dobbins returned in Week 3 against the Patriots, he didn’t have much explosiveness. In his first four games this year, he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry, and more doubt began to creep in.

“Am I ever going to be good again?” Dobbins said. “Is this the new me? Am I going to be bad? Am I done?”

At that point, Dobbins decided to have another knee procedure in October to alleviate some of the scar tissue and improve his range of motion. It was a tough decision, because more surgery would mean more missed playing time. However, Dobbins felt strongly that he was making the right choice.

Now Dobbins feels like himself, and it’s showing. Even without all his explosiveness, Dobbins’ vision, patience, quickness and ability to set up blocks makes him a special back. He’s running with speed and power, breaking tackles and making people miss.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson working diligently, on track to return this season, source says - Mike Preston

Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson has regularly attended prescribed rehabilitation and treatment procedures for his injured knee and is on target to return within the four- to six-week recovery window as far as team trainers and physicians are concerned, according to a league source.

The source wouldn’t make a prediction about when Jackson would step back on the playing field but said the quarterback has been perfect in his attendance and compliant with all rehab practices as he recovers from a knee sprain he suffered in the first quarter against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 4.

Jackson hasn’t practiced since the injury, missing his 11th straight session on Thursday as the Ravens prepare for a Sunday night game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers. According to the source, Jackson’s time frame to return isn’t any different from most players who suffer knee sprains, though a few have come back in three weeks.

Every NFL team’s biggest 2023 Pro Bowl snub: J.J. Watt, Jaylen Waddle and more - Marcus Mosher

BALTIMORE RAVENS: QB LAMAR JACKSON

Jackson has missed the past few games as he deals with a knee injury, but he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Before his injury, Jackson was the sixth-highest-graded quarterback in the NFL, averaging over 63 rushing yards per game this season. Despite lackluster playmakers, he was playing some of the best football of his career. Here’s to hoping he will be 100% healthy before the start of the playoffs.

Where the Steelers must improve their rush defense against the Ravens - Tim Benz

The Steelers also tend to have more success against Jackson than most clubs. He’s only 2-3 against the Steelers with a passer rating of 67.4 and yards per game average of 43.4 on the ground.

A significant reason for those numbers is that — regardless of facing Jackson or Huntley at quarterback — the Steelers are dedicated to constantly attacking the QB in the run game.

Whenever the Ravens attempt one of their read-option plays, where it’s up to Jackson or Huntley to hand the ball off to a running back or keep it, the Steelers frequently dedicate one defensive player (usually an outside linebacker such as T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith) to just attack the quarterback. Run at him and hit him, regardless of whether he held onto the ball or gave it up.

It’s a formula that has worked for the Steelers containing Huntley and Jackson. Not so much for the running backs, though. At least not in the last two games.

NFL Week 17 picks against the spread - Vic Tafur

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) | 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC

It was a nice moment for the Steelers, getting the last-minute win over the Raiders to honor the late Franco Harris at home on a blustery Christmas Eve. But it probably doesn’t happen if the Raiders’ Jones and Perryman don’t get hurt, as their defense had Kenny Pickett and Najee Harris under wraps — I don’t care what Mike Tomlin says.

The Ravens are a much different animal than the Raiders and their defense is peaking. Since joining the Ravens in Week 9, Roquan Smith ranks second among linebackers in splash plays (29). (Splash plays are defined as sacks, TFLs, pressures leading to throwaways, stuffs for no gain, interceptions, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, pass breakups, stops on third and fourth downs.) Smith ranks first in snaps per splash play (13.2) among 51 qualified linebackers who have played 350 or more defensive snaps since Week 9.

The Ravens won’t need Lamar Jackson back to beat the Steelers.

The pick: Ravens -2.5

Week 17 NFL Picks Against the Spread - Sheil Kapadia

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)

Lamar Jackson did not practice Wednesday, so we could be looking at another start for Tyler Huntley. Jackson suffered an injury early in the team’s Week 13 game against the Broncos. In four games without Jackson, the Ravens have failed to score more than 17 points. Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot and is not in the mix to earn a bye, so erring on the side of caution (assuming that’s all it is) with Jackson probably makes sense.

As for the Steelers, Mike Tomlin is doing it again. The team is 7-8 after last week’s win over the Raiders. Because of the tiebreak situation, Pittsburgh has just a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs, but this team has improved and continues to play hard.

If this were a pick ’em, I might go with the Ravens. But given how much Baltimore’s offense has struggled without Jackson, I see a low-scoring game and will take the points.

The pick: Steelers (+2.5)