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Overreactions to the Ravens’ Week 15 win over the Jaguars

Spicy yet reasonable takes following the Ravens victory.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Jacksonville Jaguars Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens routed another division leader in Week 15 when they went on the road and soundly beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-7 in primetime. There were several encouraging performances in this AFC heavyweight bout where they continued to find a way to pull away and finish instead of letting their opponent hang around.

Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 15 triumph that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes.

Ravens are the best team in AFC

Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Three major indicators of a great team are how balanced they are offensively, how they perform on the road, and how they fare against top-level competition. The Ravens and check off all the above and if it were a test, they’d pass with flying colors following their latest victory in which they dispatched another quality opponent and punched their ticket to the postseason in the process.

While the Jaguars now find themselves tied atop the AFC South standings after dropping Sunday night’s game instead of being the outright leader, they marked the third team that the Ravens played and beat by double figures this season. They blew out the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions in Week 7 and sent the formerly NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks packing in Week 9 who lost four of their next five after getting humbled in Baltimore. In those three games combined the Ravens outscored their opponents 98-16 as they continue to prove that they play their best against the best.

After being a predominantly run-centric offense with Lamar Jackson under center for the first five years of his career, the Ravens have become a more dynamic and well-balanced attack this season under first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. With better weapons and expanded pass concepts that incorporate more spread and not as many condensed formations, the Ravens are consistently putting opposing teams in greater conflict and making them respect their passing game and how dangerously explosive it can be each week.

However, they have still maintained the ability to punish and steamroll their opponents with a dominant running game as they did on Sunday by racking up 251 yards on the ground against a tough Jaguars defensive front that included a whopping 204 in the second half alone.

Their Week 15 result also improved their road record to 6-1 on the year and even though they currently hold the top seed in the AFC playoff standings with the inside track to securing home-field advantage, proving that they can consistently win on the road is great sign in case something changes over the final three weeks of the regular season. The team will face their toughest road test of the year by far in Week 16 when they travel to the West Coast to take on the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers on a Christmas edition of Monday Night Football in a game many are viewing as a potential Super Bowl preview.

Lamar Jackson has reemerged as the MVP front-runner

NFL: DEC 17 Ravens at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the Ravens’ franchise quarterback became just the second player ever unanimously voted Most Valuable Player of the NFL in 2019, it was off the back of a record-shattering season. In just his second year in the league and first, as a full-time starter, he threw the most touchdown passes (36), scored the most total touchdowns (43), and set a new single-season all-time record for rushing yards by a player at his position with a career-high 1,206.

Jackson’s lack of gaudy counting stats doesn’t support this bold claim but the tape and performances like he had against the Jaguars tell the true story and paint a much better picture. While his 171 passing yards on 24 attempts look pedestrian on the surface level, the epic and mesmerizing escape artist plays he made and the brave way he stood tall in pocket despite eminent danger was truly awe-inspiring as NBC color analyst Chris Collinsworth aptly illustrated.

Often what gets overlooked and sometimes even blatantly ignored in debates of Jackson’s MVP candidacy every year and especially in 2023 is how most of his rushing yards this year have come on scrambles. Those clutch plays that regularly lead to first downs are essentially an extension of the passing game in a sense since they were improvised and not designed runs.

Next week’s primetime showdown with the 49ers who are also 11-3 and whose quarterback, Brock Purdy, is in the MVP conversation will likely go a long way in deciding which of them ultimately wins the prestigious honor. While Jackson doesn’t have the numbers to support frontrunner status, Purdy does have the eye-popping stats to back his legitimacy although some pundits still don’t want to give Mr. Irrelevant 2022 his flowers because of the elevating scheme he plays in coupled with the elite weapons he has at his disposal.

A valid argument in support of Jackson over Purdy for MVP would be that Baltimore’s star signal-caller is the driving force for the offense and team as a whole while San Francisco’s rising second-year star is more of a facilitator on the offensive side of the ball. Another reason that Jackson isn’t racking up a lot more counting stats is the Ravens’ improved ability to run the ball in the red zone, especially near the goal line where veteran running back Gus Edwards has been almost unstoppable.

Ravens backfield is still in good shape but won’t be the same

Baltimore Ravens v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

The offense lost another one of its top playmakers for the remainder of the season in the second half of Sunday’s game and for the second time this year, it was their most explosive running back. In his second career start, undrafted running back Keaton Mitchell was on pace for his best game since his Week 9 breakout performance but suffered what was later revealed as a torn ACL early in the fourth quarter after ripping off a 13-yard run that looked like it would’ve gone to the house had he not gotten injured.

As devastating as his season-ending injury is, the Ravens’ backfield is far from decimated as they still have Edwards who leads the team in carries with 163, rushing touchdowns with a career-high 11, and is second in rushing yards behind Jackson with 663. There was a stretch from Week 7-11 where recorded one or more touchdowns on the ground in five straight games and scored nine total in that span.

Fifth-year veteran Justice Hill was already their primary option on passing downs due to his superb ability in pass protection. He has also recorded career-highs across the board in carries (71), rushing yards (313), rushing touchdowns (three), targets (21), receptions (17), and receiving yards (85) despite playing a diminished role in terms of usage outside of blocking. In games where he was more featured prior to Mitchell’s emergence, Hill showed a lot of dynamic playmaking flashes both as a runner and ball carrier.

On Tuesday, the team announced the signing of veteran Melvin Gordon to the active roster from the practice squad to fill Mitchell’s roster spot. The two-time Pro Bowler and former first-round pick had already used up his three call-ups and recorded 99 scrimmage yards on 16 combined touches in two games in which he actually saw game action. While he possesses a wealth of experience and can still contribute as a pass catcher and tough runner between the tackles, there’s a reason Mitchell made the final roster over him.

“Melvin Gordon is a high-pedigree football player in this league,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s almost kind of shocking that we’re going to have the opportunity to put him into the mix right now. He’s been practicing so hard, working so hard. His opportunity comes, and he’s been there before. Great player, talented. You can’t hide talent.”

Mitchell’s electric and explosive playmaking ability will be sorely missed down the stretch and in the postseason. He had a rare blend of speed, vision, acceleration, and contact balance to find and hit any crease as well as bounce a run outside or reverse to the opposite side of the field. Before going down, Mitchell had extended his streak of consecutive games with one or more plays from scrimmage of 20-plus yards to six in a row. That kind of weapon won’t be easy to replace but perhaps an increased utilization of first-round rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers could help offset his loss since he is just as explosive and is even more elusive.

“It was important to have elements of the rushing attack we worked so hard on the last four years,” Harbaugh said. “We didn’t want to run away from that run game. We had a lot of reps under our belt, a lot of institutional knowledge. Our players understood it - a lot of the plays that we run fit our guys really well.”

Ravens should try to keep Justin Madubuike at all costs

NFL: DEC 17 Ravens at Jaguars Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Elite pass rushers are hard to come by and elite interior defensive linemen are even more rare finds. The Ravens had gone half a decade since they last had a defender notch double-digit sacks in a single regular season. It only took fourth-year breakout start Justin Madubuike 12 games to end that drought. Through 14 games, he not only leads the team with a career-high 12 sacks but it is the most of all interior defensive linemen in the league and his 56 pressures according to NextGenStats are second in his position group only to Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams who is a three-time defensive player of the year and future first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Madubuike had already broken a franchise record for most consecutive games with at least half a sack several weeks ago but with his clutch fourth-quarter strip sack of Jaguars’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the Ravens’ Week 15 road win, he tied an NFL record as well in addition to forcing a timely turnover that led to a Justin Tucker field goal four plays later.

There’s no doubt that Madubuike is in store for a massive pay raise this upcoming offseason but the Ravens and General Manager Eric DeCosta should do whatever it takes to make sure he stays in black and purple for the foreseeable future. The franchise has not had an elite interior pass rusher in their prime since they had a future Hall of Famer of their own anchoring their defensive line in Haloti Ngata. To let another one walk out the door without trying to exhaust every avenue to keep him would be tragic.

If the two sides can not agree to terms before the start of the deadline to apply the franchise tag, they should apply the same tactic they used when negotiating Jackson’s record-setting deal last offseason and place the non-exclusive franchise tag on him. It would buy them more time to negotiate while also having a lesser cap hit than the exclusive and allowing other potential suitors the opportunity to do some of their work for them. They’d have the right to match any offer and if they opt not to, they’ll be awarded two first-round picks in back-to-back drafts which might end up being too steep of a price for another front office to fork up in addition to what will likely be a market-setting contract.