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Ravens News 1/18: Laser Focus

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Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images

Ravens’ Lamar Jackson enters playoffs, proving ground vs. Texans

Jamison Hensley, ESPN

“Lamar’s always had a single-minded focus, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it quite like this,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been that way since the offseason when we talked, since he came to OTAs [organized team activities], since training camp, [he’s been] one day at a time, locked in. That’s kind of how he’s approached it. It’s been reflected in how he’s practiced and how he’s played.”

The changes in Jackson captured the attention of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the only player who was on the Ravens’ two Super Bowl championship teams.

“I’m putting all my chips on 8,” Lewis said when asked if Jackson can win a Super Bowl. “I’m watching his maturity, I’m watching his patience in the pocket.

“But I’ll also tell you: 8 has a different look in his eye.”

Ravens defense ready to face ‘a whole different’ C.J. Stroud than the one they saw in Week 1

Kevin Patra, NFL.com

“I feel like they’re a whole different team. C.J.’s a whole different QB,” Ravens edge rusher Odafe Oweh said via the team’s official website. “I feel like we matured him and he’s been balling ever since. I have a lot of respect for him. In the playoffs, obviously people play harder. So we have to come with a different energy as well.”

In Week 1, the Ravens sacked Stroud five times while holding him to 28 of 44 attempts for 242 yards with zero TDs, zero INTs, and a 78.0 passer rating. Notably, Baltimore didn’t give up the deep shots. For the game, 31 of Stroud’s 44 attempts were short (0-9 yards) or behind the line of scrimmage. He went 0 of 2 on 20-plus air-yard passes.

Since that day, Stroud and the Texans have thrived on the deep ball. The rookie was the only player with 1,000-plus passing yards and zero INTs on deep passes this season, per Next Gen Stats. Stroud was second in completion percent (58.8), pass yards (1,057), pass TD-INT (8-0), and passer rating (142.8) on deep passes, per NGS.

For Ravens, between impending free agents and interest in coaching staff, the time to win is now

Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens have more than 20 players who are set to become free agents after their season ends. Many of them have been key contributors to a historically dominant defense that became the first in NFL history to lead the league in sacks (60), takeaways (31) and points allowed per game (16.5), and are unlikely to be back given the constraints of the salary cap and roster flexibility general manager Eric DeCosta will need to maintain to field a competitive team.

“This is the best chance I’ve had [to win a Super Bowl] besides when I was with the L.A. Rams,” said Beckham, who is in his first season in Baltimore. “I got to choose where I thought would be the champion. There were 32 teams to choose from.”

And with success, the rest of those teams will undoubtedly plunder the Ravens’ coaching and front office staffs.

Already, seven coaches and front office personnel have interviewed with other organizations, with second-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken among the most sought-after candidates to be head coaches elsewhere. Director of player personnel Joe Hortiz and vice president of football administration Nick Matteo, two key members of DeCosta’s front office, are also in the running for general manager jobs with the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

One free agent each NFL team should pursue in the 2024 offseason

Brad Spielberger, PFF

BALTIMORE RAVENS: WR ODELL BECKHAM JR.

The Ravens’ wide receiver room took a huge step forward this season. There is still uncertainty at the position, though, due to Beckham’s pending free agency and the looming fifth-year option decision for Rashod Bateman. Bringing back Beckham as the passing attack’s third receiver behind Zay Flowers and tight end Mark Andrews would make sense, with Beckham’s 2.28 yards per route run since Week 6 ranking 12th among all wide receivers to see 50 or more targets.

CLEVELAND BROWNS: WR MARQUISE BROWN

DETROIT LIONS: DI JUSTIN MADUBUIKE

GREEN BAY PACKERS: S GENO STONE

LOS ANGELES RAMS: EDGE JADEVEON CLOWNEY

Does offense or defense win Super Bowls? How the best teams perform in the NFL playoffs plus picks

Michael Salfino, The Athletic

In addition, the best offenses went 29-14 (a winning percentage of .674 compared with .565 for the top defenses). These top offenses also have claimed four of the five Super Bowl trophies in the period.

This data – and the Wildcard Weekend’s results – puts a fine point on something we all should know: It’s better to be a top offense than a top defense. Offensive strength is more stable and more resilient in the postseason. Defensive strength seems more dependent on the quarterback it happens to run into. If that man is hot, like Jordan Love and C.J. Stroud were, defensive dominance disappears.

My model has the Ravens beating the Texans in yards per play, 5.9 to 5.2. That’s about five points plus home field, so I cannot get at the Vegas line of Ravens minus-9.5. Back the Texans, the model says.

NFL playoff picks for divisional round: 2 underdogs win outright while a third nearly shocks top seed

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports

Houston Texans (+9) at Baltimore Ravens

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN, fubo)

The Texans are coming off an impressive home victory over the Browns, while the Ravens are coming off a bye. The rest could be good for the Ravens, but the starters haven’t played in three weeks. That might matter. This will be the first road playoff game for Texans rookie passer C.J. Stroud, which can be a challenge. It can be even tougher against the Ravens stout defense. They will throw a bunch of different looks at Stroud. How he handles those will be key. Lamar Jackson will be the league MVP, but he has to go out and show he can do it in a playoff game. The pressure is on. But I think in this offense he will respond. Look for a lot of points as both quarterbacks play well, but the Ravens will win a close one behind Jackson.

Pick: Ravens 30, Texans 29