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Overreactions to the Ravens’ divisional round win over the Texans

Spicy yet reasonable takes following the Ravens’ latest victory.

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Kara Durrette/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens punched their first AFC Championship game ticket in over a decade with a 34-10 drubbing of the Houston Texans on Saturday. There were several encouraging performances in this divisional round bout, where the Ravens continued to play their best against the best competition.

Here are a few spicy yet conceivable takes warranted after the Ravens’ blowout victory.

Ravens can’t be stopped by anyone but themselves

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

In many ways, Saturday’s victory over the Texans was a microcosm of the Ravens’ entire 2023 season. They played their best against one of the hottest teams in the league. The only way their opponents can keep a game close and hang around is if they don’t execute or make mistakes. They’re nearly impossible to slow down once they’ve made their adjustments or come out the gates clicking on all cylinders.

The Ravens’ defense was suffocating from start to finish; their special teams allowed the only touchdown of the game but then tightened up the rest of the way. Offensively, the Ravens scored on all four of their second-half drives after making the proper adjustments to counter the Texans’ blitzes at halftime.

With their 24-point margin of victory over Houston, the Ravens notched their eighth win of 14-plus points over an opponent with a winning record. They have finally exorcised the demons of past failures including not blowing double-digit leads and not advancing past the divisional round. Also, the infamous 2019 letdown when they last had the No. 1 seed in the AFC only to get upset by a hot AFC South team at home after a bye.

Their steely-eyed focus starts with the franchise quarterback, reverberates throughout the entire team, and has kept them locked in during this impressive run. It seems fitting that the last hurdle they have to clear to make it to the Super Bowl is the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, who are led by the NFL’s new boogeyman in Patrick Mahomes. Thankfully, it will take place in M&T Bank Stadium, where the Ravens have arguably the best home-field advantage in the league thanks to their rowdy crowd.

Lamar Jackson is the best quarterback in the league

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro was sensational against the Texans. Jackson had 252 yards of total offense and accounted for four total touchdowns. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to record over 100 passing yards, rushing yards, and passer rating while recording two passing and rushing touchdowns in the same game.

It was truly a dual-threat playmaking masterclass by Jackson. He more than just provided another example of why he is the clear-cut choice to be voted the league Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career. Performances like the one he had in the divisional round continue to reinforce his status as the best quarterback in the league.

No one has proven capable of impacting the outcome of a game to the same degree that he can. Simply put, there’s no one better than Jackson because nobody else can make plays in the multitude of ways he can every time he touches the ball.

On any given game day, betting on Jackson to finish as the Ravens’ leading passer and rusher is more likely to pay off than not. His evolution as a passer this year has taken his game to another stratosphere of elite. This level matches, if not surpasses Mahomes because of what he brings to the table with his legs on scrambles and designed runs.

Jackson is already a lock to win his second career MVP honor, which would tie him with Mahomes. If he goes on to win his first career Super Bowl, he’d already have half as many as him as well. He would still have a ways to go to catch up in terms of playoff wins and conference title game appearances. However, it would spark a conversation about who is the best of their era nonetheless.

Ravens’ defense is unequivocally the best in the league

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Houston Texans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Kara Durrette/Getty Images

Throughout the 2023 season, the claim for best defense in the league was viewed as a two-horse race between the Ravens and their AFC North rival Cleveland Browns. Both team’s units put up historically dominant numbers in major statistical categories and numerous analytic metrics.

After watching what Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit did to a red-hot Texans offense led by sensational rookie quarterback CJ Stroud, there is no longer a debate. They held Houston to just three points after they scored 31 the week before, to just 213 total yards of offense after they racked up 356 the week before, and didn’t let them reach the red zone once as opposed to the three trips inside the 20-yard line that the Browns allowed in their embarrassing Wildcard round loss.

What made the Ravens’ divisional-round domination of the Texans arguably their most impressive performance of the season thus far was the fact that they did it without recording a single sack or forcing a turnover. In their big wins over the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, and Detroit Lions, they either forced multiple turnovers, sacked the opposing quarterback numerous times, or did a combination of both. This past Saturday’s performance was pure suffocation and highlighted by unrelenting pressure and physicality.

The Ravens are getting meaningful contributions from multiple players at all three levels, from breakout stars and established starters to the veteran mercenaries who also happen to be having career years. They were without three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey but didn’t miss a beat with ninth-year veteran Ronald Darby starting in his place. No matter who is in or out of the lineup, this unit dominates and continues to prove they are the best in the league, which could prove historic if they continue this dominance in the conference title game and hopefully the Super Bowl.

“We know who we are, deep down, each and every guy in this locker room,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “So, all we have to do is go out and play to the best of our abilities. And if we do that, nobody can touch us. If we get complacent, then people can hang with us. That’s the mindset we have. It’s about being consistent.”

Both Ravens coordinators might be gone

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

While Macdonald is one of the hottest names during this year’s head coach hiring cycle and many believe that he is as good as gone, especially after what his unit just did in their first playoff game, he might not be the only Ravens playcaller and designer that gets hired to lead another team after their postseason run comes to a close. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has received interest from and has already conducted interviews with the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers.

The Ravens offense had an uneasy performance in the first half against the Texans where they put up 10 points but struggled to consistently handle the blitz and stay on the field. After his quarterback gave an impassioned speech to his fellow teammates on offense, using a lot of colorful language, they collaborated to make perfect adjustments to counter the additional pressure that Houston was sending, and came out firing on all cylinders in the second half.

Monken’s unit scored on all four of their drives after halftime and their augmented game plan worked seemingly flawlessly. They went on a pair of 80-plus-yard drives that burned over seven minutes off the clock a piece, just shy of an entire quarter combined, and the ground game produced its third 200-plus-rushing outing of the season with a final tally of 229.

Having a coach who can adjust on the fly mid-game when adversity strikes and is willing to collaborate with his players to find solutions is a tremendous quality that every owner and general manager with a head coach vacancy should be looking for in the next leader of their franchise.

While the fact that Monken has only garnered interest from two teams at the moment might bode well for the odds of him returning for a second tour if his unit continues to perform, interest in acquiring his services might just skyrocket. Given to heightened emphasis placed on the passing game and balanced offensive attacks in the modern NFL, Monken would be a great fit in just about any situation, especially if there is already a quarterback in place and decent pieces around him.