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Ravens News 1/24: Fitting Challenge

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports

5 things we learned from the Baltimore Ravens’ divisional-round win over the Texans

Gordon McGuinness, PFF

SECOND-HALF ADJUSTMENTS IN THE PASSING GAME WERE KEY

Ravens fans would be forgiven for heading into halftime with a sense of déjà vu from past playoff losses, with the offense sputtering and struggling to deal with the Texans’ blitz-heavy approach. The team clearly made some adjustments at the break, scoring a touchdown on three straight drives out of halftime.

The biggest change was in how quickly Lamar Jackson released the ball. In the first half, the Ravens averaged 3.9 seconds to throw, to scramble or for a sack, with 83.3% of Jackson’s dropbacks taking 2.6 seconds or longer. In the second half, that average dropped to 2.5 seconds. Just 34.6% of Jackson’s dropbacks took 2.5 seconds or longer.

LAMAR JACKSON SILENCED HIS PLAYOFF DOUBTERS

Jackson came into this game trying to bust the narrative that he couldn’t get it done in the playoffs. Any lingering questions should be put to bed after a dominant second half in which he took over the game. His passing numbers were modest — 16-of-22 for 152 yards and two touchdowns — but he added another 100 yards and two scores on the ground, forcing three missed tackles in the process.

His 252 total yards, four touchdowns and no turnovers are one way to quiet doubters. Jackson looked calm and composed all second half as the Ravens pulled away from the Texans. Over his past four games, Jackson not only leads all quarterbacks in PFF grade (92.8), but he also leads the position with an 89.3 PFF passing grade. His 1.5% turnover-worthy play rate is the sixth lowest among quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks in that span.

How the NFL’s Final Four Teams Explain the 2023 Season

Steven Ruiz, The Ringer

The Ravens taught us … NFL teams should scour college football for more coordinators.

Just over two years ago, the Ravens’ current offensive and defensive coordinators were facing each other in the College Football Playoff semis. Mike Macdonald called Michigan’s defense, and Todd Monken called Georgia’s offense in a 34-11 win for the Bulldogs. On Sunday, the NFL’s only pair of coordinators who were both hired directly from college football will be coaching for a spot in a championship game once again. But this time, they’ll be on the same sideline.

The Ravens would have been a good football team with any competent pair of coordinators this season. The roster is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, including the presumptive league MVP at quarterback, but it’s fair to wonder where Baltimore would be if it hadn’t looked outside of NFL coaching circles to find its top assistants.

Let’s start with Monken, who has helped Lamar Jackson regain his form by handing him the keys to a pass-first offense for the first time in the 27-year-old’s career. The former Georgia and Browns OC took what had been a frustratingly condensed and heavy offensive scheme under Greg Roman and spread things out, creating more space for Lamar and his improved cast of receivers, led by Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham Jr. The Ravens offense hasn’t just been better with this new look; it’s been more fun to watch, and it looks more fun to play in. That wasn’t by accident.

2024 NFL conference championship game facts to know: MVP showdown, Mahomes’ flawless streak, Lions on road

Douglas Clawson, CBS Sports

Best of the best: Lamar Jackson will win NFL MVP this year and Patrick Mahomes won last year, making their matchup the third between the last two MVP QBs in playoff history, along with Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes in 2018 and Brett Favre vs. Steve Young in 1995

Baltimore blowouts: Lamar Jackson has won four straight starts by 14+ points. Patrick Mahomes has lost four starts by 14+ points in his entire career (112 starts). Mahomes even has more conference championship starts (six including Sunday) than he has 14-point losses (four).

Just the two of us: There will be a lot of attention on the QBs, but don’t forget the Ravens and Chiefs have the top two scoring defenses in the NFL. Baltimore is the first team in NFL history to lead the league in scoring defense, takeaways and sacks. The Chiefs are the first team since the 2011 49ers to allow under 28 points in every regular-season game.

It’s only right Ravens have to go through Chiefs to earn Super Bowl trip

Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic

It feels fitting that for the Ravens to get back to the Super Bowl, they first have to get through the reigning champs and their star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who has been a fixture on conference championship weekend since his career began.

The hype around the game — and there will be plenty — will undoubtedly be centered on the quarterback matchup between the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Chiefs’ Mahomes. Jackson will likely match Mahomes in a couple of weeks by winning his second MVP award. But it’s what else Mahomes has that continues to drive Jackson. Mahomes has led the Chiefs to two Super Bowl victories. Jackson has still yet to play in the game, and it’s long been his obsession.

The game will also feature two of the league’s best defenses. The Ravens finished first in points allowed per game (16.5). The Chiefs were second (17.3). The Ravens were first in sacks (60). The Chiefs were second (57). Both teams also ranked in the top six in passing yards allowed per game.

Whether it’s Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo trying to figure out how to stop Baltimore’s top-ranked run game or how much to blitz Jackson, or Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald deciding the best way to attack Mahomes, there are significant dilemmas on both sides. That’s what makes this matchup so intriguing.

Ravens roundtable: Answering 5 biggest questions entering AFC championship vs. Chiefs

Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun

How can the Ravens’ defense stop Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes?

Make Mahomes hold the ball by taking away his first read in coverage and be able to apply pressure with simulated blitzes and disguised looks by rushing only four players and spying on the quarterback. That’s easier said than done, of course, but that was Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner’s breakdown of why Mahomes has struggled against the Cincinnati Bengals in recent years. The Ravens have been masters of getting to quarterbacks without rushing more than four, and it’ll be imperative to not let tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Rashee Rice roam free in the middle and downfield.

How will the Ravens’ offense attack the Chiefs’ defense?

Against the Texans, Jackson picked apart the secondary with his arm in the second half and broke their will with his legs. The Chiefs have a better pass defense, but dual-threat quarterbacks, as we saw with the Bills’ Josh Allen on Sunday, can have success. Collectively, the Bills ran for 182 yards, and the Ravens this season led the NFL in rushing yards. Expect a mix of runs, the occasional deep throw and wide receiver Zay Flowers and tight ends Isiah Likely and/or Mark Andrews (if he plays) to see a healthy dose of targets.