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Ravens News 1/5: Supreme Depth

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NFL: DEC 31 Dolphins at Ravens Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ravens’ rise to top of AFC a testament to their roster depth: ‘We got dogs on this team’

Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is considered the favorite to win his second NFL MVP award next month. First-round pick Zay Flowers is having the best rookie season for a wide receiver in franchise history. Defensively, the Ravens have as many as three first-team All-Pros with Hamilton, middle linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive lineman Justin Madubuike. Todd Monken and Mike Macdonald, Baltimore’s offensive and defensive coordinators, have had hot hands for much of the season and are garnering head-coaching buzz.

However, the strength of this league-best 13-3 Ravens team lies in its depth and the contributions it gets weekly from up and down the roster. Four different players have more than 380 yards rushing. Six different players have more than 340 yards receiving. Fifteen different players have a sack. Eight different players have an interception.

The Ravens lost Dobbins in Week 1 and Mitchell in Week 15, yet they still lead the league in rushing yards per game. They have essentially been without outside linebackers Tyus Bowser and David Ojabo all season, yet they still lead the league in sacks. The Ravens have been forced to play significant parts of the season without Humphrey and Williams, their two most accomplished defensive backs, yet they have more takeaways than anyone in the NFL.

Lamar Jackson is (probably) the NFL’s next MVP. But who’s the Ravens’ defensive MVP?

Kyle Goon, The Baltimore Banner

The simplest explanation might be the best argument for Hamilton as the Ravens’ defensive MVP. Watching him is a spiritual experience. The goosebumps you feel while reviewing his highlights make the case.

There’s no Ravens defender for whom it is easier to list game-breaking plays off the top of your head. Three sacks against the the Indianapolis Colts. His pick-six against the Cleveland Browns. The play against the San Francisco 49ers when he rushed the passer, was literally pinned to the ground by an offensive lineman, then scrambled to get back in coverage to intercept a tipped pass.

Kyle Hamilton makes you feel things. He is relentless, and plays with a blatant disregard for whatever the opposing offensive coordinator drew up that week.

We have the numbers, too. Hamilton is Pro Football Focus’ sixth-highest-graded safety, with the second-highest coverage grade and the third-highest pass-rushing grade. According to Pro Football Reference, opposing passers have averaged just 2.6 yards per target against Hamilton, by far the best of the Ravens’ regular DBs. He’s the Ravens’ third-leading tackler (81) and second in interceptions (four). Behind only Madubuike, he has 10 tackles for a loss — a testament, in part, to his uncanny ability to sniff out (and snuff out) a screen. According to TruMedia, the Ravens are first in yards per play allowed and second in defensive success rate when Hamilton is on the field. Without him, Baltimore drops off to 28th in yards per play allowed and 30th in success rate.

NFL contenders’ biggest weaknesses, playoff teams to avoid

Bill Barnwell, ESPN

2. Baltimore Ravens

Chances of winning Super Bowl: 28.9%

The Ravens’ flaw: Fumbles

The Ravens have been their own worst enemy. Their three losses have mostly come down to sloppy play and unforced errors. Some of that amounts to drops: The Ravens have a league average drop rate of 3.8% in their victories but a whopping 8.7% drop rate across their defeats, comfortably the worst mark in football. Ravens fans will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the 2019 playoff loss to the Titans, where Mark Andrews and the rest of the Baltimore receiving corps suddenly lost their ability to catch passes.

The other factor that has stood out for the Ravens in their setbacks? Fumbles. Baltimore has fumbled on about 2% of its offensive snaps, which is just over the league average — but those fumbles have disproportionately appeared in losses. The Ravens have fumbled 13 times across their 13 victories, but they’ve fumbled eight times in their three losses. They held onto the ball against the Browns in Week 10, but they fumbled four times against the Colts in Week 3 and four more times against the Steelers in Week 5.

Team to avoid: Cleveland Browns. The Browns have forced fumbles on 2.9% of opposing snaps this season, the highest mark for any defense. The Jaguars are just behind them at 2.7%, though they were the only team that fumbled when Baltimore traveled to Jacksonville earlier this month, with Trevor Lawrence losing both fumbles to set up 10 points for John Harbaugh’s team.

Ravens vs. Steelers scouting report for Week 18: Who has the edge?

Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens could be in for a difficult afternoon against the Steelers’ talented pass defense, which ranks seventh in DVOA and ninth in pressures per dropback. Pittsburgh blitzes frequently and features two of the league’s best edge rushers in T.J. Watt (17 sacks, 34 quarterback hits, eight passes defended) and Alex Highsmith (seven sacks, 18 quarterback hits). Defensive tackle Cameron Heyward is usually in the same class but has struggled with a groin injury that sidelined him for six games. Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. has flashed considerable potential and made his lone interception in the Steelers’ Oct. 8 win over the Ravens. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, normally the top playmaker in Pittsburgh’s secondary, is working through a knee injury and was limited in practice Wednesday.

Pittsburgh continues to split carries between Jaylen Warren, who averages 5.4 yards per attempt, and Najee Harris, who’s coming off his best game of the season in Seattle. The pair combined for 197 yards on 40 carries against the Seahawks, though Harris did not practice Wednesday because of a knee injury. The Steelers weren’t a dynamic running team early in the season but have ground out at least 150 yards in five of their past nine games.

Prediction

The Ravens would be favored by at least a touchdown if they needed to win this game, but they don’t, and the Steelers will be fired up to keep their season alive. Rudolph has given their offense a jolt, and they’ll move the ball against the Baltimore reserves. The Ravens will keep it close — is it ever not when these teams play? — but won’t sacrifice the greater good to chase victory. Steelers 20, Ravens 19

Week 18 NFL picks: Bills sink Dolphins on road for AFC East title; Texans punch ticket into playoffs

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (+3.5)

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

Who plays for the Ravens since they clinched the top seed? They might play some key starters for a bit. The Steelers need to have this game to have any chance to make the playoffs. But you know these two don’t like each other. Even if guys like Lamar Jackson sit, I think the Ravens will win it.

Pick: Ravens 24, Steelers 21