SNF Advantage? Ravens!

The Chicken Box SNF Advantage? Ravens!

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It is here, ladies and gentlemen. Part One of a two-part series that has happened every year since the inception of the AFC North. Ravens versus Steelers. Rivalry week. The hardest-hitting, angriest rivalry in the league (except for maybe the Bengals versus a playoff win). It’s one of the most exciting times for a Ravens fan during the season, and I cannot wait for Sunday night.

But, until then, I’ll do my best to divert your attention by going over some storylines from Baltimore and around the NFL. With that in mind, let’s begin.

Lamar Jackson throws from the pocket against Miami.

Jackson was only used twice against the Broncos..

..And I absolutely loved it. The first play was in the red zone after a huge Mark Andrews catch. Lamar Jackson then came in as a decoy to pull defenders, and opened up the touchdown for Alex Collins. The second time, he lined up as a receiver, and was actually ‘targeted’ on a throwaway ball.

Ravens fans saw a lot of Jackson in Week 1, slightly less in Week 2, and just a cameo in Week 3. The Ravens have stated that there’s a ‘method to when and where he’s on the field’, but more often than not, he seems to be simply taking up a spot on the field, and adds nothing to the play beyond confusing the defense as to why he is out there.

To be fair, there is something to be said for confusing the defense, but you have to wonder how long that will hold up, especially since we have yet to see Lamar break off one of his electrifying plays that made him the hyped-up college player that he was.

If he doesn’t produce, defenses will start viewing him as he is – a decoy.

Once again, Power Rankings are a joke.

I’m the kind of guy that reads everything that I can about the NFL, and the AFC North in particular. I like being well-informed, and well, I write articles and do a podcast, so I should probably be up-to-date on things around the sport that I love so much.

In doing so, I tend to read 5-10 power ranking articles per week, and each time I do, I walk away with a bad taste in my mouth, and my brain very confused as to how these so-called experts make their picks, yet still claim no bias.

You have one-win teams ahead of two- or even three-win teams. Winless teams ahead of one-win teams. Teams behind teams that they have beaten that week. Correct me if I’m wrong, but weekly power rankings should be made based off of week-to-week performances, no? By that logic, there should be decent shake-ups each week, and if two teams were close the week before, and then played each other, the winner should logically be ahead of the loser.

Instead, you have these talking heads that put the ‘popular’ teams higher in the rankings, despite the fact that they look like they’re headed to an eight-win season and no playoffs. They do it because they hold bias towards those teams, or history says that the team will end up being great. They’re weekly power rankings, guys. Not ‘Ranking Them Because They Used to be Good’.

All this being said, folks.. Stop putting stock into power rankings. They’re a joke. They’re puff pieces written to make you upset because your team is generally not where you think they should be.

The Ray Effect.

Ray Lewis has played a huge part in the Ravens’ history. As one of the team’s first-ever draft picks, he became one of the single-most dominant defensive players in the history of Baltimore, and the league. His leadership helped motivate the 2012 team to win its second ‘ship, and now he may be helping the 2018 Ravens. As you all know, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, cementing his on-field legacy for all time. Since then, he has been with the team a handful of times, including this most recent game against the Broncos.

Oddly enough, the Ravens have won every game that he has been at.

Hey Bonaccorsi.. Give me that tin foil hat for a brief second.

Take away the absolute ass-whipping that the Ravens endured last season at the hands of the Jaguars (the Ray Lewis effect doesn’t extend to London), and there’s a trend starting.

Any time Uncle Ray joins the team before kickoff, the Ravens pulls out an impressive (in some way) win. Be it a meaningless Hall of Fame Game with an almost all-new squad made up of rookies and camp bodies, or an AFC tilt against an undefeated opponent, the Ravens have come out on top.

He was not present in Cincinnati. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.

Perhaps we should test this theory, and keep ol’ Ray Ray around for the rest of the season? He’s not my favorite-ever Raven, but maybe he could be a good luck charm.

Advantage: Baltimore

The Chicken Box is not an X’s and O’s analysis article. If you don’t know that by now, I don’t know what to do for you. However. This week is a special week, and so I am doing a special portion of this article, in which I will do a quick-and-dirty breakdown of which advantages go to which team this week. Let’s go.

1. Quarterback: As much as I hate to do it, and as much as Joe Flacco has improved this season (compared to the last few), the advantage here goes to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and let defenders bounce off of him while he somehow gets a pass off to one of his many weapons. He’s going to the Hall of Fame.

2. Running Back: James Conner ran for 135 yards against the Browns in Week 1. Since then? He’s run for 78 yards over the last two games. This isn’t to say that he’s a live-and-die RB – the Steelers had to veer away from the run game, much like Baltimore had to in Week 2. However. Until we see more from him, you won’t convince me that he’s head-and-shoulders better than Alex Collins. Behind him are Nix and Samuels, and I don’t think either of them are particularly better than Buck Allen or De’Lance Turner. Advantage: Baltimore. (Before you tear my head off, please note that this does not take into account the offensive line. That’s coming.)

3. Wide Receivers: Antonio Brown (more on him later). JuJu Smith-Schuster. James Washington. They make up a Top 5 trio (maybe Top 3) in the NFL. These names will be a handful for a Baltimore secondary without its best corner. On the other side, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead are not without their upside. But the advantage goes to Pittsburgh.

4. Tight End: Mark Andrews has exceeded expectations thus far in the season. He’s on pace to break the franchise record for rookie tight end production (held by.. Checks notes.. Maxx Williams?! What?) by.. Y’know. A lot. Combine that with the slight possibility that first-round pick Hayden Hurst may play, the aforementioned Williams has managed to stay healthy (knocks on wood), and even Nick Boyle has produced when he’s not producing bone-headed penalties. The Steelers have.. Vance McDonald and Jesse James. Not exactly awe-inspiring. I’m giving this advantage to Baltimore.

5. Offensive Line: Flacco has been sacked seven times through three games. Big Ben has been sacked eight. Baltimore pass protection has been decent – or at least looked that way, since Joe has been helping with a new, shiny, fast release. The Steelers pass protection has also performed well, even without David DeCastro or Marcus Gilbert. However, the Pittsburgh run blocking has been significantly better (BAL ranks 31st in that category, despite being 10th in pass protection), so Pittsburgh gets the advantage here.

6. Defensive line: Brandon Williams. Michael Pierce (Questionable). Willie Henry (Doubtful). Brent Urban. Zach Sieler. Chris Wormley (although he’s just kinda.. there). While Pittsburgh’s DL isn’t terrible, it isn’t good, either. Certainly not at the level of Baltimore’s.

7. Inside LB: C.J. Mosley has practiced for a second consecutive day, increasing the likeliness of him playing on Sunday. Kenny Young has quickly blossomed into a speedy and force at WLB. The pair will be fun to watch. Since the Steelers lost Ryan Shazier, their inside linebacker corps has struggled, and they have nobody close to the level of C.J., or, dare I say it, the coverage ability of K-Yo.

8. Outside LB: Terrell Suggs is likely a Hall of Famer. Matthew Judon has been quiet so far this season, but enjoyed a mini breakout last year. Za’Darius Smith has become quite the terror. They have nine sacks (although some are from the secondary). The Steelers have 11 sacks, 3 of which are from T.J.a Watt, so it’s not like they don’t have a pass rush. But given the level of opposing talent that they have faced, I question how much of a pass rush they have. Advantage still goes to Pittsburgh, although it’s extremely close.

9. Cornerback: This isn’t even a contest. The Ravens are without star corner Jimmy Smith (he’s back next week!), but have a budding star in Marlon Humphrey, a stalwart vet in Brandon Carr, and an above average slot corner in Tavon Young. The Steelers have potential first-round-bust Artie Burns, Coty Sensabaugh, an older Joe Haden, and an injured Mike Hilton. Advantage: Baltimore.

10. Safety: Say what you want about the veteran Eric Weddle, he is a very good safety, and has been Holder of the Magical Green Dot for the last seven quarters of Ravens defensive football. Tony Jefferson looks much improved over 2017. The Steelers are fielding Sean Davis and Morgan Burnett, followed by another first-round reach in Terrell Edmunds. Advantage: Baltimore.

The Steelers have a clear advantage on offense, while the Ravens hold the reins on defense (the Steelers rank 29th in total defense, and are worse than the Bills in many statistical categories). This game will come down to a lucky bounce, or Chris Boswell missing where Justin Tucker wouldn’t. Generally, during these games, you can throw out everything that you think you know – just look at 2015 for proof.

What’s got Brown down?

Antonio Brown is considered, by many, many people, to be the best receiver in the NFL, and with good reason. The guy has accumulated over 10,000 receiving yards over his career, and is a perennial All-Pro player. However, in 2018, despite being the most targeted wide receiver in the NFL, he is carrying a disappointing 54% catch percentage through three games, and his targets have steadily decreased in each game.

Some will point to the coverage he faces, and the fact that he doesn’t need to do as much with the emergence of Smith-Schuster. But as the ‘best wide receiver in the league’, he needs to perform better, especially when he’s facing bottom-ranked defenses like Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

If the Ravens defense can keep him in check on Sunday Night (sans his achilles heel, Jimmy Smith), we should see a spectacular meltdown from the emotional wideout.

And so, we reach the end of this column. With that being said.. LET’S F***ING GO, BALTIMORE. Come away with a win. Keep the Steelers in the dingy AFC North basement that the Browns have inhabited for so long. Do us proud, and make us believe in this team like we want to. Baltimore needs this win in Ketchup Stadium.

Ketchup is terrible, by the way. If you need to put ketchup on anything to make it taste better, you shouldn’t be eating it to begin with. Or pineapple pizza. You filthy communist. Do you hate America?

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Michael Telford

About Michael Telford

I have been an avid Ravens fan since their inception, and have written about them for a little over 5 years. I live in the Midwest region nowadays, and keep up all year, with all things Ravens, as well as the rest of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter (@LateRoundCorner) or find me in my Facebook group (The Baltimore Elite). More from Michael Telford

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