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Jackson Puts the Team on His Back

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Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens regained the lead in the all-time series against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. In their 3rd straight divisional game, they somehow found a way to beat a winless team, but not without their struggles. From the first play (a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown), Ravens fans held their collective breath and wondered if this was going to be one of those games. Turns out, it was… kind of. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Let’s get into it.

The Good

The Ravens finally went to what they’re elite at on offense, and as a team, rushed for 269 yards and a couple of touchdowns. All three backs joined in on the fun, led by Mark Ingram, who ran 13 times for 52 yards – a paltry 4.0YPC. Gus Edwards averaged 5.7 YPC on six carries, while Justice Hill harassed the Bengals run defense five times, averaging 6.2 YPC. If you’re any good at math, you’ll know that those averages, multiplied by the carries, don’t equal 269 yards. 

That’s because they have a fourth running back, obviously. You might have heard of him, a guy named Lamar Jackson? He ran 19 times for 152 yards and a score, averaging 8.0 YPC on the way there. He absolutely shredded the 31st-ranked run defense, snatching ankles and making defenders miss like they were blind men shooting at a paint can. He did take a couple of big hits during the game, but that’s the risk you take when you’re a rushing quarterback.

Is it still a rushing quarterback? Or do they prefer athletic quarterback? Y’know what, who cares. He’s good.

For two weeks in a row, the Ravens game plan has leaned more towards the run, than the passing game, and with them facing a slate of lower-end run defenses, it’s the right call. Greg Roman saw a weakness and exploited it well. 

 

The Bad

For the second week in a row, the Ravens offense has started fast, answering the aforementioned kickoff touchdown return in dazzling fashion, as Jackson scrambled 21 yards for a score. They then scored in just over six minutes, with Ingram notching his seventh touchdown this season – he just needs five more to tie his season-high record – and going up over the Bengals by one score. 

Here’s the problem: after that, they didn’t reach the end zone for the rest of the game, instead settling for field goals, trusting the leg of All-World kicker Justin Tucker. While that’s fine against bad teams, when facing the Seahawks or the Patriots, they’ll need to find a way to score points, instead of stalling the drive with needless penalties, or the inability to convert on 3rd down – which again, has happened two weeks in a row. 

Undisciplined football is football that’s hard to watch. I almost choked when I heard John Harbaugh said ‘we’re the Ravens, we play tough, disciplined football’ in a throwback video of Ozzie Newsome drafting Ronnie Stanley. You absolutely cannot have big plays negated by holding on the offensive line. You cannot get a pass interference call after the target is short of the goal line. These are things that need to change, and they need to change now-ish. 

The Ugly

This is normally dedicated to one player or group, but in this case, we have a few different things to touch on.

— For the second time in as many weeks, the Ravens have lost a safety. Near the end of the game, Deshon Elliott crashed into Justin Bethel along the sideline, and suffered a knee injury. He’s headed to IR, with a season-ending injury. This is the second time in two years that the promising young safety has ended his season early. 

— Maurice Canady came crashing back down to reality this week. He’s been good the past couple of weeks, especially when playing press coverage, and has notched an interception in that time. He even played well in the beginning of the game against the Bengals, and made me think he had finally turned the corner. Then he started falling apart. He was giving ten-yard cushions, only closing the distance after his assignment was covered. Andy Dalton noticed, and started taking advantage of the mismatch. That would be why Auden Tate finished with five catches for 91 yards. I’m now firmly back on the ‘Maurce Canttoday’ train. Yes, he led the team in tackles with nine, but he’s also injured. Remember when the secondary was the strength of the team? Yeah, that was a fun two weeks.

— Stop hurdling. It’s getting obnoxious. It was fun at first when it was just Nick Boyle doing it, but in the last two weeks, all three tight ends have done it. This week? Mark Andrews did it – and kneed the ball out of his own hand. You’re not getting more than a yard or two maybe, when you hurdle somebody. It isn’t worth the injury risk or potential turnover.

— Other pass-catchers in this offense need to step it up. Andrews had 99 yards by himself. 109 yards between six pass-catchers (I removed Ingram and Pat Ricard, who both contributed in the passing game) is unacceptable. If Marquise Brown is going to be out for any length of time, the offensive skill players have to contribute, or this offense will be anemic. Remember those days? Want to live through them again? Yeah, didn’t think so.

 

The McKayla Maroney

I mean, come on. We all know who’s going here. Lamar freakin’ Jackson. Without him and his record-breaking performance, the Ravens don’t win this game. 

Let’s take his incredible rushing game out of it (I already went over that above, just scroll up if you really want to read it again) and just talk about his passing. Even though his 63.64% completion percentage was his second-lowest of the season (man, what a change from 2018, huh?), he still completed 21 passes for 236 yards while only taking one sack. He’s averaging over 67% completion on the season, and in a game where the Ravens absolutely needed him to take control of the offense, especially with their WR1 out, he did it, through the air and on the ground.

And yet, the focus in national media is that he’s ‘taking too many hits’ and that teams will ‘figure him out’. Oh? You mean like they figured him out after 2018? Are we still acting like the playoff game against the Chargers will be the norm, when facing Jackson?

I was in ‘wait-and-see’ mode with Lamar for a long time. He still has some areas in which he can improve, but you can say the same about most starting quarterbacks around the league. It’s time to stop being so blatantly against him as a NFL quarterback.

See you next week, folks. Until then, remember – realism isn’t always negativity.  

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