The Ravens made it loud and clear that they insist on making Lamar Jackson’s 2018 draft promise a reality on Monday Night. Baltimore blew out a weak Rams team, dismantling Los Angeles on the road 42-6 in a one-sided affair that saw them take a front-row seat in the AFC even while the Patriots are still holding a better record. It is the Ravens who look like a top seed, and they could be with just a single New England loss.
The Ravens have put on a historic performance on the road to earn their 9-2 record. Baltimore holds the head-to-head tiebreaker after beating New England at home earlier in the season. After beating the Rams in LA, they’re now the first team in the Super Bowl era to beat both of the previous year’s participants in the Big Game by 17+ points.
Lamar Jackson has been absolutely sensational through the middle of his second year in the league, throwing 5 TD at the LA Coliseum and now holding a 25-4 TD-Int. ratio. His stats in the game when it comes to yards – both on the ground (95) and through the air (169), make for an unconventional evaluation of a quarterback but he had as close to a perfect performance as there is. The more he succeeds for the Ravens, the more sense it makes for him to be so successful with this particular style of play – QB runs are used as an effective part in an offense, and if one develops to be effective doing them more and more often, he is how most of media described the former Louisville Cardinal’s performance after the game – ‘unstoppable’.
There’s no need to mention how much his game has grown. Coming into the season with questions if he can improve his passing game, not only did he do that, but he succeeded in his strength, which is what has made for this MVP bid of his. While leading his own team in yards on the ground with 876 (9th-best in NFL!!), his 24 TD throws lead all NFL QBs.
However, a reasonable amount of credit has to go to the team’s overall situation. Marquise Brown and Willie Snead provide a reliable receiving core for Jackson. Mark Ingram was terrific on Monday with 111 yards on the ground, as he’s been all year long, ranking 13th in total yards. The team’s defense has been pretty solid and got reinforcements in Marcus Peters, who recorded one of two Jared Goff interceptions. No other quarterback does more than Jackson, but in the meantime no other star playmaker has that good a supporting cast.
Despite the AFC still being fairly competitive, Baltimore has a nearly open field to get a home-field advantage in the conference, why not even in the whole playoffs. The way this team is playing right now, nobody could argue that they’re not capable of doing so. The Ravens have the 5th-most difficult strength of remaining schedule, according to Tankathon, but if they wind up on the winning end against San Francisco, their path to a good playoff position is kind of underwhelming. They’ll then face Buffalo, the Jets, the Steelers and the Browns – teams that have, despite all four being on the upswing recently, paled in comparison with the mighty Ravens.
The team is set up not just to play football deep into February but to win it all, and a win over a 10-1 49ers team could see them keeping their perfect record against playoff hopefuls. Baltimore has defeated New England, Seattle, Houston and the LA Rams (although the Rams might not be in the NFC Wild Card conversation anymore), all by two scores or more.
The upcoming game at home will be without a doubt the biggest challenge the Ravens have faced all year, in spite of a win over the reigning Super Bowl champions. The SF defensive line carrying its success against Green Bay, when they sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, into next Sunday could represent a threat to the two components, through which the Ravens have kept their game efficient – running the ball and keeping the play alive for Jackson. Jimmy Garoppolo has proved he can deliver even when he doesn’t have his ground game at its peak, while the running game itself keeps the door for it to be solid open through Kyle Shanahan’s ‘RB-by-committee’ approach.
Yet, the Ravens have an even more complex offense, involving frequent tight end usage downfield and a balanced playbook. Should the offensive line win the face-off against San Fran’s defensive line, the Ravens could make the prolific 49ers secondary look imperfect. Despite their continuous winning ways in the last couple of weeks, they need a win here as desperately as it could be as the time for a Patriots loss is running out, but it could occur in the next two weeks, when they face the Texans and the Chiefs.