Tag Archive | "Russell Wilson"

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson keeps the ball for a touchdown on a fourth-down play against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 20: “Hell yeah, coach, let’s go for it!”

Posted on 15 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 21 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

By Week 7 of the 2019 season, many were still trying to figure out just how real the Ravens and Lamar Jackson’s MVP candidacy were.

Baltimore certainly looked the part of a playoff-caliber team, but its four wins had come against teams with a combined 4-19-1 record through the first six weeks of the season. And while Jackson had amazed the football world by throwing seven touchdown passes in the first two games — topping his total from his entire rookie season — the 22-year-old quarterback had thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions over the last four contests, quieting some of the early MVP hype from September.

A daunting cross-country trip to Seattle to take on Russell Wilson, the early MVP favorite, and the 5-1 Seahawks would be a great litmus test going into the bye week. A win would combat doubts about the Ravens being legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and Jackson shining in a showdown with one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks would command more respect from his skeptics.

Defensive touchdowns scored by cornerbacks Marcus Peters — acquired from the Los Angeles Rams only days earlier — and Marlon Humphrey and 116 yards rushing from Jackson were the difference in Baltimore’s 30-16 win, but what transpired late in the third quarter would have a far greater reach than any highlight-reel play or the victory itself.

The moment defined the 2019 season and could define the Ravens in the years to come.

With the game tied 13-13, the Ravens had moved the ball inside the red zone before seemingly self-destructing with two uncharacteristic drops from tight end Mark Andrews and a delay-of-game penalty leading to a third-and-15 from the Seattle 21. A terrific 13-yard run by Jackson set up fourth-and-2 from the 8-yard line, but head coach John Harbaugh wanted to at least come away with the go-ahead field goal in the rainy conditions at CenturyLink Field.

His quarterback wasn’t happy coming to the sideline after the Ravens had already twice settled for field goals inside the red zone in the first half.

“He came off, and I could just see it in his face,” Harbaugh said. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to go for it?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I want to go for it; let’s get it.’ I was told that Marshal [Yanda] said, ‘If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it.’ I felt the same way. If he wants to go for it, I want to go for it too.

“I went down and called timeout, and it was just a great play.”

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman called “quarterback power,” a play that included six offensive linemen, three tight ends, and a fullback on a designed inside run by Jackson, a tactic the Ravens tried to avoid as much as possible to keep their quarterback out of harm’s way. Patrick Ricard motioned to the play side and left guard Bozeman pulled to the right as Jackson plowed his way to the end zone for the touchdown and a lead the Ravens wouldn’t relinquish over the final 16:20 of the game.

The execution was impressive and the touchdown run important, but the conviction and confidence exuded by Jackson in the moment had prompted a Super Bowl-winning head coach in his 12th year and the perennial Pro Bowl right guard in his 13th season to follow his lead. Jackson’s performance that day moved him into the top tier of an MVP race he would win by unanimous vote and Baltimore made its statement as a legitimate contender on the way to a franchise-best 14-2 season, but the story was bigger than that, extending beyond the remainder of the 2019 season.

The Ravens were officially Jackson’s team now.

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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Jackson, Watson renew college rivalry as superstars at next level

Posted on 14 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have already played quite the slate of quarterbacks from a storyline perspective this season.

Jackson has faced off against fellow Heisman Trophy winners (Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield), the reigning league MVP (Patrick Mahomes), one of the most accomplished dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history (Russell Wilson), and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady). But Houston’s Deshaun Watson might be the closest contemporary to the one-of-a-kind Jackson in terms of skill set, making Sunday’s showdown between the AFC North-leading Ravens and the AFC South-leading Texans — currently the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the conference respectively — that much more exciting.

These former ACC rivals met once before in one of college football’s best games in recent memory in which Watson and No. 5 Clemson edged Jackson and No. 3 Louisville in a 42-36 shootout in 2016. Watson threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 91 yards in that instant classic while Jackson passed for 295 yards and a touchdown and ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

“He was just dicing us down the field,” recalled Jackson, who lamented his Cardinals offense falling one yard shy of a first down inside the red zone on the final drive. “Our defense did great, don’t get me wrong. Our defense played a great game, but he was just doing Deshaun Watson things — scoring touchdowns, making incredible throws. They came out with the victory.”

Watson would lead Clemson to a national championship by season’s end while a 19-year-old Jackson became the youngest player to ever win the Heisman Trophy that December. And after proving wrong a list of doubters that included multiple quarterback-needy teams passing on them in their respective drafts years, Watson and Jackson meet again as MVP candidates in what Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is calling “one of those NFL history games” in this new age of dual-threat quarterbacks.

That’s not to say Watson and Jackson are the same exact player, of course.

The 24-year-old Watson only fell to 12th overall in the 2017 draft and threw an amazing 19 touchdowns in his first seven games before an ACL tear sustained in practice cruelly ended his rookie campaign. Jackson, 22, faced much harsher scrutiny a year later with some even suggesting he change positions and virtually every team in the league passing on him — including the Ravens — before Baltimore traded back into the first round to select him 32nd overall. While Watson was an overnight sensation whose only hiccup over his first three years has come via injury, Jackson intially had to wait his turn behind longtime starter Joe Flacco as a rookie and has shown eye-opening improvement as a passer in his second year, making his loudest doubters look very foolish.

Thanks in part to a higher volume of opportunities and an all-world wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, Watson maintains the edge as a passer in terms of both conventional numbers and ESPN QBR’s pure passing expected points added metric, but Jackson owns a better passing grade from Pro Football Focus through Week 10. In terms of yards per attempt, Watson’s 8.1 barely edges Jackson’s 8.0, reinforcing the gap being smaller than you’d think when looking only at completion percentage and counting numbers.

We know Jackson has no equal as a record-setting rushing quarterback in today’s game, but Watson surprisingly has a slightly better PFF run grade entering Week 11, which needn’t be taken as a contrarian viewpoint as much as a reflection of his own ability to make plays with his legs — even while lacking the same speed or penchant for running as the Ravens quarterback. Jackson leads the NFL at a whopping 6.6 yards per carry, but Watson ranks fourth at 5.4 yards per rush among those with at least 50 carries.

Watson’s impressive consistency over 32 career games and Jackson’s tremendous leap in his second season have essentially left the two on a level playing field in the present. One can make the “Coke or Pepsi” pick in terms of preferring a more polished passer with very good mobility or the lesser — but rapidly improving — thrower with transcendent rushing ability.

Either way, there’s nothing fair about it for defenses having to account for their kind of dual-threat ability that’s changing the NFL.

“Peyton Manning was extremely hard to defend. Tom Brady is hard to defend. But neither one of them could run a 4.3 [40-yard dash],” ninth-year cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about tackling them on any given play. There’s nothing more backbreaking for a defense than to keep an offense at third-and-10 or third-and-15 and a freaking quarterback just takes it with his legs and gets a first down and extends a drive. It just hurts. These types of quarterbacks can do that now days.

“It’s just basically the whole college offense transitioning to the NFL. It’s kind of great to see actually.”

Three years after squaring off as the two best players in college football, Jackson and Watson will again be starring on the same field. This week, Jackson referred to Watson as “Brodie” — a term of endearment — while the Texans quarterback described himself as a “proud friend” watching the quarterback who edged him out for the Heisman Trophy silence his critics, speaking to their affection for one another. On Thursday, both were nominated by their teammates for the 2019 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, a reflection of their character and leadership ability at such young ages.

Jackson and Watson are changing the game, making you believe what they did in their first meeting at the collegiate level three years ago was only scratching the surface. Whoever comes out on top this time around could be making a loud statement in the MVP race.

“We’re just doing our thing,” Jackson said. “We’re just playing ball, having fun, doing what all of us have done since we were kids, doing something we love. That’s all.”

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Two decisions, MVP-like performance prove to be difference for Ravens

Posted on 21 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens offense had run only three plays in nearly a full quarter of action, thanks in part to newly acquired cornerback Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown late in the second quarter.

Midway through the third quarter of a 13-13 game, Seattle was dominating time of possession by almost 11 minutes and had carried the ball five times for 31 yards on its second drive of the third quarter. Facing a fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 35, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll could keep his offense on the field to try to wear down a front that was already down a starting outside linebacker or try a 53-yard field goal on a wet surface — with a kicker not named Justin Tucker.

Jason Myers missed wide right, and with that failed kick went Seattle’s best chance to seize control of the game. Perhaps the Ravens defense would have stopped the Seahawks on fourth down anyway, but it was a decision that stood in stark contrast to what would happen on the ensuing drive.

John Harbaugh had decided to go for a short field goal on fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 8. After two Mark Andrews drops, a delay of game, and a fantastic 13-yard run by Lamar Jackson on third-and-15, the Ravens head coach was going to take the sure three points and a lead late in the third quarter. But after settling for field goals on each of their two red-zone trips in the first half, Jackson was having none of it as he came to the Baltimore sideline and the field goal team ran onto the field.

“I’m like, ‘This time we aren’t kicking no field goal because Russell Wilson is getting the ball again,'” Jackson told reporters in Seattle, “and if we didn’t score, it might look ugly.”

Harbaugh acquiesced and called a timeout before Jackson powered his way behind a heavy front into the end zone to give the Ravens the lead for good in one of their biggest road victories in years. It was a defining moment for a 22-year-old quarterback who’s not only emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate in his first full season as a starter but as the unquestioned leader of his team.

It was ultimately about trusting your best player rather than analytics or settling for a small lead in a game with more than 16 minutes remaining.

Whenever the Ravens needed a play on a day when his best wide receiver was out and his top pass catcher — tight end Mark Andrews — had the worst game of his career, Jackson said no problem, rushing 11 times for 119 yards before taking the final three kneels of the 30-16 victory. Critics may mock Jackson going 9-for-20 for 143 yards on a difficult passing day in which he wasn’t helped by the wet conditions or his receivers, but anyone who watched objectively wouldn’t even try to diminish the performance. Jackson was the best player on a field that included Wilson, the early MVP favorite who threw his first interception of the season and completed less than 50 percent of his passes against a rejuvenated and revamped Baltimore defense that scored two touchdowns.

Unsurprisingly, Jackson was the talk of both locker rooms after the game, a theme becoming more popular by the week.

“We can’t rush how we want,” Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “Can’t get out of the rushing lane because we’re scared he’s going to run with the ball like he did today. Even though we stayed in our rush lane, he still found a way and made a play and got through there. He made a lot of guys miss today. He had a good game.”

Jackson is now on pace to run for a staggering 1,316 yards, a single-season total eclipsed by only Jamal Lewis (three times) and Ray Rice (twice) in Ravens history. His arm wasn’t the difference in Sunday’s game, but the young quarterback is completing 63.3 percent of his pass attempts and is on pace to throw for just under 3,800 yards with a 94.1 passer rating, the kind of progress with which both the organization and fans would have been thrilled in the offseason. As Peters noted about his new quarterback after Sunday’s win, “He’s only going to get better.”

The Ravens now enter their bye week with a 5-2 record and a 2 1/2-game lead in the AFC North. It’s their first time entering the off-week with a winning record since 2014, the last time they won a playoff game. Harbaugh’s team is not only sitting pretty in a lackluster division, but the Ravens now see a wide-open AFC behind undefeated New England, especially with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes expected to miss at least a few weeks with a knee injury suffered last Thursday night.

The win over the Seahawks transformed thoughts of the Ravens being merely the best team in a bad division and benefiting from a soft early schedule to visions of 2019 being something special. Of course, there’s a very long way to go with the Ravens playing five of their next six games against teams currently sporting winning records, but none of those games — not even Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and defending champion New England coming to town in two weeks — seem as daunting after wining in Seattle, one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL for years.

It started with contrasting decisions by two Super Bowl-winning coaches in the third quarter and ended with the ball in the hands of the game’s best player.

The Ravens should like their chances with Jackson every time.

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Ravens-Seahawks: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The vaunted Ravens defense against the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom,” right?

Not these days as offense is currently king in both Baltimore and Seattle while the defenses are rather pedestrian.

Sunday’s tilt provides the Ravens a major test after entering Week 7 tied for having the NFL’s easiest schedule by winning percentage and holding the second-lowest strength of victory in the AFC (not including winless Miami and Cincinnati). The Ravens can’t control which teams they play, of course, but a win against a 5-1 Seahawks team would be quite a statement to the rest of the conference still finding its way behind undefeated New England.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Seahawks for just the sixth time ever with Seattle holding a 3-2 series advantage. Baltimore is winless in its only two trips to CenturyLink Field and hasn’t defeated the Seahawks since Nov. 23, 2003, a crazy 44-41 overtime final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Earl Thomas will grab an interception against his old team. The six-time Pro Bowl safety took the high road and expressed respect for his former organization this week, but you know Thomas would love nothing more than to stick it to Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll for fazing him out of Seattle’s plans in his mind. More importantly for the Ravens, Thomas’ confidence is growing as he noted he’s having fun and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has given him “that green light.”

2. Russell Wilson will go over 35 pass attempts for just the second time this season. The veteran is overdue to throw his first pick of 2019, but making his offense one-dimensional by shutting down the run may not be that desirable. The Seahawks are right on the Ravens’ heels in terms of run-pass ratio, but Seattle ranks 17th in yards per carry at 4.1 compared to Baltimore’s league-best 5.5 yards per attempt. In other words, why run so frequently with mediocre results instead of giving Wilson more chances to make plays with his arm? He’s second in the NFL at 9.0 passing yards per attempt. The Ravens taking away that “balance” by completely stopping the run could actually prove to be detrimental.

3. Mark Andrews will go over 100 receiving yards and catch a touchdown. Speedy wide receiver Marquise Brown appears unlikely to play after missing another full week of practice, putting even more pressure on Andrews to be the go-to guy for Lamar Jackson and the passing game. The Seattle defense has given up three touchdown passes to tight ends and 66 or more receiving yards to Cincinnati’s C.J. Uzomah and the Rams’ Gerald Everett, who had a career-high 136 two weeks ago. Even with the Ravens’ lacking a vertical threat, Andrews should have another big day.

4. Tyler Lockett and D.K Metcalf will catch touchdowns against a reshuffled secondary. We’ve seen the defense take positive steps in each of the last two weeks, but forgive me if I’m not convinced holding Devlin Hodges-led Pittsburgh to 23 points and the winless Bengals to 17 constitutes a real breakthrough. I like the Marcus Peters acquisition, but the high-variance cornerback had to fly across country twice in little more than a 48-hour period and is still learning a new playbook. This trade will pay off, but that won’t come until after the bye week when Peters can catch his breath.

5. Red-zone and third-down efficiency will be the difference as the Ravens fall 30-23 to Seattle. Baltimore will try to control the clock with the ground game and keep Wilson off the field as much as possible, but that only works if you’re finishing drives with touchdowns rather than field goals, which is easier said than done against a good opponent on the road. The Seahawks rank seventh in third-down defense and tied for 15th in red-zone defense, superior to the Ravens defense in both departments. This will be a close game that could go either way, but Wilson is playing too well right now to bet against him, even if Jackson gives you a real chance to win whenever he steps on the field.

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Future meets present at quarterback as Ravens aim to take down Seattle

Posted on 18 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The greatest praise Ravens defensive players have offered Lamar Jackson is admitting how much they dislike facing the dual-threat quarterback in practice.

It’s why any comparison made to Russell Wilson serves both as a compliment to the Seattle quarterback and a reminder of what still lies ahead for a 22-year-old making just his 15th career start against the 5-1 Seahawks on Sunday. Such a juxtaposition would have been mocked by many only a month or two ago, but Jackson’s substantial improvement as a passer doesn’t make it farfetched to think he could be as accomplished as the Super Bowl-winning Wilson one day.

“I think he’s the only guy that I’ve seen do it pretty effortlessly like Lamar does,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Wilson, who’s the current favorite to be the NFL’s MVP. “We always say we don’t want to play Lamar, so I guess we’re kind of playing a polished-up, couple-years-down-the-line Lamar. We definitely better get ready because he definitely can do it all.”

Jackson is hardly a carbon copy of the six-time Pro Bowl quarterback, of course, but certain similarities are undeniable. Five quarterbacks were selected ahead of Wilson in the 2012 draft with even the Seahawks passing on him twice before the third round; four quarterbacks were taken before Jackson last year with the Ravens making him their second selection of the 2018 draft. Both have fought NFL quarterback constructs with Wilson being only 5-foot-11 and Jackson pushing back against the “athlete” label that prompted some evaluators to suggest a position change before last year’s draft.

The differences are clear as Jackson has no peer among rushing quarterbacks with the mobile Wilson having run for more than 600 rushing yards in a season just once in his career and the Baltimore quarterback currently on pace to run for over 1,200 this year. Wilson is the more accurate passer, but it’s worth noting he had a completion percentage of only 57.8 percentage over his three years at North Carolina State — Jackson completed 57 percent in his career at Louisville — before completing 72.8 percent of throws in his senior season at Wisconsin, a jump that improved his draft stock considerably.

Jackson has markedly improved his completion percentage from 58.2 percent as a rookie to 65.1 percent this season and is on pace for 4,000 passing yards, but his athleticism is what makes him truly unique as he became the first quarterback to ever win the NFL’s Ground Player of the Week Award for his 152-yard rushing effort against Cincinnati last Sunday. He also threw for 236 yards against the Bengals, making him the first to ever pass for 200 yards and rush for 150 in an NFL regular-season game.

Not bad for a young quarterback whose team has gone 10-3 in the regular season since he became the Ravens starter last November, trumped only by Seattle’s 11-2 mark over that time.

“I just want to do what I have to do to win with my guys,” Jackson said. “I see other quarterbacks. I see them play. They do a great job. But like I said, it’s a new era, and they need [dual-threat quarterbacks] right now. It’s not the same as years before.”

Jackson would be the first to tell you the 30-year-old Wilson remains on another level right now as he has 14 touchdowns and a league-leading 124.7 passer rating. He’s graded as Pro Football Focus’ top quarterback through Week 6 and has yet to throw an interception in 189 pass attempts.

Wilson still doesn’t hesitate to leave the pocket, either, as his 151 rushing yards rank fifth among quarterbacks this season. He isn’t as likely to take off for a big gain, but the veteran’s ability to extend plays and improvise as a passer puts incredible pressure on opposing secondaries to hang with downfield targets Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf. Jackson taking off and throwing on the run more effectively could be the final step to making him unstoppable.

“It’s sort of like playing against Steph Curry in basketball, if you will,” said Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale about Wilson. “You can pick him up from half court, and he’s going to try to drive by you when you’re saying ‘keep him in the pocket.’ Or, you can slack off, and he’s going to pull up and hit a three. He’s just playing at a really high level right now, and I don’t argue with anybody that’s saying he’s playing at an MVP level.”

The Ravens defense will surely have their hands full, but a middle-of-the-road Seahawks defense must deal with Jackson, who creates as many headaches for defensive coordinators as anyone in the league in his first full season as a starter. Making his first start at a raucous CenturyLink Field will be a tall order, but the Ravens have been impressed with Jackson’s poise on the road, which includes two one-score losses at Arrowhead Stadium in his young career.

Seattle is a far cry from its “Legion of Boom” days defensively, but it will still be a great test and opportunity for a young quarterback garnering some MVP attention himself.

“He’s just way, way more advanced. We do so much more now,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Jackson’s growth from his rookie year. “Our motions are more complex. Our cadence is more complex, both verbal and silent. We’re under [center]; we’re in the gun; we’re pistol; we’re empty. We do a lot of different things, and he’s really done a good job handling all of it.”

It won’t be easy for Jackson and the Ravens, who could be without speedy wide receiver Marquise Brown for the second straight game. Baltimore has managed just six pass plays of 20 or more yards over its last three games after producing 16 over the first three weeks of the season.

The Ravens defense added two-time cornerback Marcus Peters earlier this week, but the middling unit is still trying to find its way with new pieces and a pass rush that’s accounted for just 11 sacks in six games. Seattle will easily provide the toughest test since Kansas City and Cleveland combined to shred the Ravens for 73 points and over 1,000 yards in Weeks 3 and 4.

But much like the Seahawks with Wilson over the years, the Ravens are quickly finding they always have a chance with Jackson at the helm. Win or lose Sunday, that’s an exciting thought that bodes well for the future.

“It’s a playoff-caliber team, playoff-caliber environment,” running back Mark Ingram said. “We aspire to be one of the best teams going into the playoffs and winning championships, so you have to be able to do things like that if you want to be a championship team. It’s a big challenge for us.”

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Ravens-Seahawks: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 December 2015 by Luke Jones

We’ve officially reached the silly season for the disappointing 2015 Ravens.

Starting left tackle Eugene Monroe became the latest to be placed on injured reserve on Saturday.

Starting tight end Crockett Gillmore is doubtful to play with a back injury and rookie Nick Boyle was suspended for the rest of the season, prompting the signings of tight ends Konrad Reuland and Richard Gordon earlier this week.

And Jimmy Clausen — who hasn’t even been a Raven for three weeks — is likely to start at quarterback against two-time defending NFC champion Seattle on Sunday. The Seahawks have won three straight games by a combined 56 points and sport a defense ranking fourth or better in virtually any significant category you can find.

You’ll excuse me if I’m having a difficult time taking these predictions seriously anymore.

Alas, it’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Seahawks for just the fifth time ever with the teams having split the first four contests. Seattle is playing at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2003, but has won each of the last two meetings with Baltimore.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to avoid clinching their first losing season since 2007 …

1. Clausen will not be shut out again against Seattle, but his performance won’t be pretty. The promotion of Bryn Renner to the 53-man roster on Saturday said everything you need to know about the Ravens’ confidence level in Matt Schaub being able to start against the Seahawks. Considering the depleted offensive cast, it doesn’t really matter who plays quarterback. Clausen is set to become the sixth quarterback in NFL history to start two games against the same team while playing for two different teams in one season. Sunday’s performance will go better than his Week 3 start for Chicago, but Clausen won’t throw for more than 150 yards and will commit two turnovers in an almost-impossible spot.

2. Buck Allen will lead the Ravens in receiving for the second straight week. Kamar Aiken has played respectably since becoming the de facto No. 1 receiver in place of Steve Smith, but he won’t be able to find room against Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, which will force Clausen to check down repeatedly to Allen out of the backfield. The rookie running back has been a bright spot, particularly with his ability to catch passes, and he will follow his 12-catch, 107-yard performance against Miami with 70-plus receiving yards. He won’t find much room between the tackles against the NFL’s third-ranked run defense, but Allen will still be Baltimore’s best option to move the chains on Sunday.

3. Russell Wilson will throw for two touchdowns and run for another. The Ravens defense has shown improvement in recent weeks, but that came against an underwhelming list of offenses. In addition to having the league’s top-ranked rush offense, Wilson has thrown a whopping 11 touchdown passes over his last three games without tossing an interception. Much like the dilemma they face every year when playing Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens must find ways to make Wilson uncomfortable while still keeping him in the pocket. The defense will play well for stretches, but second-half fatigue will ultimately lead to Wilson making big plays with his arm and his legs.

4. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett will combine to collect 3 1/2 sacks against an overwhelmed offensive line. Second-year tackle James Hurst has started six games in place of Monroe this year, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman acknowledged that the Ravens have shuffled the offensive line during practices this week, making it possible that we see a new look on Sunday. Unfortunately, it won’t matter as Seattle’s pair of defensive ends will be too tough in addition to Clausen being indecisive in the pocket. Even if the Ravens had a full and healthy offense on the field, the Seahawks’ front would be a lot to handle. At this point, it almost seems unfair.

5. The Ravens will break their streak of 12 consecutive games being decided by one possession in a 29-10 loss. It’s the NFL, so anything could happen. A few turnovers and a special-teams score or two can dramatically change the outlook of any game, but the Ravens are just too undermanned to objectively think they have much of a chance to win on Sunday. Considering the heart with which John Harbaugh’s team has competed throughout a trying season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Ravens make it closer than most expect. But this one is far more likely to turn ugly than for the Ravens to pull off an upset, even playing at home.

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Looking at who’s going to win the NFL Conference Championships

Posted on 16 January 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos

The NFL’s version of the final four is upon us, and the Seattle Seahawks are poised to defend their crown and repeat as champions. In the NFC, Russell Wilson is going after his second Super Bowl ring, as well as Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. In the AFC matchup, Tom Brady has a chance to climb the Mt. Rushmore of 4 time Super Bowl winning quarterbacks, joining Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. Andrew Luck leads the upstart Indianapolis Colts, as the only quarterback in the tournament who is attempting to win his first Lombardi Trophy.

Ever since the Patriots caught fire after their dismal performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in front of a national football audience, I’ve been predicting a Patriots – Seahawks finale. I still believe that after this Sunday’s games are over, those are still the two teams that will be left standing.

I expect the Patriots to activate Jonas Gray, and come out running against the Indianapolis Colts. Gray rushed for over 200 yards in Lucas Oil stadium, and with the addition of LeGarrette Blount, I expect more of the same this Sunday. Bill Belichick is a master of situational football, and just like he abandoned the run in the Patriots’ win over the Baltimore Ravens in the prior week, he will once again adapt his personnel to match his opponent.

On the other side of the ball, I do not believe that the Colts can go up to New England without a running game, and get away with it. They will go only as far as Andrew Luck will take them, and Belichick will take away what Luck does best, he will commit more players to defend the pass, and dare the Colts to run on his defense.

The Seattle Seahawks look to be a team on a mission. They are peaking at the right time, and their defense is the difference maker. They  have solid corners, unbelieveable safeties, active linebackers, and a defensive line that at times is dominant. They have a mercurial quarterback in Wilson, arguably the best running back in the NFL in Lynch, and they don’t beat themselves. They are also the most complete team in the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have come this far with sheer grit and determination, and on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. His calf injury has hindered his play, but on one leg he is still better than most NFL QBs on two legs. The key to the Packers having a chance is to unleash stout running back Eddie Lacy, but I do not see his offensive line opening up holes for him. He’ll have to make his own, and although he is capable of just that, I don’t believe it is going to be enough.

 

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