2019-01-06 by W.M.
5 Factors That Will Fuel the Baltimore Ravens in the Playoffs | Bleacher Report
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Rich Schultz/Associated Press
Getting into the NFL postseason isn’t easy. Teams have to navigate 17 weeks of regular-season games, overcome injuries and push through adversity. Few playoff teams this year know this as well as the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore sat at 4-5 and without starting quarterback Joe Flacco during its Week 10 bye. The Ravens could have easily stalled out there, but they found the fuel to keep fighting. With rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson at the helm of a new run-oriented offense, Baltimore won six of its next seven games, claimed the AFC North and is hosting the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium in a Wild Card Game on Sunday.
The Ravens need to keep rolling if they’re going to make it to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. What can they use to fuel themselves the rest of the way? That’s what we’re here to examine.
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Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
The new-look Ravens offense is fueled by Jackson, who can attack defenses both through the air and on the ground. During the regular season, the Louisville product passed for 1,201 yards, rushed for 695 more and scored 11 total touchdowns in 16 appearances (just seven starts).
Jackson keeps opposing defenses off-balance, he sees the field well enough to make the right decisions more often than not—a rare trait for a rookie—and he leads with his play on the field. Jackson is blazing fast (4.34 40-yard dash) and elusive as a runner, and he has the arm talent to attack deep down the field if the defense creeps in.
The Ravens are a tough team to face because of their unconventional offense, and it’s all possible because of Jackson’s unique skill set.
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
Jackson (second on the team in rushing yards) is a big part of the ground attack, but he isn’t the only cog in the machine. Running back Gus Edwards, who ran for 718 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the regular season, has emerged as a dangerous weapon.
So has Kenneth Dixon since coming off injured reserve at the beginning of December. In six games, he rushed for 333 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.
Four Ravens running backs have rushed for at least two touchdowns this season, and the team averaged 152.6 rushing yards per game, second-most in the NFL (behind the Seattle Seahawks). The running game is the second piece that fuels the offense. Defenses are geared toward stopping the pass in today’s NFL, so the rushing attack is a unique challenge.
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John Cordes/Associated Press
The third aspect of the offense is the way Jackson and his receivers are able to capitalize off play-action and read-option passes. While defenses aren’t built to combat Baltimore’s running game, they expect it.
“They’re going to run it right at us,” Chargers safety Derwin James said, per Eric D. Williams of ESPN.com. “We know that, and we have to be ready to play, ready to get off blocks”
This, of course, won’t be easy.
According to ESPN, Baltimore has produced the second-most rushing yards in the NFL off options plays, which is telling because the Ravens didn’t lean on them until Jackson took over. Defenses have to respect Jackson’s ability to pass on those plays, and it freezes them.
The Ravens have learned to exploit this.
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Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press
Having an innovative offense makes the Ravens competitive. Having one of the best all-around defenses makes them scary.
During the regular season, the Baltimore defense got to the quarterback (43 sacks), forced turnovers (12 interceptions), kept points off the board (just 17.9 per game, second in the NFL) and stonewalled both the run and the pass. Only four teams allowed fewer passing yards than Baltimore (210.0 per game), and only three allowed fewer rushing yards (82.9).
No team allowed fewer yards per game than the Ravens (292.9).
Part of this is because of Baltimore’s ability to control the clock on offense. Part is because the Ravens have defensive playmakers like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle.
This gives Baltimore a big advantage in the AFC playoffs. The conference has some balanced teams, but teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots largely ride their offenses. When they’re stonewalled by a defense like Baltimore’s, they have to make their own plays on defense. Against that innovative Ravens offense? The game is all the more difficult.
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Gail Burton/Associated Press
The thing that takes the Ravens from being dangerous to being potential title contenders is the fact that they’ve been in win-or-go-home mode essentially since Jackson took over. They’ve faced some tough competition over the last month too, including the Chiefs, Chargers and upstart Cleveland Browns.
Baltimore took the Chiefs to overtime in a three-point defeat in Kansas City, battered the Chargers in Los Angeles and staged a clutch fourth-down stop against Cleveland in Week 17 to get into the postseason.
High stakes, hostile environments and playoff atmospheres are nothing new for this team. Baltimore will be able to focus solely on the tests on the field.