Black Friday Weekend - 20% OffShop Now

MNF Preview: Lamar Jackson Goes Hollywood

lamar shades 2

Another week, another big time game for Lamar Jackson and these Baltimore Ravens. I’d be lying if I said I expected to be in this position going into this game. 8-2 and firmly in a playoff bye position with the Rams struggling to a 6-4 spot and fighting for their playoff lives. In fact, writing that sentence inspired me to go back at my schedule release blog and take another look at how I perceived the season shaking out back in April:

schedule predict

Clearly we’ve already won 3 of those tough 5, and tonight’s game is our opportunity to make it 4 for 5. Back when I wrote that, I perceived the Chiefs and the Rams games as the ones we were least likely to steal. Now we’re 3.5 point favorites in LA on MNF. We’re at a point where 12-4 and a playoff bye may be a bit of a disappointment. What a time to be alive.

Anyway, the Rams seem to be a ticking time bomb, both to their opposition and to themselves. They’ve been playing down to their competition all season. Teams that make the Super Bowl and don’t have substantial departures shouldn’t be doing things like losing to the likes of Mason Rudolph and Jameis Winston and having the 2019 Bears within 3 points as late as 55 minutes into the game. They’ve lost 4 out of 7 and haven’t really done anything impressive since a 27-9 win over the Saints in Week 2. They’re on life support in their division race and are on the outside looking in at an 8-3 Vikings team as the 6 seed in the NFC. They can ill afford to drop 2 full games behind them. It’s starting to become do or die time for them and they could explode at any given moment. So in that sense, they’re a talented team with their backs against the wall that has underperformed so far and can break out at any minute.

On the flip side, they seem to be a team ready to bottom out and eat themselves alive any week now. Jared Goff’s QB play has been unspectacular and that’s putting it nicely. The honeymoon with Sean McVay seems to be ending quickly. They’ve added a talented, yet easily malcontent cornerback that has the potential to divide the locker room as things start to unravel. There’s a lot of red flags about the Rams that indicate that they may be on the verge of an all out collapse. This game is going to say a lot about who the Los Angeles Rams are and their coaches have their hands full trying to solve the league’s toughest problem: Lamar Jackson.

Luckily for them and as I’ve mentioned, they’ve got some talented players that may help to provide a solution for that. And of course, what Lamar Jackson does on offense is only half of the equation. Some quick keys to tonight’s game.

1. Aaron Donald and Wade Phillips 3-4 defense vs the Ravens rushing attack

donald

This is the key for just about any game the Ravens play. Can anyone stop the way the Ravens run the football? They’re averaging 5.7 rushing yards per attempt and over 200 yards per game. 200+ yards per game is a number that hasn’t been seen since the 1970’s. Football was a completely different sport back then. The ground was the road far more traveled. But fact remains that when you can do it well, you can control the football game. The Ravens have done that masterfully all season, picking up early leads and suffocating teams with clock-killing drives. They possess the ball an average of 34:33 per game. The next closest team is the 49ers at 33:07. It’s ridiculous.

With that said, the Ravens have yet to face a team that stops the run as well as the Rams do this year. They’re 4th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game at 89.1, and 2nd in yards per attempt at a measly 3.3. Wade Phillips is one of the best defensive coordinators the game has ever seen, and he has weapons like Aaron Donald and Clay Matthews at his disposal. Those guys’ experience and reputations precede themselves. Stopping the read-option is predominantly based on gap discipline, but that shit goes out the window when you’ve got a guy on the interior who can rip his way into the backfield while the QB is still reading the defensive front. We may have to dedicate whoever is leading the block in the hole for the running back (usually Boyle or Ricard) to chip on Donald forcing his way into the gap, which comprises the premise of the zone-read.

And there will be a few occasions tonight where plays will be blown up in the backfield. It will have to take discipline on Lamar’s part to secure the football and not allow those plays to become gamechangers. I expect him to do something special a time or two when it does, but I think this is a situation where Lamar is going to have to try not to be a hero one too many times. He hasn’t lost a fumble yet this year but that can happen in a heartbeat.

2. Can the Ravens defensive backs matchup and play man against the Ram’s deep receiver corps?

ravens db

Wink Martindale and the Ravens defense has not earned enough credit for what they’ve done to turn around a rough start to the season. The position groups are working in perfect harmony. We knew going into the year that the Ravens were going to be a bit hindered talent-wise as it pertains to rushing the QB. It’s pretty much Matt Judon and a bunch of inexperienced mid-round draft picks, and they weren’t able to get to the QB much in September. Then Eric DeCosta fleeced the Rams for Marcus Peters (a 5th rounder and a LB buried on our depth chart? LOL) and Jimmy Smith came back from injury and everything changed.

Why? Because the Ravens were suddenly deep enough at corner to trust them to play man-to-man in single coverage and send the rest of the defense loose on the QB. They’re the NFL’s only team that blitzes more than 50% of the time. The results have been beautiful. Offenses are being forced to commit a running back or tight end to pick up blitzers and QB’s are having to get balls out quick. The secondary rarely has to cover their man for more than 3 seconds before the ball is out. A lot of times that ball comes out in places it shouldn’t, i.e. places where Peters runs past you with 6 points before you know it.

So what’s different about tonight? The Rams have one of the league’s deeper receiver corps. Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Josh Reynolds all have the potential to beat their man 1-on-1, and none of them is their clear-cut #1 receiver. They all complement each other well and can run a variety of routes. I love how Marlon, Marcus, and Jimmy match up against any of those guys, but their plan may be to try to challenge Brandon Carr. I can’t say we’ve seen a receiver grouping deep enough yet to really provide that challenge and it will be interesting to see how we hold up. I trust that the pass-rush will provide enough heat and force Goff into making mistakes, but the secondary needs to make sure they continue to win 1-on-1 battles.

3. Score First.

lamar rams

Simple as that. As I mentioned before, the Ravens have been dominant in controlling the game. They may be scoring more than any team in the NFL, but I wouldn’t say they’ve been winning shootouts. They’ve gotten leads and forced the opposition to play their game. They’ve scored first in 8 out of 10 games and they’ve won exactly 8 out of 10 games. That’s not a coincidence. Obviously this mostly comes down to the opening drives of the game.

Here are the offenses results of their first drives of each game:

Touchdown

Touchdown

Touchdown

Punt

Field Goal

Touchdown

Field Goal

Touchdown

Touchdown

Missed FG

Now how about the defense:

Interception

Punt

Punt

Punt

Punt

Punt (although special teams gave up an opening kickoff TD *eye roll*)

Punt

Punt

Punt

Fumble

I mean that’s absurd dominance early in the game. In 10 opening drives, the offense has put up 48 points and the defense has allowed ZERO. They’re the only defense in the league that can say that. Obviously every team wants to start football games like that, but it’s so much more impactful for a team that plays ball-control offense the way that the Ravens do. Keep that up tonight and force the Rams to try to play from behind and I just don’t see this game going the home team’s way.

It’s hard not to believe in this team with the way they’re playing. I’m not oblivious to the fact that we’re due for a letdown game. That’s been in the back of my brain for weeks now. But it’s become increasingly clear that who we’ve seen so far is who the Ravens really are and any potential letdown game would be the exception and not the rule. We want this game. We’d love to have this game. We don’t need it as bad as the Rams do but that shouldn’t matter if Lamar and the boys just play their game. Monday Night football. Lamar. 8-2 going on 9-2. What could be better?!?

.

.

.

.

.

The answer is watching tonight’s game with me at the Famous. Jimmy’ Seafood baby! You can’t get more Baltimore than that. It’s long overdue with the way that the Ravens have been playing for all of us Ravens fans to get together and watch Lamar do what he does. Can’t wait to see you folks out there.