Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. Jaguars Preview
RAVENS VS. JAGUARS PREVIEW – The entire AFC will be tuned in to NBC on Sunday night. With a win, the Ravens maintain their one-game lead over the rest of the conference in prime position to capture the No. 1 seed.
With a loss, the top of the AFC becomes a muddled dogfight. The Jaguars are slumping, but a primetime game at home against a high-profile opponent should bring out their best.
A Chance at Redemption
Returning to Jacksonville is scary for Ravens fans who suffered through last season’s heartbreaker. Baltimore inconceivably squandered a 99.1% win probability in a game that epitomized the infuriating 2022 season.
Much has changed since then, particularly at the wide receiver position. 35-year-old DeSean Jackson was taking meaningful snaps for the Ravens at that point. And while his 63-yard catch in the game was a season highlight, Jackson being on the field sums up the pathetic state of the receiving room at the time.
Baltimore completely remodeled the corps over the offseason, and the Jaguars’ 31st-ranked pass defense is just the group to unleash it against. Jacksonville will also be without rising star cornerback Tyson Campbell, who’s dealing with a quad injury.
Big Brain Bradley
Jags’ Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley will do his best to keep a lid on the Ravens’ offense. An innovator of the Seattle Cover 3 defense a decade ago, Bradley still relies on zone-heavy, single-high defenses.
With proper personnel who know all the intricate coverage rules, the scheme is still viable. But without Cisco and Campbell, the Jaguars will have their work cut out for them. Bradley’s goal is a numbers advantage in the box on every play.
He will stay in single-high shells if it means the Jags can stop the run. And this season – they have, ranking 4th in yards per game allowed. This means Lamar Jackson needs to have a strong outing as a passer for the Ravens to win.
Last year’s matchup between these two teams was Trevor Lawrence’s arrival game. He was nearly perfect in the outing, effortlessly hitting high-level throws.
Lawrence has been turnover-prone this season, but his 21 total touchdowns are equal with Jackson. Baltimore’s defense has looked shaky recently, so Lawrence could be in line for a big day.
He’ll need some help from the players around him, more than he’s gotten to this point. Wide receiver Calvin Ridley hasn’t lived up to his lofty preseason expectations.
Part of Ridley’s lack of production is due to the Jaguars’ inability to protect Lawrence.
Their much-maligned offensive line has suffered without either of their starting tackles from 2022 (They lost Jawaan Taylor in Free Agency, and Cam Robinson to injury). And their desperation selection of Anton Harrison in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft has not panned out.
Winning Without Dominating
The Ravens have failed to steamroll teams like their NFC-leading counterpart San Francisco 49ers. Baltimore is scraping by and finding new ways to win each week, but they no longer look like a juggernaut.
This is an opportunity to make a definitive statement on the road. But this team has a complicated relationship with expectations.
Against inferior opponents like the Colts and Steelers, they came out flat and played down to their competition. In “big” games against the Lions, Seahawks, and Bengals, they looked like world-beaters.
So how will they perform in this game in which there’s no underdog card to be played and no chip on their shoulder? Whether they can play with fire when there’s a target on their back remains to be seen.
Maybe it’s the residual of last season’s debacle, but a tropical trip this late in the season makes me nervous.
Todd Monken has proven his refreshingly competent passing game won’t lay an egg, but will the Ravens be able to keep up in a shootout?
They did last week, but that win is nobody’s idea of a sustainable formula. With their backs against the wall, Jacksonville should be the hungrier team, and I anticipate that will provide the necessary edge to pull off the upset.