BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Baltimore Ravens have won nine straight games, sit at 11-2 on the season, and they look, at least on offense, to be virtually unstoppable. Even with their top receiver leaving in the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the Bills, Lamar Jackson still led the team to 24 points, tossing three touchdowns. The 24 points is the second-highest total the Bills defense has given up all season and just the fourth time they have allowed an opponent 20+ points.
Jackson has been lighting up defenses throughout the season, scoring a rushing or passing touchdown in every game, with the team scoring 20+ points in every one of their 13 games. Try as defense’s might, they seem to be unable to stop the Ravens QB and, by extension, the team’s offense, of finding the end zone.
So, the question remains, who can stop Lamar Jackson?
The league’s best defense, the New England Patriots, could do nothing to slow Jackson. The 49ers did a better job in Week 14, holding him to just 105 passing yards, but he still gashed them for 101 yards on 16 carries on the ground. That game was also played in a steady, driving rain, making it hard for both teams to throw the ball. The Bills did hold Jackson to just 145 passing yards and 40 rushing yards, but that wasn’t enough to stop him from hitting paydirt three times. And that performance came without Andrews.
In order to get a sense of what coaches think could slow the Ravens offense, I would suggest this Mike Freeman piece on Bleacher Report where he talked to a pair of NFC assistant coaches and laid out five key points needed to slow the 22-year-old. The team he points out as having done the best job so far was the Cleveland Browns, not coincidentally the last loss for the team. Freeman points out that the Browns had a strong combination of team speed defensively and stopping Mark Ingram.
Also of note is how the Chargers played Jackson and the Ravens in last year’s playoff matchup. L.A. used seven defensive backs for most of the Wild Card matchup and the Ravens managed just 3.9 yards per play in the loss. But, as FiveThirtyEight pointed out, no team has tried that strategy over the course of a full game this season.
The Browns are on the schedule again in Week 16. And, the Ravens opponent this week, the New York Jets, have been strong run stoppers all season. But, neither team is in the playoff hunt so, in the end, they aren’t stopping the Ravens from reaching their ultimate goal.
How about the team’s Week 17 opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers? Mike Tomlin’s defense picked off Jackson three times in the first meeting and held him to just 231 total yards and a touchdown. They also slowed Mark Ingram, holding him to just 44 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That would seem to bode well for Pittsburgh if the teams were to meet for a third time in the playoffs. Pittsburgh certainly has the team speed with safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, linebacker Devin Bush, and pass rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Mark Pittsburgh down as a potential speed bump.
The Patriots? As noted above, they couldn’t do much in the team’s first meeting with Jackson throwing for 163 yards and a touchdown while adding 61 yards and two scores on the ground. Mark Ingram also carved Belichick’s crew up with 115 yards on 15 carries. But, a second meeting with Bill Belichick will also be squirrelly as the Pats head coach is one of the best defensive minds the game has seen. Would we see him try the seven DB strategy that L.A. went with last January? Possibly. But, the problem of stopping Ingram remains.
The Chiefs handed the Ravens one of their two losses this season, but they got down early (23-6) before rallying back and falling 33-28. Kansas City’s defense has certainly improved, but one would imagine coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson would be geared up for a rematch.
On the NFC side, the Ravens have already clobbered the Seahawks and slipped by the 49ers. San Fran sticks out as a likely problem, but their defense has suffered key injuries to Dee Ford and Richard Sherman in the last two weeks. The Packers have struggled to stop the run throughout the year, with opponents averaging 122.8 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry on the ground. The Vikings and Saints are intriguing matchups as both rank in the Top 10 of Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings.
In the end, there is one major factor that needs to be considered in this conversation. Health. Andrews is likely to be back as coach John Harbaugh said his injury was “not serious” and Jackson’s own quad injury was classified the same way. But, with three weeks left before the postseason, that has to be top of mind for Ravens fans as they hope for a Super Bowl berth.
Once in the postseason? The biggest threats in the AFC would seem to be Pittsburgh, Kansas City and, based on track record, New England. The most capable of halting the Ravens run would seem to be, perhaps not surprisingly, their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.