No more doubt, the Baltimore Ravens are now the team to beat in the NFL.
The San Francisco 49ers were considered the best team in the league, thanks to their 11-3 record. The Ravens outscored them 33-19 on Christmas Day.
The Miami Dolphins were identified as Baltimore’s biggest rivals in the American Association with their 11-4 record. The Ravens humiliated them 56-19 on New Year’s Eve.
John Harbaugh’s squad (13-3) isn’t doing anyone any favors.
We are entering the last week of the regular season and, against all expectations, the men in purple must be considered the favorites to seek great honors, despite a decimated, incomplete and unpredictable formation. This is the most interesting paradox of the 2023 season.
First, let’s get one thing straight. Lamar Jackson, even though he will be off this weekend, will be awarded the Tour MVP trophy. He will be for the second time in his career, after winning this honor in 2019. Especially since the definition of “most valuable player to his team” completely applies to the Ravens quarterback.
In the last two games mentioned above, Jackson carried this attack on his bruised shoulders. Seven touchdowns, no interceptions, 573 passing yards, 73% completions and 13 rushes.
Previously injured more often than not due to his recklessness, Jackson has adapted magnificently since the start of the season. Since entering the NFL, he has never run so little with the ball. He runs an average of 9.25 times per game, the lowest rate of his career. He doesn’t run any less efficiently though. But he runs better and at better times. When it’s actually worth it. He seems to have gotten rid of the eagerness, naivety and urgency of his beginnings. Like the greatest, he was able to modify his way of playing without completely transforming himself.
After all, Jackson is arguably the last pillar capable of supporting this team offensively. His loss would be fatal. But its contribution is vital.
The Ravens’ performance is all the more surprising given that this team has been considerably tested since the start of the calendar.
On paper, this summer, when the snow was neither gray nor brown, the Ravens had everything to be competitive.
But that was before running back J.K. Dobbins injured his Achilles tendon on September 19. Before tight end Mark Andrews’ ankle injury on Nov. 25. Before receiver Devin Duvernay’s back injury on Dec. 13. Before running back Keaton Mitchell’s knee injury on Dec. 19.
These unforeseen events, however, will have served to highlight all the offensive depth of the Ravens and the genius of Jackson, capable of making gold out of salt.
While Brock Purdy can count on Christian McCaffrey, Dak Prescott can rely on CeeDee Lamb and Tua Tagovailoa can rely on Tyreek Hill, Lamar Jackson must rely on… Lamar Jackson.
New offensive coordinator Todd Monken, having helped the University of Georgia win two consecutive national titles, nevertheless had his say. In particular, by building an efficient and tailor-made system for his quarterback. Thus giving him the necessary options to be able to enjoy a little respite.
Thus, shadow players like running back Justice Hill and tight end Isaiah Likely were instrumental in replacing the big guns. Meanwhile, running back Gus Edwards and receiver Zay Flowers have found their stride. It just goes to show that everything is coming together for the Ravens.
The identity of this formation, however, depends largely on defense. Even if Jackson and Monken do almost the impossible.
Still, the quarterback is 14th in the NFL in passing yards. The team’s leader in air yards caught is Flowers, with 858, and he ranks 37th in the league. Jackson is also the team’s most productive rusher, but his 821 rushing yards rank only 20th.
To overcome these limitations, the defense must be intractable. And it works wonders. With 263 points allowed, no team has allowed fewer points than the Ravens.
Linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen deserve much credit. The pair is as dominant as Devin White and Lavonte David were during the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ most recent championship.
Justin Madubuike is among the best quarterback hunters in this league with eight sacks. Geno Stone is second in interceptions with seven. Don’t these names mean anything to you? It’s possible. But these two players are vital to the success of the team. Like violinists in an orchestra.
There is also the significant contribution of veterans Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy. Dashing as in their twenties, the two players are up for all the fights. They are unmissable.
This defense leaves nothing to chance. In fact, she leaves nothing behind, period.
And if this list of players leaves you unfazed by their anonymity, this list could resurface sooner rather than later, at the Super Bowl, when the announcers introduce the members of the championship team.