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Ravens 10-pack on an efficient Joe Flacco, ascendent defensive front, and more

Welcome to the Monday Ravens 10-Pack, where reporter Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts following a painful 20-12 win over the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars. Read ahead for notes on an efficient Joe Flacco, the defensive line stepping up in Haloti Ngata's absence, and the Ravens receiver with the best hands in the league.

1. For all the deserved boos and anxiety caused by the pesky Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens find themselves pretty much exactly where they need to be with. A myriad of scenarios that could have helped didn't pan out Sunday, like losses for the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, but losses all but knocked the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins out of contention. All eyes will be on the Steelers (also 9-5), but Kansas City looms as a potential threat with games against Pittsburgh and San Diego that could pad their conference record while hurting the Ravens' opponents in the process. Either way, don't expect to be able to make playoff plans until the final day of the season. Enjoy your friends and family in the meantime.

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2. The Ravens have patted themselves on the back about paring down the offense to its most efficient parts, and it appears the deep passing game has become a limited portion of the game plan. Plays that result in pass interference end up not being plays and thus can't be counted, and Smith's injury must also be taken into account. But even with those caveats, Flacco has only gone deep six times in four games since the bye, according to Pro Football Focus, while attempting 39 passes more than 20 yards downfield in the 10 games previous. Those resulted in nine touchdowns, but to go from 3.9 times per game to 1.5 attempts per game downfield seems like an intentional drop-off — and it's working. The short passes have led to one of the most efficient stretches of Flacco's career. He had a 90.7 passer rating before the bye while completing 62.4 percent of his passes. Since the week off, he's got a 109.9 rating and a 70.5 percent completion rate.

3. In his first NFL game after spending time on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers', Miami Dolphins' and Ravens' practice squads, cornerback Rashaan Melvin looked impressive when pressed into duty. He played just over a quarter and made five total tackles and a pass defense in place of injured cornerback Asa Jackson. But you only need to look to the early success of cornerback Anthony Levine against the Tennessee Titans before the bye to realize that one game does not a starting cornerback make. For the Ravens' sake, however, the development of Melvin over these next few weeks is crucial for any potential playoff run.

4. It'd be foolish to say the Ravens don't miss suspended defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who's halfway through a four-game drug suspension. But after allowing 88.2 yards rushing per game in 11 pre-suspension games, the Ravens have allowed 72.5 without him. If nothing else, the rejuvenated play of defensive end Chris Canty, plus the breakout play from defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and, to a lesser extent, defensive end Lawrence Guy, represents a boon for an already strong defensive front both in the final two games of the regular season and for the future.

5. Special teams was unfortunately in the spotlight for the Ravens on Sunday, with a fake punt and onside kick both succeeding for Jacksonville. But more troubling for the Ravens are the three penalties — an offsides on a kickoff, a hold on a punt return, and a delay of game on a long field goal attempt. The trick plays were just a team executing at a higher level than the Ravens, while the penalties are just a lack of execution. I'm guessing the coaching staff will look much more harshly on the latter.

6. Last week, it was wide receiver Kamar Aiken thriving in place of Torrey Smith. With Smith active and playing Sunday, it was Marlon Brown who stepped up and caught five catches for a team-high 66 yards, four of which came on third down. On the season, that gives Brown 23 catches for 228 yards and no touchdowns — far off his 2013 pace of 524 yards and seven touchdowns, but Brown has the highest catch rate (95.7) of any wide receiver who has played over a quarter of his team's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. I pity the nickel cornerback tasked with covering him in the slot.

7.  John Harbaugh took no solace in hearing fullback Kyle Juszczyk's fumble against New Orleans was his first ever, and he likely won't view Juszczyk's cough-up Sunday sympathetically either. His second fumble of the year puts him third on the team behind return specialist Jacoby Jones (four) and quarterback Joe Flacco (two), but his have been incredibly costly, especially for someone who gets limited touches. He has 19 catches on 27 targets for 182 yards, but that can't be considered an acceptable output for a player the team had high hopes for coming out of training camp. It should be known that his blocking has drawn good reviews, though, and that's a fullback's main responsibility.

8. I can't think of a player with a tougher lot this year than rookie safety Terrence Brooks, who got back onto the gameday roster after two weeks in sweats on the sidelines only to injure his knee on the first play of the game. Brooks' playing time was uneven when he was active, but he seems to have beem punished for big plays he's allowed — he was turned around on a 53-yard completion to Cincinnati's Mohammad Sanu and delivered what was considered a timid effort on a touchdown pass to New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston. It was certainly an uneven year, but he showed more flashes than someone like safety Matt Elam and could emerge as a starter with more experience under his belt.

9. Tight ends Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore combined for six catches on 12 targets for 99 yards and a touchdown Sunday, representing the best output of the year from that position since Dennis Pitta's season-ending hip injury. Gillmore, who has battled a back injury, has shown good flashes as a receiver, and Daniels has played nearly every snap the past several weeks and shows no sign of slowing.

10. Another week, another mixed bag in the "Three-star Accountability Corner," where I take stock of my predictions for the three stars of the game. I'll pat myself on the back for Terrell Suggs, who picked up 2.5 of the Ravens' eight sacks and was just beaten to quarterback Blake Bortles on another. My second star prediction of Bernard Pierce was kind of a bust, as the Ravens didn't get into any kind of groove on the ground and Pierce picked up 28 of his 37 yards on one play, and the remaining nine on five rushes. The final predicted star, cornerback Lardarius Webb, didn't get beaten often or badly, but he didn't come up with the interception, so that was a tough pick. If I had a redo, I'd include Flacco and probably Jernigan.

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