The Baltimore Sun sports staff answers some key questions for the Ravens ahead of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
After the performances in the win over the Jets, which unit has you more concerned: defense or special teams?
Daniel Oyefusi, reporter: Defense. In the past two games, the Bills and Jets have had opportunities to make plays against the Ravens secondary, but two young quarterbacks in Josh Allen and Sam Darnold weren’t been able to take advantage. Give a more experienced and talented quarterback (cough cough, Patrick Mahomes) those chances, and it could turn ugly.
Jonas Shaffer, reporter: Defense. The Ravens finished strong enough Thursday night, but their first-half defense looked as bad as it has all year. The run defense struggled against a mediocre Jets line, and Sam Darnold was able to find receivers over the middle, an early-season weak spot. You can chalk it up to the short week, but Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and Jarvis Landry are a step up (this season, anyway) from Le’Veon Bell and Jamison Crowder.
Childs Walker, reporter: Special teams. We know what to expect from the defense at this point; the Ravens give up chunks of yardage on outside runs and don’t consistently get home with their pass rush, but they make big plays and prevent opponents from finishing drives in the end zone. Special teams, on the other hand, has turned into a surprising wild card. The Ravens have performed especially poorly on kickoff coverage and returns, and they won’t want to sacrifice that marginal advantage to playoff opponents.
With Lamar Jackson the front-runner for MVP, which player would you consider to be the unsung hero of the team?
Oyefusi: Chuck Clark. The defense started its rebound when Clark entered the lineup at safety for the injured Tony Jefferson. While the defense’s success isn’t limited to Clark, the third-year player’s consistency in the run game and coverage has brought a lot of stability to the unit.
Shaffer: On offense, it’s Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. On defense, it’s Chuck Clark. Lamar Jackson and Marcus Peters might own the in-game spotlight, but those three players do their job well enough that they rarely merit a mention. How often has Jackson been pressured by an edge rusher in the Ravens’ streak? And when was the last time a tight end gave the defense headaches?
Walker: Orlando Brown Jr. on offense and Chuck Clark on defense. John Harbaugh challenged Brown to become an “established” starter this season, and the second-year right tackle has done just that with his exceptional durability and sturdy pass blocking. Clark had to step up when Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury, and he’s provided excellent coverage while acting as the team’s defensive signal caller. He’s played better than Jefferson did through the first quarter of the season.
With how well the Ravens performed Thursday, should fans still be concerned about how cold weather might affect Jackson and this offense in the playoffs?
Oyefusi: No. Jackson has played his fair share of cold weather games in Baltimore and as he said after the win over the Jets, he also played in Louisville, which isn’t to be confused with his hometown of Pompano Beach in Florida.
Shaffer: I think precipitation is a greater concern than freezing temperatures, but it’s not like it’ll rain only when the Ravens have the ball. There were some bad drops when the Ravens played in a Seattle storm, and their offense didn’t look great in a wet win against the 49ers. I’m sure they’d rather play in a place with the climate of Miami, but they won’t have that luxury ... unless they get to the Super Bowl.
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Walker: Cold doesn’t seem to be the problem. It’s cold mixed with precipitation and/or gusty winds that fans should root against. But Jackson still did enough to win in the rain against the 49ers and the wind against the Bills, so “concerned” is a relative term.
Which pickup since the beginning of the offseason has been the most important?
Oyefusi: Marcus Peters. The cornerback’s presence has revitalized a secondary that went through major struggles early on. Pairing Peters with Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith has given defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale full license to blitz at an unprecedented rate with the confidence that the back end will hold up.
Shaffer: Marcus Peters. He hasn’t been in Baltimore for long, and he might not be here after this season, but he’s given the Ravens another lockdown cornerback opposite Marlon Humphrey. So much of what the Ravens do defensively is predicated on having a secondary strong enough to cover the ground vacated by Don “Wink” Martindale’s blitz schemes. Other than one bad half against San Francisco, Peters has been great.
Walker: There are many good candidates here. Mark Ingram II has been the perfect running back to pair with Jackson. Earl Thomas III has a rare football mind and helped this team believe it could be great. Josh Bynes brought stability to the defense when the Ravens badly needed it. But the answer is Marcus Peters. He brought big-play flair and cockiness that helped push the team to an elite level.
Tom Brady challenged Lamar Jackson on Twitter to a 40-yard dash. How big a head start would Brady need to beat Jackson head-to-head (minus the rollerblades Brady suggested Jackson wear)?
Oyefusi: I tried to figure out the formula that would provide the exact distance, given Brady’s infamous 40 time and Jackson’s projected time (he didn’t run the 40 at the combine). However, that route failed pretty early — there’s a reason I switched from STEM in college — so I’ll say Brady should be able to pull it off with a 15-yard head start.
Shaffer: Brady would need at least 15 yards — and an offseason of training with Alex Guerrero.
Walker: After a little mental math, let’s say a 10-yard head start would give Brady a shot at a photo finish.