xml:space="preserve">

From Lamar Jackson’s unprecedented “cool” factor to Patrick Mekari’s good work filling in for Matt Skura, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ 45-6 blowout of the Los Angeles Rams.

Lamar Jackson might be the coolest athlete in Baltimore sports history.

Advertisement

That covers a lot of ground, of course.

It’s easy to forget given his black high-tops and crew cut, but John Unitas was a cutting-edge passer in his day, and his blood was the iciest on the field in the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

At his peak with the Baltimore Bullets, Earl Monroe unleashed spin moves so pretty that some fans brushed right past his “Pearl” nickname and dubbed him “Black Jesus.”

Brooks Robinson probably never thought of himself as “cool,” but his defense in the 1970 World Series certainly was.

And did anyone ever play NFL defense with more style than Ed Reed?

So that’s pretty fair company. But every week it seems, Jackson does something that will stick in the city’s sporting lore for years to come. Were you watching when he spun against Cincinnati? How many Texans did he leave lying in his wake the next week? What about those five touchdown passes he threw the first time he played on Monday night?

On the national stage, Jackson is pushing into territory previously trod by unique talents such as Bo Jackson or a young Julius Erving. One of his high school mentors recently compared him to Neo in “The Matrix” because he redefines what seems possible.

It’s not that Jackson is the best player we’ve ever seen. It takes many years and many deep playoff runs to earn your way into said discussion. But he inspires a sort of bewildered awe that many of his more accomplished elders could never produce. Hardened sports writers sound like little kids as they process his latest feats in press boxes and on social media. Veteran teammates happily swirl into his orbit. There’s palpable joy every time the Ravens play.

And to think, a year ago, even three months ago, many Ravens fans wondered if Jackson could ever throw consistently enough to be a high-end NFL starter. In just 11 games this season, he’s destroyed our established context for how quickly a player can improve at the most difficult, scrutinized position in American sports.

No matter what happens from here, we’ll talk about this time — when any possibility seems on the table — for years to come.

The Ravens are the NFL’s best front-runners.

Who needs drama? Over the last month, the Ravens have simply stepped on their opponents early and refused to release the pressure.

Their offense is so relentless that when the other team falls behind by two scores, the game feels out of reach.

We saw it again Monday. The Ravens stuffed the Rams for 2 yards on three plays on the first drive of the game. Jackson answered with a nine-play, 55-yard push to the end zone that ate up almost six minutes of clock.

Advertisement

Then, the Ravens repeated the trick, sending the Rams off the field in three plays and answering with a 61-yard touchdown drive.

With almost two minutes still on the clock in the first quarter, the Rams, who played in the Super Bowl nine months ago, were doomed.

The Ravens have scored a touchdown on seven of their 11 opening drives this season and have only accelerated their early-game dominance.

They outscored the New England Patriots 10-0 in the first quarter. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, the tally was 14-0. The Houston Texans actually held them scoreless in the first quarter, but the Ravens then ran off the first 34 points of game.

It’s a testament to the different looks offensive coordinator Greg Roman scripts to start each game and to the shock opponents feel when confronted with Jackson’s speed.

Right now, the Ravens are the NFL’s version of prime Mike Tyson. Don’t waste time getting to your seats, because you might miss the knockout.

Patrick Mekari did a terrific job stepping in for Matt Skura at center.

The Ravens have benefited from unusual stability on their offensive line, with the five starters playing almost every meaningful snap of the season. Skura had grown into one of their most dependable players, a top-10 center who never left the field. So his teammates had to feel dispirited as they watched him ride off on a cart after a Rams defender fell on the back of his leg.

Mekari, an undrafted rookie, had to step in against a front seven that features the most dominant individual defender in the NFL in defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Big problem, right?

It didn’t turn out that way as the Ravens kept right on rolling with Mekari snapping the ball. They used persistent double teams to hold Donald to a single assisted tackle and generally overpowered the Rams at the line of scrimmage, clearing the way for a season-high 285 rushing yards. Jackson took two sacks, but those were the results of him holding the ball a beat too long against good pass coverage.

Mekari (who actually blocked for Rams quarterback Jared Goff at California) was no sure thing to make the Ravens roster coming out of training camp. As the team scrambled to find quality depth in a top-heavy position group, he impressed coaches with his versatility and steady improvement.

Though he didn’t play center in college, he handled one of the sport’s most subtly difficult positions as if it was second nature against the Rams.

Mekari is just the latest example of an unexpected piece fitting neatly into place during this charmed run for the Ravens.

The Ravens defense has slowly built almost as much confidence as the offense.

The Lamar show has obscured the defense’s evolution from an outright mess in Weeks 3 and 4 to a top-10 unit, according to the DVOA efficiency rankings on FootballOutsiders.com.

Yes, the Ravens came out swinging on offense, but their early touchdown drives would not have been so crushing if they had not also forced the Rams off the field with two three-and-outs to start the game.

The Ravens don’t have a transcendent star on defense, but they’re balanced and have cut way back on the big plays that undermined them in the first quarter of the season. The Rams averaged just 4.6 yards per play overall, down from their average of 5.7 on the season. After allowing the Cleveland Browns to average 8.7 yards per play in Week 4, the Ravens haven’t allowed an opponent to average more than 5.3 during their seven-game winning streak.

The Ravens have added both stability and swagger since they hit their nadir against the Browns.

The stability is epitomized by Josh Bynes, the veteran middle linebacker they signed off the unemployment line. Bynes has received plenty of credit for the team’s improved run defense, but when he stuffed an attempted screen pass for a seven-yard loss against the Rams, it was a reminder of how much more disciplined the Ravens have become against a play that shredded them early in the season.

Meanwhile, cornerback Marcus Peters epitomizes the defense’s increasingly brash demeanor. His emotions ran hot against the team that traded him after Week 6, and he backed up his aggressive chatter with another interception (that makes three in five games as a Raven) and eight tackles.

We could just as easily praise a half-dozen other defenders, from improving rookie edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson to steady safety Chuck Clark to veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, who recorded his first sack in four years against the Rams.

Advertisement

Jackson makes the Ravens a special terror for opponents, but they would not have won their past five games by a combined 140 points if their defense had not found its multi-faceted identity.

Ravens-49ers might just be the game of the year.

This was a phrase uttered by literally no one when the NFL released its schedule in April. If anything, we thought a home game against San Francisco might offer a brief respite as the Ravens tried to scrap their way into the playoffs.

Instead, we’re in store for one of the great offense vs. defense matchups in recent NFL history. Who would have thought the Ravens would be the “offense” in that equation?

But here we are. Jackson and Co. trampled the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense in Los Angeles, just 24 hours after the 49ers crushed the Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 37-8.

The 49ers might have the fastest defense in the league, with a pair of young pass rushers in Arik Armstead and Nick Bosa and an air-tight secondary led by cornerback Richard Sherman. They’ve dominated on third down and in the red zone, holding seven of 11 opponents to fewer than 20 points.

But the 49ers’ relative weakness is run defense, not the right Achilles heel to bring into a matchup with the most creative, productive ground attack the NFL has seen in several generations. We already watched the Ravens put up 37 points against the New England Patriots, who brought the league’s other elite defense to Baltimore.

It should be quite a show, both tactically and athletically. National NFL writers are already bemoaning the fact that the game will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday instead of in prime time.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement