Previewing Week 12: Raiders at Ravens
Lamar Jackson made his debut and saved the Ravens season and at 5-5, the Ravens are currently favorites to claim the second AFC Wild Card. Every game from here on will be important for their playoff aspirations, and this week the Ravens have the fortune of hosting the worst team in the NFL, the 2-8 Oakland Raiders. Joe Flacco is once again not practicing and while he is officially listed as Questionable, it seems likely that we will see Jackson start his second NFL game. Last week Jackson electrified the Ravens rushing attack, picking up 119 yards with his legs on 26 carries while Gus Edwards emerged out of nowhere to tack on an additional 115 yards rushing as the team totaled an impressive 267 yards on the ground.
While 26 rushes from Jackson is not sustainable offense, it demonstrated that a run-focused offense, especially going against a porous run defense, can be quite effective even in today’s pass happy NFL. The threat of Jackson’s running ability puts a significant strain on any defense, and I expect to see a similar game-plan this week against Oakland who also struggles to defend the run. The Raiders have the 2nd worst run defense in the NFL letting up 142 yards per game at 4.8 yards per rush.
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Lamar Jackson ran the ball more than he passed it in his first game as a starter, but that could (and should) change against the Raiders who may be even worse defending the pass than defending the run. Oakland has the worst pass defense DVOA in the league, and allows opposing QBs to average 8.9 YPA with a passer rating of 110.4. It’s hard to imagine a better opportunity for the Ravens to open up the playbook for Jackson to see what he is capable of doing with his arm in addition to his rushing ability.
Willie Snead appeared to be Jackson’s favorite target in his first start, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ravens try to get the TEs more involved in this upcoming game against the Raiders. Jackson seems to be more comfortable passing to the middle of the field so I would anticipate the Ravens heavily incorporating RPOs and focusing on quick hitting routes to receivers out of the slot. Another approach the Ravens may use is moving the pocket with bootlegs to take advantage of Jackson’s athleticism while giving him simple reads.
I was anticipating Alex Collins having a breakout game last week, but instead of Collins, Gus Edwards was the major beneficiary of Jackson’s running ability and the zone read concepts the Ravens installed. Edwards is a very hard runner who showed excellent vision and decisiveness. His style of rushing works well with Jackson and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the lead running back again in week 12, but we will probably see a combination of Edwards, Collins and some Buck Allen/Ty Montgomery mixed in as well.
The Raiders offense has been somewhat more competent than their defense, but they are far from an offensive juggernaut and have lost their best playmakers to injury (Marshawn Lynch) or trade (Amari Cooper). Derek Carr is a competent QB, but the lack of skill players around him has really limited his potential. The Raiders offensive line that was not long ago considered among the best in the NFL has significantly regressed as well. TE Jared Cook has emerged as the team’s best offensive weapon, and the Ravens will have to game-plan for his ability to stretch the field vertically.
The Ravens defense has been largely healthy this season, and could be getting OLB Tim Williams back from an ankle injury this week. In his absence Tyus Bowser has seen an uptick in snaps and has started to show some ability as a pass-rusher. It would be nice to see the Ravens get both of their second year LBs on the field together to alleviate the snaps for Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith who have been getting the bulk of work at OLB. The Ravens pass-rush has still been one of the bigger disappointments of the season as they have continued to struggle to consistently generate pressure on opposing QBs.
This is a game the Ravens should win fairly handily even with the inexperienced Jackson starting at QB. Oakland just doesn’t have the talent to keep up, and the Ravens are in need of every win they can get at this point so I am confident the team will be focused. It is probably not going to be an overly entertaining game to watch with a fairly low total with the Ravens earning the W, 20 -13.