The Baltimore Ravens extended their winning streak to four games with a 27-13 victory over the New York Giants this past Sunday. Lamar Jackson and company jumped out to a 20-3 half time lead in the second quarter and were never in doubt of letting the result slip. The victory was another high-level performance that has Ravens looking far more like the team that went 14-2 in 2019 than the one that started the 2020 season at 6-5.
Head coach John Harbaugh has rallied his team over the past four weeks. After dropping their (sort of) Thanksgiving matchup to the Pittsburgh Steelers, in which COVID positives tests eliminated 10+ Ravens from playing, Baltimore has begun to iron out the kinks in their team. The same Ravens team that had gone 1-4 from Week 8 to 12 has now won its last four games with their back against the wall.
Over the past four Weeks, their offense’s 37 points per game are the most in the NFL and Baltimore is now one win away from securing a playoff spot. The thought of reaching the playoffs seemed inevitable at the beginning of the season but due to some bumps in the road, the Ravens needed to win-out in their final five games to secure a wildcard spot. Baltimore’s winning streak has completely changed their season and they are back to being a team that no one wants to play. They currently own the league’s best point differential.
Even with their midseason struggles, the Ravens have turned it around. Baltimore has made improvements on both sides of the ball and is putting almost everything together at the most crucial time of the year.
Baltimore Ravens Winning Streak Has Saved Their Season in 2020
The Passing Attack
First 11 Games: 31st in Passing Yards, 24th in Passing Touchdowns
Last Four Games: 28th in Passing Yards, 7th in Passing Touchdowns
The most scrutinized part of the Ravens offense through their first 11 games was their passing attack. Many were questioning Jackson’s accuracy as well as his ability to pass the ball when the Ravens were forced to play from behind. He briefly silenced his critics when the Ravens quarterback went 10/10 for 119 yards in the second half against the Indianapolis Colts to lead the Ravens to a come from behind win. However, the Ravens would go on to drop their next three contests. Jackson did not play in Baltimore’s Week 12 matchup with the Steelers.
Through Baltimore’s first 10 games, Jackson was fine throwing the ball. He had a 63.4 completion percentage, a passer rating of 93.4, and a 15:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The problem was that Jackson wasn’t going above and beyond the bar he set a year prior when he won the 2019 NFL MVP.
Over the last four games, Jackson has returned to his MVP form. He has a 69.5 completion percentage, a passer rating of 117.7, and 696 passing yards 8:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His improbable Week 14 performance against the Cleveland Browns was debatably the best game by a quarterback in the NFL this season and one that could live in the greatest Monday Night Football performances of all time.
While it’s important to note that the Ravens passing game is not their strongest suit, it has mightly improved over the past four weeks. Jackson has been very efficient when he needs to be and his consistency with his passes makes breaking off bigger runs easier. Without the passing game clicking, the Ravens cannot run the ball as fluently as they do. More than any other, this change could be the biggest reason for the Baltimore Ravens winning streak.
The Running Game
First 11 games: 3rd in rushing yards, 5th in rushing yards per attempt
Last Four games: 1st in rushing yards, 1st rushing yards per attempt
The running game of the Ravens has been their biggest constant in 2020. They were coming off of a historical season in 2019, in which they broke the single-season rushing record, but came out of the gate a little slow. The Ravens ranked 3rd in rushing yards through 11 games but their running game was mainly dependent on Jackson. Mark Ingram took a big step back from his form a season ago and J.K. Dobbins was not yet gaining consistent yardage with his touches. Gus Edwards featured as the short-down back and was the team’s most effective runner, game-in and game-out.
Over the past four weeks, Ingram has featured less and less in the Ravens offense. He saw just 16 touches from Week 11 to 14 and has been a healthy scratch each of the last two weeks.
Now without Ingram in the mix, Dobbins and Edwards have both found their strides. Dobbins touches are up to 13.4 a game since Week 11 and he now has touchdowns in five straight games. He was averaging eight touches a game from Week 1 to 10 and had just two touchdowns through nine weeks. Edwards’s average yards per carry have skyrocketed from 4.1 over the first 10 weeks to 7.29 over the past four. His yards after contact have jumped from 18.6 to 43.7 over that same time frame.
Jackson still remains the teams leading rusher over the past four weeks with 331 rushing yards, but the duo of Dobbins and Edwards is complimenting the run game far better than the Ravens three-man rotation from Weeks 1 to 11. Over the past four weeks, Dobbins and Edwards have combined for 542 rushing yards. If this keeps up, the Baltimore Ravens winning streak should continue well into the postseason.
The Rushing Defense
First 11 games: 12th in rushing defense, 12th in rushing yards per attempt
Last four games: 5th in rushing defense, 5th in rushing yards per attempt
Baltimore’s defensive line has been in flux all year. If one player isn’t injured, then it is another. Since the acquisition of Yannick Ngakoue back in October, the Ravens top-5 defensive lineman – consisting of Ngakoue, Matt Judon, Calais Campbell, Derek Wolfe, and Brandon Williams – have only played four of the last nine games together. They have not yet played back-to-back games when each of the five has been healthy. Last Sunday’s game against the Giants was maybe their best as a unit all season. In that game against the Giants, the Ravens defensive line recorded six sacks and held the Giants to just 54 yards rushing.
For the Ravens defensive line to have success in the run game, they simply all need to play. Baltimore currently ranks ninth in overall run defense — giving up 106.2 yards per game. In the four games where the Ravens defensive line has been healthy, they have held their opponents to just 88 rushing yards per game.
The next step for the group is improving in the passing game. Baltimore’s pass rush is still the biggest weak spot on the team. Through 15 games this season, Baltimore currently ranks 11th in sacks, fourth in quarterback knockdown percentage, but rank just 15th in pressure percentage. However, they have 11 sacks over the past two weeks. Winning one-on-one at the line of scrimmage has been a problem for a while in Baltimore and having one of Ngakoue or Judon step up at the most crucial time of year could be paramount to a successful playoff run. The Ravens have 11 players with 2.0 or more sacks in 2020 but just one – Judon – with over 5.0.
The Pass Defense
First 11 games: Ninth in passing defense, 11th passer rating against
Last four games: 25th in passing defense, 16th passer rating against
The secondary of the Ravens was supposed to be a strength of the Ravens in 2020. Now with all of the injuries suffered throughout the season, it has become one of the more inconsistent position groups on the team. That has not waivered during Baltimore’s winning streak either. The Ravens gave up the second and third most passing yards, respectively, in a single game to the Dallas Cowboys Week 13 and Browns Week 14.
Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters still remain one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL but they have not played up to the mark they set in 2019. Both are allowing more yards per target, a higher completion percentage when targetted, and a higher passer rating when targetted in 2020 than they were in 2019. Jimmy Smith has perhaps been the biggest surprise on the Ravens in 2020. He is no longer the shutdown corner he was in his prime, but he has played incredibly well in a smaller role. Smith currently ranks first in the NFL amongst qualifying players in yards per target (3.3) and is 10th in passer rating allowed when targetted (57.4).
While the Baltimore secondary is not shy when it comes to forcing turnovers, they only rank 14th in the NFL in takeaways. This is despite having three players in the top-four in forced fumbles. Humphrey leads the league with eight, Ngakoue is tied for second with six, and Peters is tied with eight other players for fourth with four. Baltimore has forced 25 fumbles, eight more than any other team, but has recovered just 12. They also rank tied for 28th in interceptions with eight . Couple these factors and you have a defense punching far below its weight.
The Ravens secondary needs to step up in Baltimore’s final regular-season game and, if they win, then also into the playoffs. They are not void of talent and need to do more when they are (relatively) healthy.
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