On Nov. 26, 2021, the Ravens were 7-3, leading the AFC North and two days away from what would be the final win of their season, blissfully unaware of the misfortune that was about to befall them. A year later, the team is on its toes.
“Anyone can get complacent when you have a lot of success,” quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed the final month of last season with an ankle injury, said Friday. “So we just have to keep everyone balanced here, including myself.”
With the Ravens (7-3) looking to get back into shape for a possible playoff run, Sunday’s road game against the talented but inconsistent Jaguars might be their toughest test in quite some time. A fifth consecutive victory will not come easily; Jacksonville is the only NFL team with a positive point differential (plus-11) but a losing record (3-7). Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 12 game.
1. Jackson never played in Jacksonville as a Raven, but he capped off his Louisville career in December 2017 at the Jaguars’ EverBank Field, now known as TIAA Bank Field.
It wasn’t the happy ending he wanted. In a TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Mississippi State, Jackson threw four interceptions, nearly matching his regular season total (six). Jackson also broke his own single-season school records for rushing yards and scrimmage yards and became the third player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with at least 50 touchdown passes and 50 touchdown points, joining Florida’s Tim Tebow and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.
Six days later, Jackson announced he would be entering the NFL Draft.
2. The Jaguars rank fifth in the NFL in pressure rate (36.0%) but 30th in sack rate (4.3%), according to TruMedia. Outside linebacker Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in 2019, has a team-high 37 pressures (tied for 18th in the NFL) but just three sacks. Outside linebacker Travon Walker, the first overall pick this year, has 24 pressures but also just three sacks. Defensive end Dawuane Smoot leads the team with six sacks on 21 pressures.
“The defensive seven from the front is simply exceptional; they’re very physical,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very physical football game, a bit like the last game. We’re going to have to play our best to get out there and win.
It starts with Jackson. He’s completed 44.6% of his passes under pressure this season, according to TruMedia, 27th among 34 qualified quarterbacks. He never completed less than 51.5% of his passes when pressured in his first three years as a full-time starter. Jackson also averages minus-0.45 expected points added per recoil under pressure, which ranks him 25th in the NFL and would be another career low. (The EPA considers situational factors such as ground, distance, and position in the field.)
3. In the first nine weeks of the season, Ravens receivers gave up 11 of Jackson’s 244 passes, a 4.5 percent drop rate that ranked 16th in the NFL, according to TruMedia.
In Sunday’s win over Carolina, they gave up five of Jackson’s 33 shots, a 15.2% give up rate that was the highest of any team in Week 11. Jackson still finished with a season-high completion percentage (.727) after going 24-for-33 in freezing weather. Sunday’s game is expected to be in the 70s, with a risk of thunderstorms.
4. Ravens coaches compared Jacksonville running back Travis Etienne to New Orleans Saints star Alvin Kamara, but faster — and not necessarily because he’s a dangerous receiver (9.1 yards per catch, second highest among running backs).
“The way he hits the hole, his acceleration, he has different equipment, right away, it’s unique,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said Wednesday. “He’s a tough tackle, he’s got great contact balance. … He really has that kind of balance where he’s just a tough tackle, but that acceleration is so unique. He’s got pretty good vision. He’s a versatile fullback, he’s special.
Etienne has 725 yards rushing (12th in the NFL) and averaging 5.5 yards per carry (eighth) this season, but he deals most of his damage on perimeter runs. The No. 25 overall pick in the 2021 draft has 520 yards (5.7 per carry) on off-plate and outside runs, according to Sports Info Solutions. Zone races were particularly productive.
Etienne could however come up against a brick wall on Sunday. Since adding outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and inside linebacker Roquan Smith to their defense in Week 9, the Ravens have allowed just 35 yards on 18 carries off the plate and outside.
5. With Ravens rookie safety and top nickel back Kyle Hamilton (knee) questionable for Sunday’s game after missing practice week, the positional versatility of cornerback Marlon Humphrey could take on outsized importance.
Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s main target is receiver Christian Kirk, who lines up in the slot on more than two-thirds of his snaps. Of Kirk’s 679 receiving yards this season, 480 have been inside, third most in the NFL, according to TruMedia. “He can go any road, honestly,” safety Chuck Clark said Wednesday. “They give him the ball all sorts of ways, whether it’s vertical, middle or low.”
While the Ravens rarely have their cornerbacks in the shadow of opposing receivers, Humphrey has often been deployed as a cornerback, where he’s an asset as a blitzer and run defender. He’s also strong in coverage there, allowing just five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets this season, according to SIS. Two of his three interceptions came when they were lined up inside.
6. The effectiveness of the red zone could be decisive. On plays outside the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Jaguars’ offense ranks seventh in the NFL in EPA per play, according to TruMedia. However, finishing records has been their problem, as Jacksonville ranks 24th in the EPA per game in the red zone. Lawrence had 12 touchdowns in the red zone but is 25 for 50 overall with three interceptions. Only Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills has more picks in those tight quarters (four).
The Ravens’ red zone defense, meanwhile, has been unremarkable this season. Opponents have scored a touchdown on 55.9 percent of their drives inside the Ravens’ 20, the 18th-best mark in the NFL.
seven. Tight end Mark Andrews needs 100 receiving yards to break a tie with wide receiver Mark Clayton for the most 100-yard receiving games (nine) in Ravens history.
Campbell, meanwhile, needs two sacks to become the 63rd player in NFL history to reach 100 in a career. He had 31 1/2 sacks in his three years in Jacksonville.
Ravens at Jaguars
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9FM, 101.5FM, 1090AM
Line: Ravens by 4