For the second time in three weeks, hype is building around the Baltimore Ravens going into another must-see matchup, this time against the 6-3 Houston Texans.
This game not only has important playoff implications as the end of the regular season slowly approaches, but features a matchup that could be described as the future of the NFL: Lamar Jackson vs. Deshaun Watson.
The two will face off at 1 p.m. Nov 17, and CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle will be on the call.
“There’s a lot of buildup for this and rightfully so. This is real,” Eagle said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 13. “There is anticipation and it’s worthy of it because you’re talking about two legitimate MVP candidates and this next wave of NFL quarterbacks. … These two guys are worthy of all the praise that’s been heaped upon them.”
It’s not only fun for those watching the game, but Eagle himself, who said Watson and Jackson have done things that “you just haven’t seen before” in the NFL. During prior pregame production meetings with Watson and Jackson, Eagle could sense that each had the poise and potential to be successful in the NFL.
“Deshaun Watson, he’s not loud, he’s not boisterous, he’s not a braggart, but there’s a presence when he walked into the room, you could feel that command that he had and that confidence, that quiet confidence,” Eagle said.
“Flip the script with Lamar, what has struck me about him is he’s not trying to be anyone else,” Eagle added. “… He is just ultra-confident in his skin of who he is and what he does. This is who he’s always been. Just because the level of play has changed, he hasn’t changed.”
Playmaking quarterbacks like Jackson and Watson help Eagle stay ready to call a play that he and everyone else sees for the first time.
“When you get players like this, the unpredictable nature of it keeps you on your toes,” Eagle said. “What would normally be a quarterback just absorbing a sack or accepting that he’s going to have to run out of bounds or nobody’s open so toss it away, in this game, you can’t project that. You have to be completely on the money all the time.”
Jackson’s time in the spotlight has only grown this year, as the Ravens sit at 7-2 with the second-best record in the AFC. He has put together a breakout season, completing 65.9 percent of his passes for 2,036 yards and 15 touchdowns with a 101.7 passer rating so far. He’s also run for 702 yards and six touchdowns.
His Houdini-like touchdown run, as CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan called it, against the Cincinnati Bengals Nov. 10 made the mystique surrounding him grow even more.
However, Watson has put together some highlight-reel moments of his own. Watson is having a better season through the air, completing 70.2 percent of his passes for 2,432 yards and 18 touchdowns and a 107.1 passer rating. He’s on pace to set new career highs in all four categories.
“If you put together a highlight reel of Deshaun Watson’s plays from just this year, you would have a piece of tape that would blow you away,” Eagle said. “This is what he brings to the field.”
The quarterbacks might be the main storyline for this game, but there are 52 other players on each roster. Baltimore’s success this season, for example, hasn’t come solely from the play of Jackson, but a 53-man roster that has played well as a team and has surprised some observers.
“Meeting with them earlier this season, I never got the sense that it was a matter of just sitting back and watching Lamar go do his thing,” Eagle said. “Everybody feels like they’re part of it.”
One of those other players in particular is running back Mark Ingram, whom Eagle said was one of the best fits he’s ever seen for a team. Ingram has run for 619 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
“I’m not sure that there was anybody in the NFL that I could’ve hand-picked from another team and said, ‘You know what? This guy belongs on the Ravens,'” Eagle said. “He’s a Raven. He just fits the way they play, their mentality, image, culture and he was a great Saint. Mark Ingram had an excellent career with the New Orleans Saints. He fits better in Baltimore.”
The same has translated into the defense, which doesn’t carry the Hall of Fame names of years past. This is a completely new Ravens defense, but like Ingram and the running game, it has worked.
From under-the-radar midseason signings like L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes to major trade deadline acquisitions like Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters, the Ravens have made improvements to the defense since a 40-25 defeat to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
“When you think of the Ravens, you automatically thought of the great names and the Hall of Famers that littered that defense,” Eagle said. “That’s not what it is. It’s a collective group. It’s very workmanlike. They problem-solve. They deal with injuries. They sign up veterans. They plug them in and it’s working.”
Riding the coattails of Jackson, the Ravens have flipped the image of the team from a defensive squad to that of an offensive juggernaut — and have remained competitive in doing so.
“It’s really hard to do what they’ve done. It’s hard to maintain in this league,” Eagle said. “The Baltimore Ravens would be the team I would put in that upper tier of franchises that have remained stable and even though there are dips, but they, every single season, seem to put out a competitive product and they find a way.”
Sights are set on Miami in February, but for most of the NFL, all eyes will be focused on M&T Bank Stadium at 1 p.m. Nov. 17. Eagle is as excited as anyone.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Eagle said. “Gonna soak it all in this weekend in the Charm City.”
To hear more from Eagle, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox