A national television audience Nov. 25 saw what Ravens fans have seen weekly during the past three months: Lamar Jackson is in the midst of a magical season.
Jackson threw five touchdown passes and ran eight times for 95 yards as the Ravens (9-2) routed the Los Angeles Rams, 45-6, for their seventh straight win, equaling the longest regular-season winning streak in franchise history.
Jackson, who finished 15-for-20 for 169 yards before giving way to Robert Griffin III in the fourth quarter, became the first player in the 50-year history of “Monday Night Football” to throw five touchdown passes in his MNF debut.
Jackson was essentially perfect in the first half, going 9-for-9 with three touchdowns passes and directing the Ravens to touchdowns on all four first-half possessions for a 28-6 halftime edge. As Jackson led the Ravens down the field on a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half, it was clear that the Rams (6-5), playing at home and for their playoff lives, had no answers.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, which improves the Ravens to 5-1 on the road this season:
1. This offense has so many ways to attack.
The Rams had to figure that the Ravens tight end trio of Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle — the most productive in the league — would be a central part of the Ravens’ game plan. So what did Lamar Jackson do? He completed seven of his nine passes in the first half to wide receivers, including three for touchdowns.
With Andrews going in motion in one direction and drawing top cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Jackson looked off Andrews and found a wide-open Brown streaking the other way for a 6-yard touchdown and the game’s first score. He later hit Brown for a 14-0 lead and then fired a 7-yard strike to Willie Snead for a 28-6 lead just before the first half ended.
The Rams quickly learned quickly what other teams have seen recently: This Ravens’ offense has multiple ways to beat you.
Take away the tight ends, and Jackson will find the receivers. Stretch the field to account for the receivers, and Jackson will find his tight end underneath. Crash inside to defend the power run game, and Jackson will pop it outside. Guard against the edge, and Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards will run the ball down your throat.
As long as Jackson and the Ravens play error-free ball — Jackson is up to 150 straight passes without an interception and hasn’t lost a fumble all season — this offense is very hard to defend.
2. The Ravens totally neutralized Aaron Donald.
Much was made over whether the Ravens would be able to run against a Rams defensive front led by reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. The Rams entered the game ranked No. 5 in the league against the run, allowing 89.1 rushing yards a game.
The Ravens topped that in the first quarter.
The Ravens ran roughshod over the Rams, totaling a season-high 285 yards on 48 carries. Take away three late kneeldowns by backup quarterback Robert Griffin III, and the Ravens averaged 6.4 yards on their other 45 carries. That’s stunning production against a defensive front anchored by Donald.
Donald entered the game with eight sacks, 16 quarterback hits and a league-high 16 tackles for loss and finished with one tackle. Give Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris credit for schemes to neutralize Donald, and give credit to the players for executing double-teams and consistently winning the battles at the point of attack.
Give credit too, to undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari, who had to step in for injured center Matt Skura, who was carted off the field early with what appeared to be a significant leg injury.
3. History is being made with this running game.
Jackson is rightfully drawing the headlines, but the Ravens are accomplishing something with this running game that has not been done since, well, ever.
Since the NFL moved to a 16-game season in 1978, no team has averaged more than 200 rushing yards a game. The league rules have skewed heavily toward the passing game, with the running game became something of a necessary afterthought. Not in Baltimore this year.
After gashing the Rams for 285 rushing yards, a week after piling up 263 against the Houston Texans, the Ravens are averaging 211.1 rushing yards a game, and they are daring teams to try to stop them.
Take this sequence in the first quarter: On third-and-12, Mark Ingram ran for 11, to the Rams 23-yard line, setting up fourth-and-1. Sure, they could have sent out the league’s most accurate kicker, but instead, they didn’t hesitate for a second, keeping Jackson and the offense on the field and he ran left for 5 yards and a first down. On the next play, with the Rams surely thinking first-down run, Jackson threaded an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brown.
Jackson is well on his way to breaking Michael Vick’s single-season NFL record for rushing yardage by a quarterback, and both Jackson and Ingram are on pace to top 1,000 yards rushing.
Led by Jackson, and schemed by offensive coordinator Greg Roman, this running game is unlike any the league has ever seen.
4. The Ravens’ defense looks faster each week.
When Jackson wasn’t putting on a show for a national television audience, the Ravens’ defense was frustrating the Rams at every turn. Rams quarterback Jared Goff finished 26-for-37 for 212 yards, with much of that coming in garbage time.
When the game was in the balance, the Ravens were swarming, often forcing Goff into quick throws off target and stifling the Rams’ running game completely. The Rams finished with 22 rushing yards on nine carries and rushed only once in the second half as they played from a deep deficit.
Matthew Judon had a strip sack, and if Chuck Clark didn’t whiff on scooping up the fumble, the score might have even been more lopsided. Marcus Peters had an interception against his former team, and Jimmy Smith had an interception and a sack — just the second of his career.
In addition, rookie linebacker Jaylon Ferguson’s impact continues to grow. He recorded a career-high five tackles one week after he registered his first career sack.
5. The Ravens keep the pressure on New England for AFC supremacy.
The Ravens haven’t wrapped up anything yet, as head coach John Harbaugh is quick to point out. The Ravens’ first goal is the AFC North title, but this win keeps their lead at three over the pesky Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) with five games to play.
But with the Ravens running through this gauntlet — going 4-0 with wins over playoff hopefuls Seattle, New England, Houston and the Rams by a combined 153-49 — they continue to keep the pressure on the Patriots (10-1). The Patriots remain one game ahead in the race for the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker based on their 37-20 win against New England three weeks ago.
The Ravens face yet another stiff test next week when the San Francisco 49ers (10-1) visit M&T Bank Stadium, while New England visits Houston and still has Kansas City on the schedule. The Patriots surely do not want to have to make a return trip to Baltimore in the playoffs to face the Ravens. As the Patriots have seen, and as the Rams learned Nov. 25, no team in the NFL is playing better right now.
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