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12/30/18 Browns vs. Ravens Pregame

On November 5th the Ravens walked off the field having lost to the Steelers by a score of 23 to 16. It was their 3rd straight loss and their 4th loss in five games. What originally looked like a promising season was slowly going down the tubes as the Ravens record fell to 4 wins/5 losses. Going into the bye week most fans thought the Ravens season was all but over – and I readily admit was one of them. The Steelers and the Bengals were looking good, and the Steelers were sitting at the top of the AFC North with what looked like a run to another eleven-game season. But the fortunes changed and the Steelers had an uncharacteristic three game slide and the Ravens came out of the bye playing great defense and ball control offense. It is hard to imagine that the Ravens are playing this Sunday – not for a wild card spot – but for the AFC North title. With a Ravens win or a Steelers loss the Ravens will punch their tickets to the playoffs. An AFC North title would be nice as we haven’t had one of those since our 2012 Superbowl run.

A word about the Ravens defense and how important they have been this year. First, through 15 weeks the Ravens are first in yards allowed (284), first in points allowed (17.5), third against the rush and 4 against the pass. They have given up over 30 points in a game just once this year. They have achieved all of this while facing seven teams that had top ten offenses – that is nothing short of amazing. Coach Wink has done a great job this year and he has produced these results with basically the same personnel that we had last year. In 2017 the Ravens defense was ranked twelfth in the league and also had the benefit of facing a slew of second-string quarterbacks. Somehow the Ravens defense have taken their game to the next level, and this past Sunday they showed in dramatic fashion that they can close out games as well. If the Ravens defense plays like it did in LA, the Browns will have a very difficult time producing any offense.

The Ravens offense has also gone through a makeover this season. With Joe Flacco – in the first nine games of the season the Ravens had the 27th ranked running game – today they boast the 2nd ranked running game averaging 145 yards per game. Moving that much up in the rankings (25 positions) in just six games is extraordinary. To be fair there has been a corresponding drop in our passing game but overall offensive productivity has not suffered in the least. The time of possession has been leaning heavily for the Ravens under this run heavy offense and this has kept the Ravens defense off the field and fresh for the fourth quarter.

The mantra this week has been “win and you’re in”. The Ravens are in full control of their destiny and all they need to do is to dispatch the Browns and they go to the playoffs. That said, we have heard this before. Last year in game sixteen with the Bengals – all we needed to do was take care of them and we were in the playoffs. With forty-four seconds remaining in the game, the Bengals go for it on 4th and twelve yards – and Dalton hits Tyler Boyd with a pass that goes forty-nine yards for a game winning score. Season over! That bitter taste is still in my mouth and I hope in the Ravens locker room. Giving up leads late in the game has been a problem at times, but I believe this year will be different. The Ravens will not be taking anything for granted on Sunday and I expect them to be prepared for the Browns.

If you told the Ravens back in September that they would be playing for the AFC North Championship in game sixteen against the Browns – they would have been licking their chops. The hapless Browns were winless in 2017 and barely won a game in 2016. They were awful and there was little hope of them improving. Turn the page to 2018, the Browns started out the year looking like the Browns – poor play and by week nine they were two wins, six losses and one tie. Pretty much the same old Browns, but that is not at all the case now. The Browns have won five of six and have been every bit as hot as the Ravens – there only loss coming from the Texans on the road. Since firing Hue Jackson in October, the Browns have gone five wins and two losses under Gregg Williams. With a win on Sunday the Browns could have their first winning season since the late 1800s. You have to believe that the Browns would love nothing more than to be the spoiler on Sunday and to rain on the Ravens parade. Baker Mayfield has done an exceptional job since taking over the QB role for the Browns, and he led them to victory in his first contest against the Ravens racking up 342 passing yards in that game. If the Browns were to win Sunday and sweep the division series I firmly believe there would be a tremor in the Cosmos. Much to my chagrin, the Browns are playing for something this Sunday. It is also worth noting that Breshad Perriman, now a Brown, would love to show the Ravens that they made a huge mistake giving up on him. Don’t go to sleep on Perriman either because he does have great speed and he apparently has discovered that his hands have fingers. Baker will definitely be looking to get Perriman involved early in the game. Typically, you don’t see a lot of Brown fans in Baltimore, but I think you will see them on Sunday as these fans still hold a grudge for Baltimore and would love to see their team spoil the Ravens season and enjoy some good old fashion schadenfreude.

There should be no surprises on Sunday. The Ravens are going to try and pound the ball up the middle and move the chains. They will throw enough to keep the Browns from shoving eight in the box, but I would be surprised if Lamar threw more than twenty-five times. The Ravens defense love the home field crowd and they will play aggressive. I just hope that the defense does not play over amped and get out of position. Mayfield should see lots of pressures and if the defense does it the right, they should get plenty of hits on him. Weddle has been noted as saying that this is not your same old Ravens – I think he is right about that. I think this team is better, more confident and focused on the prize. We will find out soon enough on Sunday. Ravens are hungry for the post season and they have it in front of them. They just need to play their game and keep winning the line of scrimmage. If the Ravens don’t turn the ball over, I don’t see how they lose this game. Three years of not being in the playoffs is too long for this team and they are ready to play some football in January. This game figures to be a tough contest and a grind it out kind of game, but the Ravens prevail and win this one to take the division. The odds makers have the Ravens by 6 points and I would go with a push as noted by my prediction below. The over/under is set at 41 and I like the over. Enjoy the game and stay thirsty my friends.

Please note: I will be traveling this weekend and will not see the game so there will be no recap for the Browns game.

Cleveland Browns hosted by the Baltimore Ravens – December 30th at 4:25 pm
Odds – Ravens by 6

Game Predictions
Score       Ravens 26       Browns 20
Turnovers       Plus 1
Net Rushing Yardage       Ravens 170       Browns 101
Net Passing Yardage        Ravens 222       Browns 216

Miscellaneous Predictions
• Chubb gets 21 carries for 83 yards
• Suggs gets a strip sack
• Harbaugh challenges twice and wins both
• Refs make terrible calls

Possible Monday morning headlines in the Sun Papers
• Ravens win the AFC North!

Keys to the Game
• Win win win the turnover battle
• Pressure Mayfield and force some mistakes
• Stop the Run and make them one dimensional

Ravens/Chargers Post Game Recap

If you had told me that Lamar Jackson was going to outplay Rivers in this game, I would have said you were nuts. The Ravens defense played an absolute incredible game and they played with an intensity like I have not seen in a long time. They were physical, relentless, and I didn’t see any players taking plays off. They frustrated Rivers to the point that he was having nervous breakdowns on the field. Somehow the Ravens found a way to snatch two interceptions against one of the best QBs in the game. It was pretty amazing how few times Rivers threw deep against the defense – and in large part to the aggressive play of our front four and great downfield coverage. You have to give the Chargers defense a lot of credit too as they very much had a bend but don’t break approach to the game. They were really tough in the red zone and the Ravens struggled to get into the end zone. Going into LA and beating the Chargers on their home turf is a big statement to the league that the Ravens are not going away. Other thoughts on the game are below:

• Ravens defer to start the game on defense and on the first play from scrimmage Brandon Carr makes an interception on Rivers on a deep pass – and it set the tone for the game
• Gus Edwards first run of the game gains 43 yards which by the way is the longest running play of the season for the Ravens
• Ravens settling for three points on their opening drives was a disappointment given they had 1st and goal from the 8-yard line and is something the team will have to work on
• Lamar’s muffed handoffs to the RBs on the run option seems to happen at least once a game and in this case it stymied a drive that was showing such promise
• Tucker’s miss at 53 was uncharacteristically way off and was not even close. Later the tape showed that he slipped on the plant foot.
• Coach Wink called a masterful game and kept Rivers off balance throughout the evening
• The offensive pass interference call on Williams was a horrible call and one that I very much enjoyed seeing called
• In the first quarter the Chargers first 3 possessions did not garner a single first down
• Would like to have seen Crab hold on to that ball that Lamar put on him for that first TD attempt
• Ravens going for it on 4th down was gutsy but ill-advised in my opinion – in a game that looked to be close I would have liked the three points. Lamar’s throw to Crab on that 4th down was not even in the same zip code as Crab and he never had a chance to make a play on the ball
• On third and twelve Dixon runs between the tackles for a first down – that was a key play to keep their drive moving and moving the chains
• Michael Pierce was impressive in the middle and clogged up front which limited the Chargers run game. Gordon was held to 42 yards on the night
• Refs did not manage the game well and there seemed to be several extended delays which was frustrating for the fans and those watching the game
• The best weapon the Chargers had in the 2nd quarter was Tony Jefferson who got called for back to back penalties costing us 30 yards. Those penalties gave the Chargers 3 points at the end of the half. That said, Jefferson was an absolute monster in the second half and delivered several big plays – including blowing up Keenan Allen
• I would like to see Crab work on his grip strength – too many balls get knocked out of his hands for my liking
• Tucker’s kick of 65 yards didn’t miss by much and it is nice knowing that you have a kicker on your sideline that can even try one of those
• Holding the Chargers to just 72 total yards in the first half was pretty special and to hold Rivers to only 57 passing yards in the half was a surprise to be sure
• Dixon on the first play from scrimmage of the second half coughs up the ball giving it to them on the 16-yard line. The next play Rivers hands off to Gordon for a 14-yard run and then 2 plays later a touchdown. I am pretty sure that was not what Harbaugh was asking them to do when they took the field in the second half.
• Ravens secondary must have played blanket coverage because even when Rivers did have time he was not throwing much downfield
• Chris Moore befuddles me on his returns sometimes when instead of running forward he runs the length of the field from side to side and then gains 3 yards
• The 68-yard pass to Mark Andrews was perfectly thrown and Andrews gives a beautiful stiff arm to the safety and then outruns the remaining defender. I know Andrews is not a speedster, but in all the years that I watch Pitta – I never saw him have a play like that
• The first 30 minutes of the game they grind out 9 total points. The first two and half minutes of the second half they get 14-points – go figure
• On Brent Urban’s sack he literally picked up Gordon and pushed him back all the way to Rivers and then swallowed him up
• Sometimes Lamar is aiming the ball instead of throwing it and when he does that it is typically an incompletion
• Peanut had a big game with two sacks and also helped punch the ball out of Gates hands for the fumble and Tavon Young scoop for six points
• The Chargers team are the biggest group of whiners I have ever seen. They complained all game long about the no calls from the refs – and Rivers was the worst of them
• I hesitate to write this but If there was one Achilles heel for the Ravens defense it was the backs coming across the middle uncovered
• Suggs is continuing to have a lot of whiffs on his pass rushes
• The Chargers special team play was really strong and they did an excellent job containing the Ravens in returns and their play to pin the Ravens back on their 1-yard line was brilliant! Then they returned a punt all the way to the 40 giving him a short field to work with
• Tavon Young showed his speed with the fumble return as he ran down the sidelines and Melvin Gordon in hot pursuit didn’t gain an inch on him
• Rivers had a quarterback rating of 51 – just wow
• I thought the Ravens were going to be a top 10 defense this year but I didn’t see it coming that they would sit at the top

Game Predictions                                                                         Game Statistics
Score       Ravens 23       Chargers 27                             Ravens 22       Chargers 10
Turnovers       Minus 2                                        Plus 2
Net Rushing Yardage      Ravens 181     Chargers 94          Ravens 159     Chargers 51
Net Passing Yardage       Ravens 178     Chargers 284         Ravens 202     Chargers 147

Miscellaneous Predictions
• Antonio Gates has 4 receptions for 54 yards and 1 TD              Incorrect, 3 catches for 21 yards and a fumble
• Ravens win the toss and defer 🙁            Correct
• Melvin Gordon gets 114 all-purpose yards             Incorrect, just 54 yards
• Refs make terrible calls               Correct, beginning with a PI call on Williams

Keys to the Game
• Run the ball 40+ times and burn the clock            Correct – 35 times and won time of possession
• Attack Rivers, and get hits on him          Correct – 4 sacks and several quarterback hits
• Protect the rock! Lamar, I talking to you brother          Nope, Lamar and Dixon both fumbled

12/22/18 Chargers vs. Ravens Pregame

Much like in recent years the Ravens find themselves playing a December game that is a “must win” situation or they will go home when the regular season ends. Saturday Night’s game with the Chargers will definitely have a playoff like atmosphere to it. The Chargers are playing for the number one seed in the AFC which, as you might imagine, they would like to have very much. The Ravens are in the hunt for one of the wild card slots and almost certainly have to win against the Chargers and then the Browns to have a chance to get in to the playoffs. The pressure on Coach Harbaugh must be excruciating because he has to understand that his future in Baltimore likely rides on the outcome of this game. This is going to be a tough game for the Ravens and here are some of the reasons:

• Ravens have to travel to the West Coast which has always been a challenge for them in the past
• Chargers got extra rest coming off a Thursday night game, the Ravens had a short week to recover
• Philip Rivers, likely Hall of Fame QB facing a rookie who is still wet behind the ears
• Chargers are arguably the most balanced team in the AFC with a 5th ranked offense and 8th ranked defense
• Chargers play at home with all the advantages that come with that

The Ravens have a very simply formula to win and every single person in the league knows it – run the ball, burn the clock, and get scores at the end of your offensive drives. The Ravens are not built to come from behind if the opponent gets a big lead. They are not a big play offense and I don’t think anyone is expecting Lamar to rack up a lot of yards in the air. And while our running game has been outstanding these past 5 games, Edwards, Jackson and Dixon have earned them mostly at clips of 4, 5 and 6 yards at a time. The Ravens Offense has had very few plays over 20 yards. The Ravens pass protection is not that great and Lamar doesn’t really feel the pressure that is coming to him. He will get better at this but it is understandably going to take some time. The defense is going to have their hands full with Philip Rivers, who is arguably having one of the best years of his career and is in the discussion for most valuable player. Rivers has an impressive group of receivers in Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams – and two excellent tight ends in Green and Gates. Gates has long been a Ravens killer in past games. The Chargers also have an outstanding running back in Melvin Gordon who is a load to bring down with his 6’1” 215-pound frame. He is averaging 5.2 yards per carry this year and is well on his way to another 1,000 seasons. Gordon is also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield and the Chargers are adept dealing with high pressure defenses. The Ravens defense is not going to shut down Rivers, they just have to keep the game in front of them to keep him from running up a big score. If the Ravens front four play like they did last week – we have no chance of winning this game. Suggs and Judon had better show up big, because Rivers is outstanding in the pocket and he can beat you no matter how good you think your secondary might be. It will be interesting to see how special teams plays into the outcome of this game.

The last time the Ravens played the Chargers out West they had the famous 4th and 29 conversion where Flacco threw to Ray Rice on a check down and Rice scrambled for 30 yards and a first down. On that same play Anquan Bolden blocked Eric Weddle on a blind side hit that helped Rice get the needed yardage. Weddle has not been the same player since that hit. To win this Saturday the Ravens are going to need that same kind of magic to win. The Ravens have their biggest challenge of the year with this game and they have a lot of things stacked against them. That said, running games and good defense travel well and they will need that to win this one. If the Chargers are able to stop the Ravens running game then this is going to be a very long game for the Ravens. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens get behind if Harbaugh puts Flacco in to try to get back into it. I am going to guess that they will do whatever they need to do in order to win – which includes Lamar running 20+ times, Flacco coming in, going for it on 4th down, and possibly fake punts and kicks. This is do or die time once again for the Ravens and they know it. I expect this to be a hard-fought game and likely a single possession game in the 4th quarter. The overwhelming bet this Saturday is on the Chargers and that is where I am landing as well. To me the big difference in these teams can be described with games they played against the Chiefs in Arrowhead. The Ravens had the lead with just a few minutes left in the game and could not stop the Chiefs from scoring even when the Chiefs were facing 4th and 12 to keep their drive alive. The Ravens could not get the job done. The Chargers on the other hand played KC on the road and were down by 14 points with just 8 minutes left in the game. They converted on two successful drives that both ended with TDs, the second TD with just a few seconds on the clock. Then in a bold move the Chargers went for the two-point conversion to win the game, and Rivers in clutch fashion hits his receiver for the two-points and the win. That is the big difference for me, the Chargers can close out the game and the Ravens just seem to come up a little bit short. I have been wrong in my predictions a lot this year and I hope that this game is no exception. The odds makers have the Chargers by 4 ½ points and I don’t think they will cover. The over/under is set at 44 and I like the over here. Enjoy the game and stay thirsty my friends.

Los Angeles Chargers hosting the Baltimore Ravens – December 22nd at 8:20 pm
Odds – Chargers by 4½

Game Predictions
Score      Ravens 23      Chargers 27
Turnovers      Minus 2
Net Rushing Yardage      Ravens 181     Chargers 94
Net Passing Yardage       Ravens 178      Chargers 284

Miscellaneous Predictions
• Antonio Gates has 4 receptions for 54 yards and 1 TD
• Ravens win the toss and defer 🙁
• Melvin Gordon gets 114 all-purpose yards
• Refs make terrible calls

Possible Monday morning headlines in the Sun Papers
• Rivers masterful in win over Ravens

Keys to the Game
• Run the ball 40+ times and burn the clock
• Attack Rivers, and get hits on him
• Protect the rock! Lamar, I talking to you brother

Ravens/Bucs Post Game Recap

In the rain and slop the Ravens dominated the game with their pounding ground game. The score should have been more lopsided as two of the Bucs scores came off of Ravens turnovers, but in the end the Ravens defense was too much for the Bucs. Holding the high-flying Bucs offense to just 241 yards is impressive under any circumstances. Other thoughts on the game are below:

• Godwin dropped a ball on the Bucs first series that would have easily put the Bucs within field goal range – and you can’t blame that one on the weather because it was a fresh ball and Winston put it right on his hands
• Ravens had tough sledding on the ground in the first quarter as the Bucs had 8 men in the box to stop the run and force the Ravens to beat them in the air which the Ravens obliged. The remaining quarters were a different story however as they pounded the ball down their throats
• Marlon had an excellent game in pass coverage and was key to the Ravens success today. While his interception was big, it was actually his play on 4th down in the fourth quarter where he broke up the pass to stop the Bucs cold in their tracks – that play was huge!
• Ravens offense looked really sleepy and lethargic in the first quarter, not sure if it was the weather or not but they could not get anything going. Too many 3rd and longs that they could not convert
• One thing I have noticed about Raven receivers is they don’t work hard to get open on extended plays – meaning they don’t keep moving around to get open when Lamar has time
• Lamar needs to see the doctor on this fumbalitis issue that he is stricken with
• The Ravens had trouble containing the Bucs running game at times but they clamped down as the game progressed especially in the 4th quarter
• Brandon Williams tackle to stop on 3rd and short yardage was absolutely amazing and if you watch it closely, he was held on the play
• For the love of God Coach Mornhinweg – please stop the reverse and the end arounds – those plays are literally killing offensive drives
• Late in the second quarter Lamar was rolling out on a 3rd and short and had an easy 1st down on a run, but waited too long to commit and didn’t make it – fortunately they did get the 1st down on 4th and one, but it didn’t need to be that risky
• Congrats to Chris Moore on his 1st TD of the season
• Ravens defense gave up a 3rd and 20 play late in the second quarter that put the Bucs in scoring position and to cap it off Jimmy gets called for a PF to put the Bucs at the 9-yard line. It is an inexcusable mistake on the Ravens defense in that situation
• Nice drive by Lamar at the end of the 1st half and getting the three points to take the lead
• Ravens offense hurt themselves several times today by committing drive killing penalties
• Lamar has vastly improved his approach to the running game by getting out of bounds and taking dives before the defender has time to make contact
• Starting the second half with a five minute 78-yard drive is exactly what the Ravens needed to do and it was executed brilliantly
• In receiving a punt in the 3rd quarter Cyrus Jones had a grand mall seizure during the play and inexplicably touched the bouncing ball which gave the ball back to the Bucs on the 14-yard line. I am still scratching my head on that one
• Ravens front four did not get at Winston today and he had loads of time to throw which only tells you how well the secondary played in coverage
• Ravens offensive line did an outstanding job on the ground game and they helped the Ravens rake up 242 yards. The pass protection was weak and Lamar was under duress when he dropped back to throw. If not for Lamar’s great speed and quickness he would have been sacked a ton
• Bucs had the ball for less than 23 minutes today which is why they had season lows in yardage
• Very disappointing to see the Ravens waste Humphrey’s interception which gave them great field position. The offensive series was so bad they punted on 4th down and 41 yards – being that bad on an offensive series is actually hard to do

Game Predictions                                                                 Game Statistics
Score       Ravens 27      Bucs 23              Ravens 20        Bucs 12
Turnovers       Plus 2                                                                   Minus 1
Net Rushing Yardage                 Ravens 177      Bucs 68                    Ravens 242       Bucs 85
Net Passing Yardage                                Ravens 186        Bucs 243                       Ravens 128       Bucs 156

Miscellaneous Predictions
• Ravens get 2 interceptions                  No, just one today
• Lamar/Edwards/Dixon each have over 65 yards rushing              Sort of Lamar and Edwards did but Dixon came up short
• Judon gets two sacks one of them a strip             Nope, quiet day for the big guy
• Refs make terrible calls           Correct, lots of missed calls

Possible Monday morning headlines in the Sun Papers
• Ravens sit atop the AFC North

Keys to the Game
• Run the ball and burn the clock                   Correct, 37 minutes and 242 yards on the ground
• Pressure Winston and force mistakes                    Nope, not enough pressure today
• Protect the Rock!                      Nope, Ravens lose two today both of them fumbles

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