Previewing Week 3: Ravens at Jaguars (In London!)
The Ravens are once again off to a fast start after a convincing 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday. The defense has been highly impressive through 2 games, allowing as many points scored (10) as they have forced takeaways. While it is unlikely they will be able to keep up this pace of 5 turnovers per game, it is clear that this defense is extremely talented and will capitalize on opponent’s mistakes. The Ravens will now travel to London to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) in a “road” game. The Jaguars defense got off to a fast start in a week 1 drubbing of the Houston Texans in which they notched an incredible 10 sacks, however, they came back to earth this past week as the Tennessee Titans were able to limit the Jaguars offense and punish them with a potent rushing attack. The Ravens will look to follow the same approach by stopping rookie RB Leonard Fournette while controlling time of possession and game-flow by running the ball against a vulnerable Jaguars defense.
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The Jaguars starting QB is a fellow named Blake Bortles. For those of you who may not have been paying attention in the preseason, there was an actual QB controversy in Jacksonville about whether Bortles or Chad Henne should be the team’s starter. Bortles managed to win the job, but there is a strong argument to be made that he is one of the 5 worst starting QBs in the NFL. The Ravens have faced Blake Bortles three times in his young career and have held him to 56% accuracy, 4 TDs to 5 INTs, an average of 4.93 YPA and have sacked him 15 times in those three meetings. Only the Texans and Titans, both teams in the Jaguars division, have sacked Bortles more times in his career. To make matters worse for the Jaguars, they will also be playing without star WR Allen Robinson who tore his ACL in week 1. Therefore, it seems pretty obvious that the Jags will be leaning heavily on their rushing attack led by rookie RB Fournette. Fortunately for the Ravens, this plays to the defense’s strengths. DTs Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce are among the best run-stuffers in the NFL, and the Jaguars don’t really have the personnel to threaten the Ravens with a spread offense that could force the Ravens big run defenders off the field. The Jaguars offensive line, while improved from recent years, is still not a great unit that is capable of pushing around opposing defensive fronts. If the Ravens can shut down the Jaguars running game and force Blake Bortles to drop back and pass the ball 35-40 it is going to be a long day for the Jags offense. While I wouldn’t expect the Ravens to notch 5+ more takeaways for a 3rd week in a row, it is not exactly outside the realm of possibility.
While the Ravens defense may be facing a favorable match-up against the Jaguars, the Ravens offense may have some issues going up against a very talented Jaguars defense. I mentioned in the intro that the Ravens will need to control the tempo of the game with a rushing attack, and the Ravens ground game may be the only small advantage the Ravens will have in this one. Unlike Cleveland, whose LBs struggled to keep up with the Ravens TEs and RBs in the short passing game, the Jaguars have two of the most dynamic coverage backers in the NFL in Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. Where the Jaguars struggle is in stopping the run. They don’t have the big bodies up front to stifle the running game and it showed last week as the Titans gashed them for 5 yards per carry. Even the hapless Texans offense was able to rush for 4 yards per attempt in week 1. From the Ravens perspective, the hardest thing will be somehow trying to make up for the loss of stalwart OG Marshal Yanda. Tony Bergstrom, who replaced Yanda this past Sunday will likely be first man up, and hopefully a week of practice will help get him up to speed as he looked lost at times in the Ravens rushing schemes. I would expect a lot of 2 TE packages for the Ravens as Ben Watson and Nick Boyle have both acquitted themselves well as blockers in the running game, while the Ravens WRs have not impressed. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens utilize their 3 RBs against the Jaguars as Terrance West is dealing with an injury and both Buck Allen and Alex Collins had some impressive runs against the Browns. Collins may have the most upside of all 3, but a history of fumbling capped off by a costly fumble the is past Sunday may limit the number of touches he sees.
When Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense does drop back to pass, they are going to need to use some creativity to get receivers open against Jaguars CBs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye and their talented LBs. Ramsey is quickly turning into one of the top cover CBs in the NFL and Bouye was just rewarded with a big time contract in free agency after a breakout season with the Texans. To make matters even worse for the Ravens, the Jaguars possess one of the elite pass-rushing DLs in the NFL led by former Arizona Cardinal DE Calais Campbell and a pair of young edge rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and former University of Maryland standout Yannick Ngakoue. This is another spot where the Ravens will miss the pass-protection provided by Yanda, making an already difficult task even more daunting. To combat the Jaguars aggressive front 4, they will need to use some trickery, misdirection and play-action to try to buy the OL some time. However, Flacco may not be able to get away with the same amount of roll outs and boot action that were highly effective vs the Browns against the faster and more athletic Jaguars front 7.
On paper, the Ravens are a better team than the Jaguars, but heading across the Atlantic Ocean to London throws a new wrinkle into this week’s game preparation. If the Ravens can stop the run on defense and run the ball efficiently on offense, they should come away victorious, but if a few things don’t go according to plan and they get one or more scores behind, the offense may struggle to put up points. This is also a game where field position will matter, so having Sam Koch and Justin Tucker are significant boons for the Ravens and a short field from a turnover or two could also be game changing. Barring any strangeness stemming from playing in London, I expect another low scoring game in which the Ravens defense carries the day. In the end, I think the Ravens offense will be able to convert good field position into a TD or two leading to a 20-6 victory.