The Los Angeles Rams are looking to run their three-game winning streak to four against the Baltimore Ravens who are 7.5-point favorites according to DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is right on the bubble with the eighth-seed in the NFC and need a win to keep pace with the red-hot Packers.
Baltimore on the other hand is tied with the Dolphins for the top seed in the AFC. I had the opportunity to interview enemy writer Kyle Phoenix from SB Nation’s Ravens blog Baltimore Beatdown to gain familiarity with the opposition ahead of their Week 14 meeting.
Q - Entering their bye, the Ravens sit perched atop the AFC North at 9-3 and have had some big wins so far this season. Home blowouts over the NFC playoff hopefuls in the Lions and Seahawks stand out to name a couple. However, Baltimore has also struggled to close out bad teams like the Titans and Cardinals while losing bad games to the Steelers and Colts. What do you attribute to the Ravens’ troubles in those games and how confident are you in a deep playoff run from them?
A - I attribute some of their struggles earlier in the season with getting on the same page. Their loss to the Colts was a classic Ravens struggle to close out and they’ve been prone to it over the years.
The loss to the Steelers was simply a choke by the receiving unit dropping seven(!) passes from Jackson. Simple as that.
But, I think part is the Ravens just playing to their competition. They get up for big games and know when a big-name team is coming for them they have to get fired up and they do. But, with lesser-talented teams they don’t bring the same fire, or “lock in” as much. Some players have said as much and they need to do a better job. I think in recent weeks they’ve done so, and maybe this bye week they’ll realize it’s real deal for the rest of the season.
As for my confidence in a deep playoff run, I’m more confident than in seasons past. They just have the horses in the key spots. Their receiving unit is strong. Their pass rush is more than a one-man unit. Their secondary is talented and their linebacker duo is the best in pro football. They also have a top-tier quarterback and they boast the No. 1 rushing offense. Stuff like that gets it done in the playoffs.
Q - Quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to amaze and is playing well after being re-signed to a monster extension in April. What makes Jackson such a vital component to this offense and what strides has he made under first-year OC Todd Monken?
A - Jackson’s ability to scan the field, go through his progressions and navigate the pocket make him a weapon for any offensive coordinator. Then, add on the “Lamar Jackson effect” of slipping out of two pass rushers bearing down on him and throwing a one-footed sidearm touchdown to his No. 4 receiver Nelson Agholor show he’s just mystifying in ways few—if any, others are.
Q - Baltimore has always had a stellar ground game during Jackson’s time with the team. J.K. Dobbins tore his Achilles in the opener and was presumed to be the team’s starter in 2023. Could you discuss how the Ravens have replaced the production of Dobbins since Week 1?
A - The Ravens have replaced Dobbins with a hearty running game headed by Gus Edwards. The Gus Bus is up to 590 yards and ten rushing touchdowns as he’s bullied his way into the end zone time after time. However, Edwards isn’t up to his usual 5.0-or-more yards per carry, which left the door open for the Ravens to need somebody to make more plays. Enter undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who is a speed demon. He has in every game broken off a 20-yard or more rushing play. In his limited usage over the past four weeks, he’s averaged 9.3 yards per carry. His speed and the blocking have been insane, with his yards before contact being 4.9. Mitchell and Edwards are a brilliant blend of speed and power, with Jackson being the ever dominant threat to break loose, too.
Q - Defensively, Baltimore is one of the best in the NFL. Aside from a 16-point fourth quarter collapse against the Browns on November 12, the unit has been spectacular. Were there any weaknesses exposed in that Cleveland game and what changes, if any, have been made defensively since that matchup?
A - The Ravens got out-physicaled. The Browns ran right at them, and they didn’t answer. It was striking to see a Ravens team not be able to match with the physicality of their opponent, but that’s what I and others saw on the field that day. Since then, the Ravens have upped their tenacity and it’s clear they don’t plan to let another team hit them in the mouth unanswered.
Q - The Ravens are 7.5-point underdogs with an O/U of 40 at DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you see the team performing out of their bye and what are Baltimore’s keys to success in Week 14?
A - Ravens teams led by Head Coach John Harbaugh out of a bye week are dominant. This team knows the No. 1 seed is at stake and they’re in their barn. I’m taking the Ravens to win this one but I’m uncertain if they clobber the Rams by more than eight points. Then again, I said that about the Seahawks and Lions and both times Baltimore beat down their NFC foes. So, I guess I’m saying they can do it.
Keys to this one? Don’t turn the damn ball over. Their ball security has been suspect all season. It’s their fatal flaw. And in an expected bad weather game, holding onto the rock is their singular most important focus in my mind.
Keeping Aaron Donald out of the game is the next, as you don’t want any team’s best players to beat you. Force the others to beat you instead. On defense, keeping plays in front of you is important. Force the Rams to drive the entire length of the field and not get the big, explosive plays to gash you.