The hopes of a 16-0 season are gone, dashed in just the third game of the season, but the Baltimore Ravens and fans alike should take away one thing: there is no longer any pressure to be perfect. The team can now play loose and free without worrying about whether a mistake will be the one to end the perfect season or dwell on plays that ended the streak. On a serious note, last week against the Kansas City Chiefs was hard. In every sense of the word, but Ravens were blasted and looked like garbage, sans the first drive of the game and the fourth quarter. On a day where the referees would do the Ravens zero favors, the Ravens extremely sloppy and poor play sealed the deal and allowed the haters to come back out of the woodwork. “See, I told you that Lamar Jackson was just a fake. See, I told you the Ravens only beat the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals. See, they just are not a good team.” If the Ravens want these narratives to stop, they are going to have to come to play against the Cleveland Browns- and that means for all four quarters. The Ravens cannot afford to take a break after one successful drive and wake up when the game feels out of reach. The Ravens will have a spotlight on them this week and it will be up to the team to show the NFL that the Ravens ARE for real and that while bad weeks happen, the Ravens will not be put down for long. With all of that said, let us take a look at the narratives that will help guide the Baltimore Ravens to victory this Sunday: Can Lamar Jackson Bounce Back?: Against the Miami Dolphins, Lamar Jackson was amazing with his arm. Against the Arizona Cardinals, Lamar Jackson was good enough with his arm, but amazing with his legs. Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Lamar was extremely bad with his arm for three quarters and did not make enough happen with his legs overall. Even in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs game, Lamar caught a couple lucky breaks that make his final stat line prettier than it was (plot twist: it was not that pretty to end with, anyway.) On the opening drive of the day, it appeared that Jackson might have been feeling his nerves a little bit as a passer. After all, it was the Chiefs home opener and Arrowhead Stadium is known to be a difficult environment to play in. Jackson completed just 3/7 passes for 31 yards, but contributed 25 yards on the ground as the Ravens would go on to score a touchdown. It would turn out to be Jackson’s only drive of the first quarter, due to milking the clock for over six minutes, but things would not get easier as a passer. In the second quarter, Jackson completed just 5/12 passes for 43 yards and contributed a paltry four rushing yards. By the third quarter, the Ravens seemed to have realized Jackson’s struggles and ran the ball eight times against just a single pass (incomplete) on the opening drive of the third quarter, a drive that was capped off by a second Mark Ingram touchdown. Unfortunately, the Chiefs would ultimately score again on their second drive of the third quarter, putting the Ravens into a 17 point deficit, forcing Jackson to pass the ball for the Ravens to catch up. Through three quarters, Jackson had completed just 11/24 passes for a lowly 119 yards and only contributed 37 yards on the ground. By this point in the game, the Chiefs had a firm stranglehold on the game and seemed to let off the gas defensively. Lamar Jackson finished the fourth completing 11/19 passes for 148 yards, but he was lucky to even finish that well. While he did have an absolute dime of a strike to Marquise Brown down the sideline on a perfectly thrown ball, Jackson also had two absolute prayers answered: the first was an absolute duck to Seth Roberts for 25 yards. The Ravens were extremely fortunate Roberts was not called for offensive pass interference with how the officials had been calling the game to that point. The second was another duck thrown across the field that somehow fell into the hands of Willie Snead for 23 yards. Despite having perfect positioning on the ball, Charvarius Ward somehow did not come down with an interception and even failed to disrupt Snead from catching the ball. In the end, those three passes, only one of which was well thrown, ended up accounting for 30% of Jackson’s passing yardage, making his end game total appear more respectable than his play as a passer Sunday. So it begs the question: what happened to Lamar Jackson on Sunday against the Chiefs that did not happen against the Dolphins or Cardinals? Simple- the Chiefs found ways to confuse Jackson with disguised coverages (hats off to Steve Spagnuolo) and consistently pressured the young quarterback. Against the Dolphins, Jackson was in a clean pocket for the vast majority of the day, including his 83 yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown where a meal could have been prepared in the backfield. Jackson was only sacked a single time. Against the Cardinals, Jackson was under more consistent pressure, but nothing too serious. The Cardinals would finish with just two sacks and two quarterback hits. This led to some cracks in the mechanics to be shown with passes sailing on deep throws, but overall, Lamar had a fairly clean day. The Chiefs game is where things began to change drastically. With a pass rush trio of Frank Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Chris Jones, the Chiefs applied relentless pressure, sacking Jackson three times, hitting him six more, and applying pressure on countless snaps. Lamar could never get comfortable in the pocket and it showed as his passes consistently sailed over the heads of the receivers and fell incomplete, yards away from the intended targets. It showed as Lamar would drop his eyes and look to escape a pocket that was not quite collapsing when Brown or Mark Andrews were covered, his first two reads. The Chiefs got inside Jackson’s head and they made his day a living hell with consistent, fierce pressure. As the pressure began to let up in the fourth quarter, as the defensive lineman began to wear out, Jackson settled down more and became more consistent. Things will hardly be getting any easier for Jackson on Sunday as the Cleveland Browns have an extremely talent laden front four. The Browns are going to be employing Myles Garrett-Sheldon Richardson-Larry Ogunjobi-Olivier Vernon, a front four that has helped the Browns rack up 10 sacks in the three games that they have played. Myles Garrett especially will be a force to watch. On the season, Garrett has 6.0 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, and 16 pressures (tied for most in the league). If the Ravens cannot find a way to keep Garrett off of Jackson, Jackson might just have a repeat performance of last Sunday. Can the Ravens Defense Stop Explosive Plays and Limit Baker Mayfield?: Throughout the offseason, many fans were wary of the Ravens defense for losing too many core pieces (C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, Tavon Young to injury), but cautiously optimistic that the young guns (Tim Williams, Kenny Young, Tyus Bowser) could step up and the addition of Earl Thomas would prove to be a massive upgrade over Eric Weddle. The Ravens defense was easily top three just a year ago and losing just a couple guys while adding some big pieces would surely mean the defense would balance out and stay highly ranked, right? Wrong. So, so, so wrong. So far, this defense of Wink Martindale’s has looked far from a typical Ravens defense and reminiscent of the 2010 Denver defense that he coached. To be fair, Martindale could hardly account for the injuries of Young and Jimmy Smith (week one), but the defense has looked out of sync more than two injuries should call for. Against the Cardinals, the Ravens allowed seven plays of 20 or more yards that accounted for roughly 230 of Kyler Murray’s total on the day. Against the Chiefs, the Ravens limited that a little to just five explosive plays (I am going to lump in an 18 yard touchdown here because it was wide open and would surely go for 20+ had the touchdown not capped itself at 18) for two touchdowns. Those explosive plays accounted for 178 of Patrick Mahomes’s yards and two touchdowns, including an 83 yarder, which was ironically allowed by Earl Thomas after he dared Patrick Mahomes to try to go deep on the Ravens defense. The explosive plays could keep on coming Sunday if the Ravens do not find a way to shape up as they take on Brett Favre reincarnated in the body of Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is the definition of a gun slinger and he loves to go deep and make the big play whenever he can, so the Ravens are going to have to clean up their communication issues on the backend if they do not want to get torched for a third straight week. In two games against the Ravens last season, Mayfield threw for over 700 yards and four tochdowns… he just also tacked on four more interceptions. And fortunately for the Ravens, Mayfield is hardly playing like the guy who threw for 700 yards and four touchdowns; he is playing like the guy who threw four interceptions, including three in the final game and the season clincher on the Browns final offensive play of 2018. This season, Mayfield has thrown three touchdowns against five interceptions, second highest in the league. He has also been sacked 11 times, due largely in part to the fact that he holds onto the ball, on average, for over 3.0 seconds, good for being in the top five longest in the NFL. As a starter (16 games), he has thrown 19 interceptions, most in the NFL in that span, and is top three in total turnovers. Against starters, Mayfield owns a 1-6 record and a TD:INT ratio of 11:12. If the Ravens are ever going to bounce back and start turning around the narrative that this is not your father’s Ravens defense, then this will be the game. The recipe is perfect: division opponent at home with a bold and brash quarterback who likes to talk too much despite being a turnover machine. This will be a game for the Ravens to make their mark on the NFL. Will John Harbaugh Continue to be Aggressive, Potentially to a Fault?: When Eric DeCosta took over as general manager for the Baltimore Ravens, one thing was clear: the Ravens were going to start to lean more and more on statistics. DeCosta is a total numbers guy and he likes to try to use data and statistics to help guide the direction of the team. That could hardly have been more evident than on Sunday where the Ravens went for it on fourth down four times and attempted three 2-pt conversion tries. After the game, John Harbaugh said, “We don’t play scared… The point was to score as many points as we could. I don’t remember the situation, the X numbers for which one was what, but every one of those was clear analytical decisions to go for two.” The Ravens went for it on fourth down four times this game: On the opening drive on the Kansas City 9 yard line, on the second drive on their own 34, again on their own 47 (failed), and again in the fourth from the KC 27 (the miracle duck to Seth Roberts converted this one.) The Ravens attempted a 2-pt conversion try three times. All three failed. Here is what is notable about these play calls, though. When the Ravens went for it in their own territory, twice, the Ravens trailed by a point, 7-6 Chiefs. The game was hardly out of hand at that point. Why not punt and hope to back the Chiefs up within their own 10 and make them attempt to drive the length of the field? Apparently the numbers did not support that as the Ravens would go for it. On the ensuing Chiefs drive, the Chiefs would drive the 47 yards for a touchdown to make the game an 8-point game. The issue I have here is that the game was within one point and the Ravens were staring across the field from Patrick Mahomes. In what world is it smart to give the ball to Patrick Mahomes within your own territory? I suppose there could be an argument made that giving the ball to Mahomes at all is a bad idea, but I digress. This was a decision, for me, that had too little upside and too great of downside when you factor in who was at quarterback on the other side of the field. The raw numbers might say to go for it, but at some point, you have to use your head and think of what you could potentially be putting your defense into against Patrick Mahomes. The 2-pt conversion tries were a little more fluid. On the first, the Ravens had actually intended to kick a field goal, but an offsides penalty meant that the Ravens could opt to take the 2-pt try from the one yard line, not the two yard line. Almost any coach in the NFL will bet on their own offense getting one yard. A terrible play call, however, meant that the Ravens would fail to secure the point. The second try, however, was the most baffling of the three for me. When the Ravens scored their touchdown, the team was down by 11-points. The logic for going for two here is as follows: a successful 2-pt try would mean the Ravens would be down nine points instead of 10. In this scenario, a touchdown and field goal wins the game instead of tying. However, a failure does not put you out of the game as you have the opportunity to tie it with a touchdown, 2-pt conversion, and a field goal. The issue that I have here is, again, a situation where the upside should have been far outweighed by the downside. If the Ravens convert, everything is great- the Ravens appear poised to be in a position to win the game. However, if the Ravens failed to convert, the team would then fall to 0-2 on 2-pt conversion tries and then relying on making a 2-pt conversion attempt on the next touchdown… when the team had failed to secure one two times already. What happened when the Ravens secured their next touchdown? The team failed to convert the 2-pt conversion, meaning that the Ravens fell to 0-3 on attempts for the game. This was a situation where Harbaugh should have read the flow of the game: Lamar Jackson was struggling, the Ravens were struggling to punch it in, and the Ravens are on the road in a really tough environment- take the points, man. The numbers do not provide any context or account for the flow of the game: you must do that, John! Analytics is becoming a bigger and bigger commonplace in the NFL and other sports, and that is totally okay. Statistics and data analysis certainly has a place in the NFL, but remember- the game of football is not played on a computer; it is played on the gridiron and at the end of the game, variables outside the realm of numbers capability must be taken into account. Final Score Prediction: All eyes are going to be on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to see how they respond to the loss. Will the Ravens be able to put their mistakes and errors behind them against a divisional rival, or will the Ravens fuel the narrative that one tough team and Lamar and the Ravens are fakes? There is no better game to prove to the world that the Ravens are for real and taking the AFC North ground than this one against the Browns. With a win, the Ravens would move to 3-1 (1-0 in the division) and have a stable two game lead over the 1-3 Browns (second place in the division). However, with a loss, the Browns would move to 2-2 (1-0 in the division) and ahead of the 2-2 Ravens (0-1 in the division) for the lead in the AFC North. If the Ravens are going to prove they are for real, it will be this Sunday. Cleveland Browns: 27, Baltimore Ravens: 31 Bonus Stat of the Game Prediction: Much excitement was generated over the signing of Earl Thomas this offseason, and rightly so. Eric Weddle, while extremely smart and savvy, was slowing down and a shell of his former self. Thomas, on the other hand, was still in the prime of his career and an absolute ball-hawk, something the Ravens had missed since Ed Reed. However, to date, Thomas has failed to make much of an impact since his week one interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick. I think that will change on Sunday. Given Baker Mayfield’s tendency to turn over the ball, I predict that Earl Thomas will have two interceptions, including one for a defensive touchdown.