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7 things to watch, including Lamar Jackson vs. pressure, Christian Kirk and more – Boston Herald



On Nov. 26, 2021, the Ravens were 7-3, leading the AFC North and two days from what would be the last win of their season, blissfully unaware of the misfortune about to befall them. A year later, the team has its guard up.

“Anybody can get complacent when you’re having a lot of success,” quarterback Lamar Jackson, who missed the final month of last season with an ankle injury, said Friday. “So we just have to keep everyone levelheaded around here, including myself.”

As the Ravens (7-3) look to round into shape for a potential playoff run, Sunday’s road game against the talented but inconsistent Jaguars might be their toughest test for a while. A fifth straight win won’t come easily; Jacksonville is the NFL’s only team with a positive point differential (plus-11) but a losing record (3-7). Here’s what to watch in the teams’ Week 12 matchup.

Offense

1. Jackson has never played in Jacksonville as a Raven, but he capped his Louisville career in December 2017 at the Jaguars’ EverBank Field, now known as TIAA Bank Field.

It wasn’t the happy ending he wanted. In a TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Mississippi State, Jackson threw four interceptions, almost matching his regular-season total (six). Jackson also broke his own single-season school records for rushing yards and yards from scrimmage and became the third player in Football Bowl Subdivision history with at least 50 touchdown passes and 50 touchdown runs, joining Florida’s Tim Tebow and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.

Six days later, Jackson announced he would enter the NFL draft.

2. The Jaguars rank fifth in the NFL in pressure rate (36.0%) but 30th in sack rate (4.3%), according to TruMedia. Outside linebacker Josh Allen, the No. 7 overall pick in 2019, has a team-high 37 pressures (tied for 18th in the NFL) but just three sacks. Outside linebacker Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall pick this year, has 24 pressures but also just three sacks. Defensive end Dawuane Smoot leads the team with six sacks on his 21 pressures.

“The defensive front seven is just outstanding; they’re very physical,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “It’s going to be a very, very physical football game, much like the last game. We’re going to have to play our best to go down there and win.”

That starts with Jackson. He’s completed 44.6% of his passes when pressured this season, according to TruMedia, 27th among 34 qualifying quarterbacks. He never completed less than 51.5% of his passes when pressured in his first three years as a full-time starter. Jackson’s also averaging minus-0.45 expected points added per pressured drop-back, which ranks 25th in the NFL and would be another career low. (EPA accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position.)

3. Over the season’s first nine weeks, Ravens receivers dropped 11 of Jackson’s 244 passes, a 4.5% drop rate that ranked 16th best in the NFL, according to TruMedia.

In Sunday’s win against Carolina, they dropped five of Jackson’s 33 throws, a 15.2% drop rate that was the highest among all teams in Week 11. Jackson still finished with a season-high completion percentage (.727) after going 24-for-33 in frigid weather. Sunday’s game is expected to be in the high 70s, with a chance of thunderstorms.

Defense

4. Ravens coaches have compared Jacksonville running back Travis Etienne to New Orleans Saints star Alvin Kamara, but faster — and not necessarily because he’s a dangerous receiver (9.1 yards per catch, second highest among running backs).

“The way he hits the hole, his acceleration, he has a different gear, right away, that is unique,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said Wednesday. “He’s a tough tackle, has great contact balance. … He really has that kind of balance where he’s just a tough tackle, but then that acceleration is so unique. He has pretty good vision. He’s an all-around back. He’s special.”

Etienne has 725 rushing yards (12th in the NFL) and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry (eighth) this season, but he inflicts most of his damage on perimeter runs. The No. 25 overall pick in the 2021 draft has 520 yards (5.7 per carry) on off-tackle and outside runs, according to Sports Info Solutions. Zone runs have been especially productive.

Etienne could be running into a brick wall on Sunday, though. Since adding outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and inside linebacker Roquan Smith to their defense in Week 9, the Ravens have allowed just 35 yards on 18 off-tackle and outside carries.

5. With Ravens rookie safety and top nickel back Kyle Hamilton (knee) questionable for Sunday’s game after missing the week of practice, cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s positional versatility could take on outsize importance.

Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s top target is wide receiver Christian Kirk, who lines up in the slot on over two-thirds of his snaps. Of Kirk’s 679 receiving yards this season, 480 have come when lined up inside, third most in the NFL, according to TruMedia. “He can run all the routes, honestly,” safety Chuck Clark said Wednesday. “They give him the ball in all types of ways, whether it’s vertical or intermediate or low.”

While the Ravens rarely have their cornerbacks shadow opposing receivers, Humphrey’s often been deployed as a slot cornerback, where he’s an asset as a blitzer and run defender. He’s also strong in coverage there, having allowed just five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets this season, according to SIS. Two of his three interceptions have come when aligned inside.

6. Red-zone efficiency could be decisive. On plays outside of the opponent’s 20-yard line, the Jaguars’ offense ranks seventh in the NFL in EPA per play, according to TruMedia. Finishing drives has been their problem, though, as Jacksonville ranks 24th in EPA per red-zone play. Lawrence has passed for 12 red-zone touchdowns, but he’s 25-for-50 overall, with three interceptions. Only the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen has more picks in those close quarters (four).

The Ravens’ red-zone defense, meanwhile, has been unremarkable this season. Opponents have scored a touchdown on 55.9% of their drives inside the Ravens’ 20, the 18th-best mark in the NFL.

Extra points

7. Tight end Mark Andrews needs 100 receiving yards to break a tie with wide receiver Mark Clayton for the most 100-yard receiving games (nine) in Ravens history.

Campbell, meanwhile, needs two sacks to become the 63rd player in NFL history to reach 100 in a career. He had 31 1/2 sacks in his three years in Jacksonville.

Week 12

Ravens at Jaguars

Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 4

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