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2019 AFC North recap series: Ravens just taking off

The Ravens have secured themselves as the team to beat in the AFC North after dominating the 2019 season.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

The 2019 Baltimore Ravens were the best AFC team for the regular season, and not by accident. They earned themselves the top seed in the playoffs, and quarterback Lamar Jackson dominated opposing defenses on his way to his first MVP award. Even though the team is still searching for their first playoff win with Jackson after being upset in the playoffs, they have shown they have the right guy behind center to compete for the foreseeable future.

The Ravens’ success was defined by Jackson’s breakout season. He threw for 3,127 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions while completing just over 66 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 1,206 yards adding seven touchdowns on the ground as well. This was the best rushing performance by a quarterback in NFL history. Jackson even finished sixth among rushing yards for 2019 among any position. His 6.9 yards per carry was the best average in the NFL.

This season obviously helped elevate Baltimore to the cream of the crop in the NFL, and it is something we should probably come to expect in the future. It wasn’t just Jackson running around and tossing passes that had the Ravens as the talk of the NFL, though. Running back Mark Ingram also reached 1,000 yards rushing while averaging five yards per carry. He contributed with 10 touchdowns on his own as well. In fact, the offense as a whole ranked as the top scoring offense (33.3 points per game), the top rushing offense (206 yards per game) and the second best in total offense (407.6 yards per game).

Some may think the passing attack was the Achilles heel for this team in 2019; they did rank 27th in the NFL with only 201.6 passing yards per game. However, the passing attack was very efficient despite not having a real superstar among the receiving group. Seven different receivers averaged over 10 yards per reception, and it seemed like Baltimore was more than willing to take advantage of teams who would stack the box to slow down the dominant rushing attack. Tight end Mark Andrews was clearly Jackson’s favorite target, though. He had 64 receptions for over 800 yards with 10 touchdown receptions.

Baltimore’s defense didn’t make it easy for opposing teams either. They only allowed 17.6 points per game (third best in the NFL), and they were top 10 in each other major category. Of course having an offense that is constantly grinding the clock and creating leads helps every defense. They often faced situations where they could pin their ears back against opposing offenses. Matt Judon was able to make the most of these opportunities with 9.5 sacks with four forced fumbles. The defense was also able to create plenty of turnovers, which resulted in the team having a turnover ratio of +10.

The Ravens ultimately glided through the regular season to a 13-3 record (they rested their starters in Week 17 after securing the top seed). They had a few rough losses, but none compare to getting stonewalled by the Cinderella Titans in the AFC Divisional round. The high powered Baltimore offense could only put up 12 points, and their defense had no answer for Derrick Henry, who rushed for 194 yards.

This was only Jackson’s second appearance in the playoffs, and only his first year as a full-time starter. However, he crumbled under the pressure for the second straight season in the playoffs. He threw for over 300 yards, and he had over 100 rushing yards, but he also threw two interceptions as well as lost a fumble on the day. It was clear Tennessee made him beat them as Ingram only had six carries for just over 20 yards, and Jackson was able to move the ball, but he just couldn’t punch it in enough times to keep up with the Titans. You can’t even put that much blame on Baltimore’s defense. Tennessee had exactly 300 yards of offense on the day, but they didn’t create any turnovers.

The narrative of Jackson’s clutch gene will likely start to be questioned in 2020, and it will be a real topic of debate if he fails to get it done in the playoffs again. However, this team shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching the playoffs for the third season in a row. Whether they remain the top team in the division will depend on how the offseason plays out, but Jackson has proved he can at least carry this team to the postseason.