JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Clifton Brown of BaltimoreRavens.com on the Ravens as they prepare to play the Jaguars at EverBank Stadium Sunday at 8:15 p.m.
Question: The Ravens enter Sunday holding the AFC's No. 1 seed. They also feel like the best team in the AFC right now. Your assessment?
A: They are the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so that speaks for itself. I think they've been the most consistent team in the AFC, and I think they're the deepest team in the AFC from one to 53. They have a superstar player in quarterback Lamar Jackson that along with their entire roster gives them a great chance to beat anybody on any Sunday. There hasn't been one game this year where they really have been severely outplayed. They've had a chance to win every game. That's difficult to do, but they've done it.
Q:The Ravens have been in the playoffs or on the cusp in recent seasons. Is this sort of a season where everything's kind of coming together? Have they sort of been building toward this for a while?
A: Yes and no. The Ravens feel they want to have a shot to win the Super Bowl every year. They haven't been rebuilding. Since Lamar arrived, they've been a team that viewed themselves as having a chance to win the Super Bowl. He hasn't been healthy coming down the stretch the last two years. People are aware of that, but I don't think they totally understand that the Ravens in December the last two seasons haven't had their starting quarterback. One year they missed the playoffs and then last year they went into the playoffs without Lamar. Right. This year, knock on wood, they've been healthier. Jackson has been healthy, period. They also have some key guys like him, [offensive tackle] Ronnie Stanley and others who were around in 2019 when they went 14-2 and lost their first playoff game that I think are really in tune with finishing what they want to do.
Q:Aside from health, what's making Jackson different this season? He always has been good, but he is perhaps at a higher level.
A: He's in a new offense, which I think has definitely helped him show some of the talents that he always has had. They definitely have more talent at wide receiver with the additions of Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers and Nelson Agholor. I feel like this is the best group of receivers he ever has had. He's also still only 26. Right. All great players at that age, even though they're great, they're still getting better. So it's that combination. The system has helped him and he has been given more control at the line of scrimmage to do things he wants to do. The receivers he's throwing to have definitely helped him and I think he's getting better every year.
Q:Aside from Jackson, what are they offensively?
A: He's definitely not everything. [Tight end] Mark Andrews was very important until he got hurt. What's making them good is they still have balance. The last four or five years, they have always been a team that could run well. They're still the No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL. When you combine what they can do with Lamar as a thrower and a runner, with their running attack and then the threats they have now at wide receiver, they can hurt you in a lot of ways. The offensive line is good, too. They're a very balanced team that from week to week can make adjustments even during games to try and find ways to score enough points to win.
Q:This is Head Coach John Harbaugh's 16th season. How important is that stability?
A: It's huge. He's clearly one of the top coaches in the NFL. The culture he has set here in Baltimore breeds winning. You'll hear veteran players like [outside linebacker] Jadeveon Clowney and [linebacker] Kyle Van Noy, who have been other places, talk about how much they enjoy playing for Harbaugh. He gets players. He understands what they need. He set standards that are consistent. It's all about the team, not individuals, and he is respected. Players respond to that. They just want an environment where they can play well, where the best players play and where the expectations are clear. When you come to Baltimore, you get all of that. And I think John Harbaugh's a big part of that.
Q:The Ravens are No. 2 in points and yards allowed this season. Assess the defense.
A: It has been very good. I think there have been some surprises on defense more so than offense. They lead the league in sacks. I don't think people expected that when the season started, but they really scheme up from week to week. They're a very versatile defensive team. They don't rely on just one or two pass rushers to generate pressure. They can give you a lot of different looks because they have versatile players like [safety] Kyle Hamilton and Clowney that you can line up in different positions and create pressure in different looks. They've had some guys really step up. Brandon Stephens has been their best cornerback this year. Geno Stone, who stepped in when Marcus Williams was hurt at safety, stepped in and at one point was leading the league interceptions. Inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen might be the best inside linebacker duo in the league. They have a lot of talent and their defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald is really creating different ways to attack offenses from week to week. It really has served them well.
Q: Can this team be a Super Bowl team? And what's the key?
A: They can definitely do it. It would help them to get the No. 1 seed, get that first-round bye and have the home playoff game just from a standpoint of having to play one fewer game and having one game less game where they could suffer an injury to a key player. That would be an advantage. Baltimore's a very tough place to play for opponents. If you have to go through Baltimore to get to the Super Bowl, that's a tough job. Other than that, I can't think of a key other than to continue to do what they've been doing is, which is be ready to play every week. It's one and done in the playoffs. One bad half, a game where you don't hang on to the football, can be your undoing, but their consistent. They have a team, to me, that translates well into the playoffs. They've been consistent. They don't turn the ball over a lot. They have a running game and they have a defense. All those things count in the playoffs.