JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 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 M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Md., Sunday at 1 p.m.
Question: The Ravens, after a dramatic 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns Monday, are 8-5. They have a very good chance at making the postseason with victories in the final three games, but how do they feel about themselves entering Sunday?
Answer: After the victory Monday night against Cleveland, they're feeling pretty good. They have three games left and you have to like their chances of making the playoffs if they win out. They don't face another team with a winning record. You can't overlook anybody in the NFL – and this is me talking and not the Ravens, but sure … they definitely are going to be favored to win their last three games. They have done a really good job the last two years of not overlooking teams. That's why they finished 14-2 last year. So yes … they feel very good about their chances right now to make the playoffs – and Monday night's victory was huge.
Q: Considering what they have been through – with the recent COVID-19 issues and a lot of adversity – almost controlling their destiny entering the final three weeks is as good a situation as they could expect right now…
A: The COVID-19 outbreak definitely threw a wrench into their plans in every way. Losing that many guys during a time when they were playing the toughest part of their schedule … to come out of that still looking like they're almost in control of their destiny … they're hoping that the worst is over, that they've weathered the storm. We'll see if that's true over the last three games, but it looks like that might be the case.
Q: If they're 100 percent healthy the rest of the way, what's the offense look like moving forward? Do they feel good about it?
A: [Quarterback] Lamar [Jackson] has played very well the last couple of games and it all starts with him … so yes: That's No. 1. No. 2: They're running the football well. [Running backs] J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are taking on a bigger role and they both look good. The key for them is how much they can get out of their passing game. Can they move the ball consistently through the air? Can they get big plays through the air? The Ravens run the ball really well; then when you add Lamar's running ability to that, they're just very tough to stop on the ground. Which is a good thing for them. But offensively, what makes them really dynamic is when they can mix in some plays through the air along with that running game. Then, they become almost impossible to stop.
Q: How would you assess Jackson's season? He was the NFL's Most Valuable Player last season, so he entered under a lot of scrutiny. How has he handled everything?
A: I think better as the season has progressed. I do think he was frustrated to a point early in the season. The expectations were so high coming off a season like that. I think when it didn't happen right away, it frustrated him. He may have been pressing a little bit, but I think he was definitely frustrated. I think now he has kind of rebooted himself and gotten a fresh start. I think obviously catching COVID-19 shook him in that that's something that nobody wants to go through. He missed playing. He's really thrilled to be back. He's kind of rejuvenated. That's not the way you want to get rejuvenated, but I think he's rejuvenated. He looks fresh and ready to go. These last two games that he has been back have ranked among his best two games of the season.
Q: How's the Ravens' defense playing?
A: They're not where they want to be because they're giving up too many yards on the ground. That's kind of a staple of the Ravens: shut off the running game first, then build off that. So, that's the No. 1 concern for the defense coming down the stretch: Can they stop the run the way they want to? The secondary has had a lot of injuries, but with Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters starting at corner, they have two of the best at that position. Patrick Queen has done a really nice job as a starting inside linebacker as a rookie; I think he's going to be a star in the league. [Former Jaguars defensive end] Calais Campbell, a guy Jaguars observers are very familiar with, has been everything you want as a person – and as a player when he has been heathy; he has a calf injury and they would love to get Calais healthy for the playoffs if not before, so that's something to watch. They have some questions collectively on defense because they haven't been able to stop the run and they haven't been able to pressure the passer the way they're used to. That's something they would like to fix in these last three games heading to the playoffs.
Q: You touched on this, but what does this team have to do in the final three weeks to be playing as the postseason approaches?
A: It's showing consistency in the passing game. Jackson and tight end Mark Andrew have a great rapport, great chemistry, but with the wideouts … they need more explosiveness from Marquise Brown. [Wide receiver] Willie Snead has had a nice year, but he needs to be more consistent. They have had way more three-and-outs then they had last season. They just haven't been as consistent through the air. To me, that's what's going to determine whether they can really take off down the stretch and into the playoffs or not. Everybody knows they can run the ball, but teams defend them to try to make them beat you through the air. They have to prove they can.
Q: Maybe the answer has changed since preseason, but what's success for the Ravens this season? Does it have to be the Super Bowl? Or because of what they have been through, is a strong late run and a postseason appearance enough?
A: If you ask the Ravens, anything short of winning the Super Bowl would still be a disappointment. That's a high standard, but they feel they have a team that can win the Super Bowl. Are they going to be the favorite going into the playoffs like I thought they were last year in the AFC? No. I don't think anything that happens over the next three games is going to make the Ravens the favorite in the AFC going into the playoffs. But in their minds, they don't take a backseat to anyone. They feel they have a team that can win a Super Bowl. If they don't do it, they're going to be disappointed.