Las Vegas bookmakers installed the Ravens (6-5) as 3-point favorites over the Falcons (4-7) for their meeting at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Ravens have the league’s top-ranked defense and are expected to feature rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who’s been dazzling as a runner in victories over the Bengals and Raiders.
“Lamar has played in a lot of games, but not where it was an extended time like in the last two weeks,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.
The Falcons are planning for Jackson, but also know they could see Joe Flacco, who’s been out with a hip injury.
“When you don’t know which one you’re going to face, and you’ll hear me say the offense is not too different, you can take that out this week,” Quinn said. “It’s definitely different in terms of the way that they can utilize quarterback runs.”
Jackson ran 26 times for 118 yards in a 24-21 win over the Bengals on Nov. 18. He ran 11 times for 77 yards in a 34-17 win over the Raiders on Sunday.
The Falcons face Cam Newton, who’s bigger and much slower running quarterback, twice a year. The Saints spot plays for running quarterback Taysom Hill.
“We have some experience obviously going against that in the division with a mobile quarterback who has designed runs,” Quinn said. “Sometimes when you’re going against an option team. ... Then there are other quarterbacks that can be used as a design quarterback run where he’s keeping it on this play. There’s some of that with Lamar.”
With teams planning for Jackson’s runs, undrafted rookie running back Gus Edwards has flourished. He rushed 23 times for 118 yards against the Raiders to become the first Ravens back since Jamal Lewis in 2000 to have back-to-back 100-yard rushing games.
The Falcons’ run defense has fallen on hard times. They have given up 221, 132 and 150 yards over the current three-game losing streak.
The Browns’ Nick Chubb ran for 176 yards against the Falcons. The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 122 and the Saints combination of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combined to rush for 141 yards.
Jackson isn’t much of a passer yet. He completed 14 of 25 passes for 178 yards against the Raiders. He had one touchdown pass, two interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 58.4.
In his start against the Bengals, he completed 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He finished with a passer rating of 70.1.
The Falcons tried a couple of different players as the scout team quarterback to try to simulate Jackson’s speed on Monday.
The Ravens’ defense, led by the legendary Terrell Suggs, are ranked No. 1 in points allowed at 18 per game and in yards allowed with 295.4. per game.
The Ravens are second in passing yards allowed at 203.3 and third in rushing yards allowed with 92.1 yards per game.
“Defensively, they are a stout, square group,” Quinn said. “Especially upfront, they’ve got 3-4 principles, they like to pressure. So those are some of the things – the outside linebackers for them just feels like forever has always been a big part of what they do.”
The Ravens secondary comes up strong in run support.
“Safeties that can blitz and play down in the box, guys like (Eric) Weddle,” Quinn said. “I’ve always been impressed through the years with their ball-hawking ability, it may not show in the numbers with them this year, but that’s certainly been in the calling card for them through the years.”
The Ravens are also strong on special teams.
Cyrus Jones, the former Alabama standout, returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown against the Raiders.
The Ravens have the second most punt returns for a touchdown (six) since 2011. Kansas City has returned seven. The also have the second most returns for a touchdowns since 2011 with 11. The Vikings have 12.
“It’s no surprise for us to see the return game has been on point, that’s always been a calling card for them,” Quinn said. “I think it was Cyrus (Jones) that had one (Sunday) for a long one. So, scoring on defense, punt return to go, that’s sounding like vintage Ravens football through (John) Harbaugh’s time and certainly beyond.”
The Ravens also have one of the best kicker in the league in Justin Tucker.
“Their special teams have played strong and from the place-kicker, the accuracy is there and the distance is there as well,” Quinn said. “So, when you start looking at what the distance will be that you have to go defend for field goals you’re talking about the 40 or 42-yard line to defend, that makes it challenging as well.”
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