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Ravens Insider: Ravens film study: How the final play of first half vs. Jaguars exemplifies defense’s maturity


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It was one of the more crucial outcomes in a game full of them on an unseasonably cool, breezy and important Sunday night in Jacksonville, Florida.

With just 30 seconds remaining in the first half and the ball on the Ravens’ 41-yard line, Jaguars wide receiver Zay Jones raced down the left sideline at EverBank Stadium with Ravens cornerback Brandon Stephens glued to his hip. Only an inch separates the two in height, so when the 6-foot-2 Jones and 6-foot-1 Stephens leaped for a long Trevor Lawrence pass, the ball was literally up for grabs.

Stephens’ left hand swiped at it but missed, and Jones hauled it in as he fell to the ground in bounds at Baltimore’s 5-yard line, the clock still running.

On NBC’s broadcast, play-by-play man Mike Tirico marveled at the catch, bellowing out his excited call and setting up what was to come next for viewers. “Jones!” he said. “Holds on, no timeouts, last seconds left, clock runs. Jaguars run to spike it. Get everybody lined up properly with a running clock. They’re in the shotgun!”

Meanwhile, Lawrence had run downfield patting his helmet and barking out instructions — the Jaguars weren’t looking to stop the clock by spiking the ball.

The NFL is a copycat league and there are certain plays that every team practices and runs. The Ravens’ version of a hurry-up after a big play to get near an opponent’s goal line, for example, used to be called “surge.” The idea is that while the defense is scrambling to get organized the offense can catch them out of position by running a play quickly — usually a run to the outside, a fade or a quick out.

“It’s hard to cover on the run,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It scores all the time.”

Not this time.

When Lawrence and his teammates reached the line of scrimmage, the clock was down to 15 seconds and counting. As Jaguars players were lining up, Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith peered toward the sideline and defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, then shouted the defensive call to teammates, including fellow inside linebacker Patrick Queen next to him, who in turn passed on the call to safety Marcus Williams.

At the snap, Lawrence took a two-step drop and swiftly dissected his options from the four-receiver set. Jones ran a fade, taking Stephens with him, and was covered, while rookie receiver Parker Washington, lined up in the slot on the same side, came open on a quick out underneath Jones. The problem for Jacksonville was two-fold: Washington’s route was only a yard downfield and a few yards from the sideline, and Williams had lined up in man coverage on Washington’s outside shoulder.

By the time Lawrence zipped his pass to Washington, Williams had closed in and because of his positioning was able to tackle him in bounds by inches, keeping the clock running.

“He made an awesome play,” Harbaugh said of the veteran safety, adding that Macdonald was all over the Jaguars’ plan and quickly got the outside tag relayed to Smith. “That was huge.”

So, too, was Queen pulling Williams to his feet after the safety momentarily laid on the grass grabbing at his injured groin while the Jaguars tried to hurriedly run another play before time expired.

Whether Queen knew it or not, had Williams stayed down the clock would have stopped, allowing for at least a field goal try if not another crack at the end zone. Instead, Jacksonville was held scoreless in the first half for just the second time this season and first since Week 3.

Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Ravens defeated the Jaguars 23-7. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
“That’s the thing about this team; it’s a very mature team, and I think they understand the challenge in front of them, and they understand their opponent, and they understand themselves,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. (Gary McCullough/AP)

After Tirico pointed out the obvious of Washington being unable to get out of bounds, the Jaguars being unable to get a play off and the home team missing out on another scoring opportunity, analyst Cris Collinsworth said with a tone of disbelief, “Wow!”

“That was a big stop for us going into halftime,” Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton said. “It kept them at zero at that point going into halftime. That’s a good offensive team over there, and I think we did a good job overall.”

It was also one of several miscues by Jacksonville, which had reached at least Baltimore’s 36-yard line on four of its first five possessions but did not score on any of them.

“We’ve scored before in those situations,” Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said of the ill-fated play before the half. “It was just a mistake, I think, by Trevor, obviously, knowing the situation and knowing how much time is left right there. It’s a great learning experience for us from the standpoint of don’t throw it in bounds to be tackled in that situation.”

And it was another masterful moment in a season full of them for Macdonald and the unit he is charged with.

Baltimore’s defense ranks second in the NFL in red zone scoring, with opponents finding the end zone just 37.5% of the time. Only the Tennessee Titans (37.25%) have been better.

It’s no wonder, too, the Ravens are allowing the fewest points per game at 16.1 — just ahead of the 16.7 by the 49ers, who they will face on Monday night in Santa Clara, California, in a Christmas showdown between the teams with the two best records in the NFL at 11-3.

Whether Baltimore can have that same kind of success against the 49ers, however, remains to be seen. San Francisco is third in the league in scoring with 30.4 points per game and features perhaps the game’s most dynamic offensive attack, led by quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Christian McCaffrey and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.

Plays like the one at the end of the first half against the Jaguars would certainly help, against San Francisco and over the next three weeks as the Ravens try to stay atop the AFC in their bid for a first-round bye in the playoffs and home-field advantage throughout.

“That’s the thing about this team; it’s a very mature team, and I think they understand the challenge in front of them, and they understand their opponent, and they understand themselves,” Harbaugh said. “They also understand situations – game situations – really well. So, all those things probably have led to that, and that’s what you have to do this time of year.”

Week 16

Ravens at 49ers

Monday, 8:15 p.m.


Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: 49ers by 5 1/2

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