OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)Lamar Jackson is out for a third straight game, and Marcus Mariota is on injured reserve.
Now the Ravens and Falcons – both ranked near the top of the NFL in rushing – are facing off on what is expected to be a cold, windy day in Baltimore.
In other words, don’t expect this to be a dazzling display of passing.
”It’s going to be very cold, it’s going to be windy,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ”We’re just going to have to deal with the weather, the footing, the cold temperatures and execute and play our best game. It really doesn’t matter. There are no excuses.”
It is possible the Ravens could clinch a playoff berth this weekend if enough results fall their way, but they’ll have to do it without Jackson, who hasn’t played since leaving a Dec. 4 victory over Denver with a knee injury.
Atlanta put Mariota on IR last week, also because of knee problems, clearing the way for rookie Desmond Ridder to make his debut at quarterback last weekend.
So it looks as if it’ll be Ridder against Baltimore’s Tyler Huntley on Saturday – assuming Huntley’s shoulder soreness is under control.
The Ravens and Falcons are 27th and 31st in the league in passing, and it’s not just because of their injuries at quarterback. Baltimore hasn’t had a wide receiver catch a touchdown pass since Week 3. Atlanta had only one wide receiver – Drake London – with a reception in last week’s loss at New Orleans. The rest of the Falcons’ catches were by running backs and a tight end.
The good news for both teams is they can certainly run the ball. Baltimore’s backfield is solid now that J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards are as healthy as they’ve been in a while. The Ravens got away from their ground attack in the fourth quarter of a 13-3 loss to Cleveland last weekend, and both Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman suggested that in hindsight, they could have certainly approached things differently. Expect them to lean on Dobbins and Edwards quite a bit.
Atlanta rookie Tyler Allgeier ran for 139 yards and a touchdown last week.
While the Ravens (9-5) are almost certain to make the playoffs, they’re actually no closer to first place in their division than the Falcons, even though Atlanta (5-9) is well under .500. Both teams are a game out of first.
”The reality is they’re all must wins, but our focus is this challenge,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. ”We were in the same spot last week where you get in all the bizarre scenarios around us, but most importantly we’ve got to find a way to win, and that’s all that we’re concerned about.”
A win by Baltimore and a loss by either the Dolphins or Patriots would clinch a playoff spot for the Ravens.
The Ravens put receiver and kick returning standout Devin Duvernay on IR this week because of a broken fifth metatarsal. Baltimore will also be without defensive end Calais Campbell (knee) and cornerback Marcus Peters (calf).
Atlanta will be missing offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (knee).
NO LONGER MOST POPULAR
Smith knew Falcons fans wanted to see Ridder before last week, just as fans always want to see a backup quarterback.
Now that Ridder has made his debut, completing only 13 of 26 passes for 97 yards, he no longer carries that advantage of being the unknown mystery hiding behind the starter.
”Last week, he was the most popular guy in Atlanta,” Smith said. ”Now, he’s played. That’s always the case. An old coach told me that one time, there’s nobody more popular than your backup quarterback until he has to play. It held true.”
Smith liked the poise Ridder showed in rallying Atlanta from a 14-0 deficit in the 21-18 loss, and he said he expects to see improvement on Saturday.
LEANING ON ROOKIES
Though the Falcons remain in contention in the NFC South, they are assured of their fifth straight losing record in the regular season. They have reason to give even longer looks to their first-year players.
Last week’s benching of Mariota – even before he went on IR – and the move to Ridder highlighted the team’s reliance on rookies.
Allgeier and London are the team’s leading rusher and receiver. Linebacker Troy Andersen made his second start last week. Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie has two forced fumbles and 2+ sacks.
The Ravens have a plus-7 turnover margin that is tied for third in the league, but that’s started to regress a bit lately. They’ve had a negative differential in three of the past four games.
”Takeaways are important to every team, but for us, we emphasize it every week – taking the ball over,” safety Marcus Williams said. ”It gives us an advantage. So, we just need to attack the ball this week, get some more takeaways and get our offense the ball back so we can get in the end zone.”
READY FOR MORE
Allgeier set career highs in carries (17) and yards rushing last week. He has split carries with Cordarrelle Patterson, Caleb Huntley and others, but with Huntley on IR with an Achilles tendon injury, there may be more room for Allgeier to show he can be a workhorse.
”It is nice where he hasn’t taken 300 caries so far, and neither has CP,” Smith said. ”I think that helps you so that we can continue to be productive in that area.”
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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