Week 13 will be a colossal test for the San Francisco 49ers who are heading into a crucial stretch of the regular season. The 9-2 Baltimore Ravens are coming off of a blowout victory over the Los Angeles Rams, where MVP front runner Lamar Jackson managed to score on all six of his drives, while nearly eclipsing 100 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, the 10-1 49ers will kick off their first of stiff back-to-back road games against division-leading teams, beginning with Baltimore.
We are joined by BaltimoreRavens.com editorial director Ryan Mink to get an insider's look ahead of Sunday's showdown between two of the NFL's top teams. Here's what Mink has to say about where Baltimore stands ahead of Week 13.
Q: Baltimore's whole offensive scheme is well designed to fit Lamar Jackson's skill set as a dual-threat quarterback. Seeing what he can do with his legs, how has the quarterback progressed as a passer in his second year in the NFL?
Mink: He honed in on his fundamentals this offseason and that has continued in the regular season. His balance and footwork is considerably better, which has resulted in more accurate passing. That, combined with the confidence he had early in the season throwing the ball, has led to a better thrower. He's also moving around the pocket better to avoid pressure and buy more time to throw.
Q: The Ravens potent rushing attack, headlined by Mark Ingram, ranks best in the league. What has been the key for the offensive line in the team's success on the ground?
Mink: The offensive line has had continuity, which is a major reason for consistency. That is, up until last week when center Matt Skura suffered a season-ending knee injury. Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari stepped in and played well, especially considering it was against Rams two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, and is expected to be the starter moving forward. More than the offensive line, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's creative and unique scheme in the run game has the Ravens humming.
Q: Holding opposing teams to an average of 18 points per game, the fifth-fewest in the league, what do you accredit the success of Baltimore's defense to?
Mink: The Ravens have one of the most talented secondaries in the league with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, plus safeties Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark. It starts there. Beyond that, they've signed several players off "the street" who have played much better than one would expect: linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, defensive end Jihad Ward and defensive tackles Domata Peko and Justin Ellis.
Q: Matthew Judon leads the team in sacks and has a sack and a forced fumble in the team's last two games. What has been a key in his elevated play in 2019?
Mink: He's just gotten better every year. This was a guy who led all of college football in sacks in his senior year. He knows how to get to quarterbacks. He knew more would be on his shoulders with the departure of Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith in free agency, and Judon has used that as motivation to prove he can be a leading pass rusher.
Q: With all the star power on the Ravens team, who has been the underrated star that's been key to Baltimore's success?
Mink: I would point to the tight end trio, especially Nick Boyle. Mark Andrews could be a George Kittle in the making as one of the NFL's leading receiving tight ends. Hayden Hurst, a first-round pick who was selected before Lamar Jackson, has been a steady contributor as a blocker and receiver in his limited opportunities. Boyle is an absolute mauler in the blocking game and a sneaky good pass catcher. His physicality helps set the tone for this Ravens offense.