Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars, Wembley Stadium, London

Game Preview

This Sunday, September 24th, 2017, sees the first of the NFL London games played at Wembley Stadium. This game is between the Baltimore Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC regular-season showdown.

The game is being promoted as an intriguing battle of the defenses and, to an extent, I agree. I mean, for my money, the Ravens currently have the best defense in the league and have had since the beginning of the preseason whereas the Jaguars looked a bit dodgy on defense during the preseason, then great in week one of the regular season only to revert back to their preseason dodginess in week two. Looking at the defensive personnel that the Jaguars have, I’d say they should be a bit better and more consistent than they currently are.

If, as some “experts” are suggesting, this is going to be a battle of two good defenses, I can’t see this being a good game for the neutral to go and watch which is exactly what the vast majority of the crowds are at these games. Because of the nature of these two teams and the defensive thing, I’m intrigued to see what the atmosphere and crowd noise will be like. I’ve always been a little disappointed by the crowd noise at previous games up until the Twickenham game and following Wembley game of 2016. The noise at those two was much better and I just hope that continues this year.

Anyway, let’s have a look at the teams before I really start waffling on, as per usual.

Baltimore Ravens

Let’s start with the visiting team as it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars who have yet again given up another of their home games to us European fans to which I say a massive, “THANK YOU!”.

The first thing that I feel needs noting about the Ravens is the fact that they’ve lost starting Right Guard, Marshal Yanda for the season with an ankle injury. This is massive as he’s very likely the best Guard in the game and is irreplaceable. The player tasked with replacing the irreplaceable is Tony Bergstrom who came into the game against Cleveland when the Yanda injury happened. He looked ok but will be up against a tougher opponent in the form of the big money defensive line of the Jaguars.

I actually thought it would be the Ravens running game that would let them down this season but they’ve stuck with it and it’s actually looked decent so far. They’ve managed to outperform their opponents running games to the tune of over 120-yards per game so far, but that is hugely due to the great run defense they have. They are currently averaging 4.0-yards per carry and 146.5-yards per game. Both Terrance West and Javorius Allen are averaging over 50-yards per game each, which is very decent indeed.

It’s been the passing game that hasn’t been the best so far although it has been more than good enough to get the team to 2-0 and sitting atop the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’re averaging 9.9-yards per completion and 169-yards per game through the air, which isn’t eye-popping but is getting the job done.

The defense has looked great from the word “Go!” this year and they’ve looked good on film and in the stat books. They’ve already helped themselves to 8-interceptions in the first two games and have only allowed 10-points against them.

The battle I am looking forward to watching is that of Leonard Fournette smashing into that great run defense of the Ravens – it’s going to be some bloody big blokes running into each other for four grueling quarters. I can see Fournette making them work but his counterpart, Chris Ivory won’t be a problem for them in my opinion.

Those 8-interceptions have gained them 102-yards and they’ve also forced 4-fumbles of which they’ve recovered 2. Oh yeah, and they’ve also helped themselves to 8-sacks so far this season, just for good measure. I bet Blake Bortles is looking forward to this one, huh?

Ravens Key Players – Offense

Benjamin Watson, Tight End: After his time in Cleveland, I didn’t think I’d be mentioning this guy again but so far this season he’s proven himself invaluable to the team. He currently sits as the second best TE in the league according to PFF and their grading system. He’s caught 8 of his 9 targets in the first two games for 91-yards and 7-first downs. That’s an 11.4-yard average and he’s looking like the reliable guy they go to. PFF also grade him as High Quality in the running game with a grade of 83.9, which is one of the highest amongst all TE’s.

Fellow TE, Maxx Williams is also stepping up with his 5-receptions from 5-targets so far for 26-yards, which is only a 5.2-yard average but I’ve been impressed with his safe hands and battling for yards. It doesn’t say a lot for Maclin and Wallace at the WR position but so long as someone is catching the passes and getting the first downs who cares?

Benjamin Watson Baltimore Ravens Tight End

Joe Flacco, Quarterback: I was going to go for a Runningback but with two of them playing well it has surprised me that it’s the passing game that would be said to be lagging behind a little. Because of that, I think it’s Joe Flacco who is an important factor for the Ravens and keeping their offense moving (let’s be honest, when isn’t the QB an important factor).

He’s performing ok after his preseason absence due to a back injury and if that can be kept at bay, I think he’ll continue to get stronger in his play. I haven’t been impressed by the Jaguars pass defense so far on the whole and I think a veteran like Flacco can exploit that and has the potential to pick them apart.

If Flacco and his receivers can have at least a steady game and the running game can continue as it has so far, I think Ravens fans are going to be a happy lot.

Ravens Key Players – Defense

Brandon Williams & Michael Pierce, DT & NT: As you can probably tell, I couldn’t decide between the two as they are both of great importance to stuffing that inside running game of the Jaguars with Fournette. Pierce has played more snaps than Williams so far and both are at the core of why this defense is so good and they could be the difference here.

I went for both simply because of how important they could be to a possible Ravens victory.

C.J. Mosley, MLB: Playing behind Williams and Pierce must be great and MLB, C.J. Mosley looks to be thriving on it. He leads the team with 18 tackles and I can’t help but think he’s going to get a bunch more in this one. He also has one pass defended and an interception which is why he rates so highly amongst Linebackers in pass coverage.

If the defense can render the Jaguars run game ineffective, Mosley will be busy in short coverage as it appears the Jags don’t trust Bortles to pass long very often.

The fact that he has Terrell Suggs terrorizing QB’s into mistakes can only be helping Mosley’s game as well.

C.J. Mosley Baltimore Ravens Middle Linebacker

The Jaguars are a team that has always seemed to disappoint me in recent times. I think it was last year that I was telling the friend who comes with me to all the Jags game now that this was the year that they’ll be pushing for a playoff spot with all that good young talent on their roster. D’OH! Not my finest hour of fortune telling.

This season they’ve already lost their best receiver now that WR Allen Robinson has gone out with a left knee injury. Allen Hurns has stepped up in my opinion after the preseason talk of him being a trade target of a few teams as I believe he’s in the last year of his contract and due to be paid quite a bit. Well, now that Robinson is out, it looks like Hurns is about to be given the chance to earn his pay. The official depth chart had fellow WR Marquise Lee as the #1 WR but Hurns is the better player in my opinion and always has been. He’s leading the team with 9 receptions from 11 targets for 124-yards and 1 TD. Compare that to Lee’s 7 catches off 16 targets for 76-yards and no TD’s and we already get a picture emerging. It’s a shame that rookie 4th rounder, Dede Westbrook got injured during the preseason with a core muscle injury as he was looking good for a starting role on that offense without Allen Robinson in it.

I imagine the game will be a majority ground-attack affair with rookie running back Leonard Fournette leading the charge. This will be interspersed with some short to medium passes as the team doesn’t trust QB Blake Bortles enough to really go for it through the air. This isn’t a bad idea for the Jaguars this season but I’m not sure it can work against such a good defense. I’m also not sure I’m looking forward to watching this offense as it could be a bit boring. Or, who knows, we might see the Jaguars of week one who beat division rival and favourite Houston Texans 29-7. This was thanks to the relentless running of Fournette and great play of the defense who were helped massively by the inept QB play of Tom Savage that week.

That inept QB play by Savage is exactly why I can’t see the Jaguars getting a win this week at Wembley. The Ravens’ offense is their weaker unit but they still aren’t anywhere near as bad as the Texans were that week and I just don’t think we should be praising the Jags as much as some have been off the back of that game. I’m just not sold on the quality of this Jaguars defense yet even after all the hard work they’ve put into it during the off-season.

So, which Jacksonville Jaguars are we going to see at Wembley this Sunday. The week one barnstormers or the same old Jags of week two?

Even though I’ll be down there wearing my Jaguars jersey and cheering them on, I think we’ll be watching the week two same old Jags, unfortunately. I just think the Ravens are more akin to the Tennessee Titans as opponents as opposed to the week one Texans.

It’s great to see some of the younger Jaguars players starting to play well such as Myles Jack, Jalen Ramsey, and Yannick Ngakoue along with some of the more senior players like Calais Campbell and Telvin Smith and it will be watching the likes of them that will make this game worth a watch for me.

Jaguars Key Players – Offense

Leonard Fournette, Running Back: An obvious choice as he’s the key to the offense and should get lots of touches on Sunday. Relying on a running back running up the middle on the majority of his touches leads me to believe we could have a not too exciting game as that’s how he’s been slugging it out so far and has a 3.5-yards per carry average (I’d insert a yawning emoji here if I had one). If only they had a good QB that they could trust to control the game and pass it well, huh?

Leonard Fournette Jacksonville Jaguars

Blake Bortles, Quarterback: Again, I find it difficult to pick anyone other than a QB with these key player things as the game revolves around them and their play. In Bortles’ case it’s not about whether he can turn on the style but more about whether he can play a nice consistent and steady game that at least complements Fournette’s running and keeps the Ravens D on its toes.

Jaguars Key Players – Defense

Calais Campbell, DE: He was on fire in week one with his harassment of the Texans QB’s on his way to an impressive 4 sacks. This is the player they’ll need this week if they want to keep up with the Ravens as opposed to the one that played against the Titans in week two when he managed the only the same number of tackles as he’d had sacks the week before.

Telvin Smith, OLB: He’s having a good start to the season alongside youngster, Myles Jack and they’re both going to have to step up again this week. I can’t get it out of my head that the difference in this game could come down to who has the better run offense on the day (so that means it’ll probably a passing game shootout) and Telvin Smith, along with Dante Fowler Jr. are looking like their best players able to stifle the Ravens in that respect.

Telvin Smith Jacksonville Jaguars

Final Thoughts & Game Prediction

Ok, that’s enough waffle from me now, I’m probably starting to repeat myself anyway.

Like I said, I’ll be at Wembley wearing my Jacksonville Jaguars jersey and joining in with the whooping and cheering in an attempt to make the crowd noise sound good on TV but I can only see this game going one way. As I’m sure most other people are thinking, apart from those Jacksonville fans who are clinging on to the week one result against Houston, I can only see the winners of this game being the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens defense is just too good for the Jaguars offense and the Ravens offense is more than capable of scoring on the Jaguars defense. Add all that together and the game is only going one way.

So, what’s my prediction for the final score of this first NFL London game at Wembley? Hmm, tough one but I’ll go with:

Baltimore Ravens 27 – 10 Jacksonville Jaguars

Title image source: Kevin Quigley