The Baltimore Ravens have won back-to-back games against the Bengals and Raiders to get back into the AFC playoff hunt. With a 6-5 record, and games left against the Falcons, Buccaneers and Browns, they look to have a solid shot at making the postseason.
However, those last two wins have come with rookie backup quarterback, Lamar Jackson, starting each game. That has raised questions about what to do when starter, Joe Flacco, is healthy. Do the Ravens re-insert Flacco into the starting lineup as soon as he is ready? Or, do they ride Jackson until the winning streak ends?
We posed these questions and others to NFL on CBS lead sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson. Wolfson, along with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be on the call this Sunday, when the Ravens head to Atlanta to face the Falcons at 1 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS. It will be the crew’s final visit to Atlanta before returning there in February for the broadcast of Super Bowl LIII, exclusively on CBS. (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed)
CBS Local Sports: The Ravens have won two straight games with Lamar Jackson under center, and the main question this week is whether the team should continue starting him or go back to Flacco. What’s your take on the situation?
Tracy Wolfson: It seems like right now they came out and said that Lamar Jackson is going to start his third straight game. No one knows yet if that is because Joe Flacco is not going to be ready health-wise or if John Harbaugh just decided to go with Jackson and the hot hand.
The Ravens should stick with the hot hand, but they have to have Joe Flacco ready. They have to find a way to protect Lamar Jackson, and he has to be able to throw the ball more. He can run for as many yards as he has in the last two games, but he can’t take off running when he doesn’t have to. Their main concern with him running that much is him getting hurt.
I understand the move. They are in the playoff hunt right now, and they have gone 2-0 with Lamar Jackson starting. So, I think they go with the hot hand and see if they can make a run to the playoffs.
CBS Local Sports: The other breakout player for Baltimore has been Gus Edwards. As you have prepared for this game, what’s the most interesting thing you have learned about the rookie?
Tracy Wolfson: He is a kid from Staten Island who went undrafted and put a lot of time and effort into getting faster and his conditioning. All of these undrafted guys come in and play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. You definitely see that with a guy like him.
He did some speed training in the offseason, and he is a north-south type of runner. He has really just embraced the opportunity. That is what it’s all about. We are seeing a lot of these running backs, particularly undrafted running backs, come in and light it up.
CBS Local Sports: On the other side of this matchup, the Falcons have been struggling, losers of three straight. What do you think is the biggest reason for those struggles, especially from a team that was considered a Super Bowl contender last year and coming into this season?
Tracy Wolfson: Looking at the defensive side of the ball, some injuries have hurt them there. But they cannot stop the run. They are 25th in rush defense right now. They are not forcing turnovers, just two in the last three games, and this is a defense that needs to step up. Dan Quinn is a defensive guy, and they certainly have to help take some of the pressure off their offense.
They lost their starting running back (Devonta Freeman). Matt Ryan has been sacked 33 times. The Falcons need to protect him better. We know what he can do in the passing game with Julio Jones, (Calvin) Ridley, and (Mohamed) Sanu. But they are not able to establish the run right now, so it is all up to Matt Ryan. If they can’t protect him, can’t establish the run and can’t stop anyone on defense, it’s going to be difficult to win games.
CBS Local Sports: As you have prepared for this game, what have you found to be the most interesting storyline?
Tracy Wolfson: How the Falcons prepare for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens quarterback situation. It seems that Jackson is going to start this game, but do the Falcons prepare for both quarterbacks? How do they contain Jackson? How do they play defense against him?
As for the other side of the ball: will we see the Ravens throw the ball more? Will they try and protect from running and injury? Those are interesting storylines.
This weekend is also ‘My Cause, My Cleats.’ It is one of my favorite weeks of the year, because it is an opportunity for the players to really show who they support and put it out on their cleats. I love seeing all of the different artwork and how into it the players get.
They should be able to wear them throughout the game every week of the season. It is a great way for players to show what they stand for. We’ll follow that throughout the game this week and show some of the stories, show some of the cleats out there. That is really interesting to me too, along with the X’s and O’s of the game.
CBS Local Sports: You mentioned ‘My Cause, My Cleats.’ With that and allowing touchdown celebrations again, it seems like the League is letting players show their personalities more. Do you think that’s a good thing for the League?
Tracy Wolfson: I think it’s great. People are watching the NFL for fun. They want entertainment. And they want the players to enjoy it just as much. If the NFL curtails that, then the players aren’t going to enjoy it, and they are going to get frustrated, and they are going to lash out. This is the best way. Bring it to the fans. Let the players have fun out there. Let the fans relate to the players.
These touchdown celebrations are amazing. We are all just waiting to see what is next and what else they can come up with. That’s a different element that they brought back, which was such a smart decision.
The more they allow things like this, the better. Allow them to speak out in this way and show what they care for, what they support. I love it.