The Ravens started last season ready for prime time. With quarterback Lamar Jackson starring in a “Thursday Night Football” win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a “Monday Night Football” romp over the New Orleans Saints 11 days later, the team entered its mid-November bye looking like an AFC contender.

Then Jackson hurt his knee, and prime time became a bad time. The Ravens collapsed in the fourth quarter of a Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on “Sunday Night Football.” Two weeks later, in a Sunday night game, they fumbled away their shot at upsetting the Bengals in the AFC’s wild-card round.

But after an impressive home win over Cincinnati on “Thursday Night Football” last week, the Ravens (8-3) again have the NFL’s attention. This weekend, they’ll face the Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) on “Sunday Night Football,” their first of three (and potentially more) prime-time games over the final seven weeks of the regular season.

“I feel like you all are always talking about us,” outside linebacker Odafe Oweh said Tuesday. “It’s just a good opportunity to just really showcase everything that you’ve worked on and try to cancel all the naysayers. We all love prime-time games. We love to show the whole world what we’ve been practicing, because everyone’s watching at that point.”

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Here’s what to watch in their Week 12 matchup inside SoFi Stadium.

1. Justin Herbert and Jackson are in an exclusive club. It just happens to be a club without a lot of benefits. Both have finished a week this season as Pro Football Focus’ highest-rated quarterback — Jackson in Week 5 against the Steelers, Herbert in Week 11 against the Green Bay Packers. And both lost those games.

Shaky hands were their undoing. The Ravens dropped seven of Jackson’s 38 passes in Pittsburgh, according to PFF, including two in the end zone and another that likely would’ve gone for a score. The Chargers dropped six of Herbert’s 36 passes in Green Bay, including one inside the Packers’ 5-yard line, another at the goal line and a final heartbreaker that could’ve set the Chargers up for at least a game-tying field goal.

Unlike Jackson, however, Herbert’s margin for error this season has been almost nonexistent. The Chargers have needed him to be both their hero and their safety net. Only four quarterbacks have dropped back to pass more often than Herbert, and only seven regular starters have a lower sack rate (5.5%). As a runner, Herbert’s success rate (46.3%) far exceeds the Chargers’ overall rate on designed runs (29.8%, 31st in the NFL), according to TruMedia; he had a game-high 73 rushing yards against Green Bay.

And, with Joshua Palmer and Mike Williams sidelined by injuries, Herbert’s top wide receiver after Keenan Allen is rookie Quentin Johnston, who’s averaging a woeful 0.75 yards per route run this season, according to PFF.

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“He can put the ball anywhere he wants,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said Tuesday of Herbert. “He’s extremely accurate, can throw the ball extremely far. He can move around. He can do whatever. He reads coverages, so he’s really like an all-around quarterback that we just have to be prepared for. … We just have to be great, and our coverages need to be tight.”

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2. For the second straight year, the Ravens won’t face the Kansas City Chiefs in the regular season. But if Patrick Mahomes ultimately stands in their postseason path, Herbert’s pocket presence and arm strength could offer a useful approximation of what’s to come.

According to PFF, among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop-backs this season, Herbert has the eighth-best pressure-to-sack rate (15.1%), meaning he’s rarely made a bad situation worse. Mahomes, long one of the NFL’s best at navigating compromised pockets, leads the league in pressure-to-sack rate (8.7%).

When passing under pressure, Herbert and Mahomes also have eight of what PFF calls “big-time throws” — high-value and high-difficulty attempts, typically aimed downfield or into a tight window. Only three quarterbacks have more big-time throws under pressure, led by Jackson’s 11. Safety Kyle Hamilton said Wednesday that Herbert “just challenges teams across all levels.”

“Just an elusive guy,” Oweh said Tuesday. “He’s good on his feet, very accurate as well. He can throw the ball really hard. He’s a talented QB, but I feel like if we stay in our disguise and we do what we have to do, don’t allow him to pick out our defense, stay disciplined in our rush lanes and then tackle, finish plays … I feel like we’ll be good. We’ll be straight, and we match up pretty much better than them.”

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3. Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s emergence as an NFL Most Valuable Player candidate this season has cast Miami’s decision to draft him No. 5 overall in 2020 — over Herbert, whom the Chargers took one spot later — in a more positive light. Sunday’s game could renew the focus on another sliding-doors draft moment for the Chargers — only this time, not as positively.

With the No. 20 overall pick in April’s draft, the Seattle Seahawks were the first team to take a receiver, selecting Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Boston College’s Zay Flowers and USC’s Jordan Addison were still on the board. So was Johnston, a star at TCU.

The Chargers, in search of more explosive plays, went with Johnston, who had 1,069 receiving yards in 2022 and averaged 19 yards per catch over his college career. The Ravens took Flowers one spot later, at No. 22 overall, and Addison went to the Minnesota Vikings with the next pick.

But, on a receiving corps needing a complementary playmaker, Johnston has contributed only in spurts. He has 20 catches on 34 targets for 183 yards and a touchdown, plus a crucial late drop against the Packers.

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His fellow rookie wideouts, meanwhile, have hit the ground running. Smith-Njigba has almost twice as many receiving yards (365). Flowers has more than three times as many (588). Addison has 647 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The Houston Texans’ Tank Dell, a third-round pick, has 659 yards. The Los Angeles Rams’ Puka Nacua, a fifth-round pick, is sixth in the NFL with 897 yards.

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“I honestly don’t think it’s that hard, depending on who you are,” wide receiver Rashod Bateman said Wednesday of the transition to the NFL. “Sometimes I feel like it’s easier, depending on who you are. For Zay, it’s probably easy. That dude is open 99% of the time, so that’s a question for him, honestly. He’s going to continue to get open for the rest of the year, so I’m excited to see what he [does].”

4. Allen, the Chargers’ star wide receiver, leads the NFL in total targets (113) and targets per game (11.3). He’s finished games with 18 catches, 11 catches and 10 catches this season. He’s played over 85% of the Chargers’ offensive snaps in all but three games. In other words, he gets a lot of looks.

“I did notice that,” Harbaugh joked Wednesday.

As for who might stop Allen on Sunday? It depends partly on where the Chargers deploy him. Allen has lined up in the slot on 61.2% of his pass snaps this season, according to PFF, and out wide on the remainder. He’s plenty effective in both alignments, ranking 30th among NFL wide receivers in yards per slot route run and third in yards per outside route run, according to TruMedia.

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If cornerback Marlon Humphrey bounces back from the calf injury that sidelined him against Cincinnati, the Ravens’ secondary should be well prepared, wherever Allen ends up. A matchup against Kyle Hamilton could be especially compelling; the Ravens’ versatile safety has allowed just four catches on 11 targets for 16 yards in coverage as a slot defender this season, according to Sports Info Solutions. Just two of those catches, for a combined 7 yards, went to wide receivers.

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“He’s done it in this league a long time, long before I’ve been here, and still doing it today and at a high level,” Hamilton said Wednesday of Allen. “He’s super quick, very good route runner. He’s crisp, efficient with his route running. He’s a tough cover, but I think we’ve got a good plan.”

5. With the Chiefs’ loss Monday night to the Philadelphia Eagles, the 8-3 Ravens left Week 11 atop the AFC. But there’s little breathing room in the conference. Four teams, including Kansas City, are 7-3.

“It’s where you want to be at this point, but it doesn’t mean anything until after the last game in terms of playoff seeding,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “If you get the lead, keep the lead. I guess it means something in that sense. We control a certain amount of our destiny.”

Not much, though. Even if the Ravens run the table to end the season — a herculean challenge, considering they have the NFL’s hardest remaining schedule, according to FTN’s DVOA rankings — Kansas City would have the inside track to the No. 1 seed if it finished 14-3, too.

Because the Ravens and Chiefs won’t meet this regular season, their winning percentage in conference play would be their tiebreaker. The Ravens are 5-3 in the AFC and, after Sunday, still have in-conference games against the 7-3 Jacksonville Jaguars, 7-3 Miami Dolphins and 6-4 Pittsburgh Steelers. Kansas City is 5-1 in the AFC, and its toughest remaining conference games are against the 6-5 Buffalo Bills and the Chargers — both at home.

With December fast approaching, the Ravens are near locks to make the playoffs. But their bid for home-field advantage could turn into a long shot with a loss Sunday.

jonas.shaffer@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring. 

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