BALTIMORE — Despite allowing the Denver Broncos to score touchdowns on their first two possessions and jump out to a 14-7 lead, the Baltimore Ravens did not allow them to reach the end zone again as Baltimore took down Denver 27-14 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Both teams now hold 2-1 records. With the Bengals losing to the Panthers 31-21 on Sunday, Baltimore and Cincinnati share the lead for first place in the AFC North, followed by Cleveland (1-1-1) and Pittsburgh (0-1-1).
For the Ravens, Sunday’s win over the Broncos could prove to be a valuable win. The Ravens will play four of their next five games on the road. Their next three games are all on the road, and two of them are against divisional opponents – the Steelers and Browns. The Ravens historically struggle away from home but will hold the rest advantage over the Steelers ahead of next week’s primetime classic. The Steelers play the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football tomorrow night in Tampa.
Now that the postgame festivities have wrapped up, let’s take a look at what we learned during Sunday’s win.
1. Ravens are lucky special teams blunders did not prove too costly
Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg and head coach John Harbaugh, formally a special teams coordinator, must have been furious with the unit’s performance in the first half. After the Ravens went three-and-out on their first offensive drive, linebacker Joseph Jones blocked Sam Koch‘s punt before Buck Allen recovered it at the Ravens’ 4-yard line. Then the Broncos scored a touchdown on their very first offensive play as Royce Freeman found a hole and dashed forward for a six-yard score.
With the Ravens leading 17-14 in the second quarter, Justin Tucker came on to attempt his second field goal of the afternoon, a 43-yarder. After the ball was snapped, out of nowhere, safety Justin Simmons appeared behind the line of scrimmage and blocked Tucker’s kick. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. recovered the ball and sprinted to the end-zone for what would have been a 58-yard return touchdown. But, the score was called back due to an illegal block call on lineman Billy Turner.
Denver took over at midfield afterwards, but Tucker should have been awarded another attempt at the kick, because Simmons jumped over long snapper Morgan Cox, which isn’t allowed anymore.
The third and final special teams blunder came on a kickoff in the first quarter when Robinson Daniel was flagged for an illegal formation. These penalties only turned into seven points for Denver, but it’s disappointing for a unit that’s been regarded as one of the best in the NFL during Harbaugh’s tenure. The Ravens waived Janarion Grant on Saturday because of his special teams slip-ups. If this trend continues, the coaching staff will find other options.
2. Buck Allen is a touchdown machine (and a fantasy sleeper)
The running backs took care of scoring all three touchdowns against the Broncos, and Allen accounted for two of them. Joe Flacco connected with Allen for a 12-yard catch-and-run about midway through the second quarter put the Ravens up 17-14. Allen found the end-zone again at the 7:26 mark in the fourth quarter with a one-yard run for the Ravens’ final score.
Allen has accumulated four touchdowns over the first three games of the season, and he’s scored in every contest. He’s only registered 76 all-purpose yards so far, but the coaching staff recognizes his knack for finding the end-zone and has utilized him effectively.
If you’re a fantasy football team owner exploring different options for your flex position, Allen is likely still available in several leagues and could be a steal if picked up.
3. Kenny Young should start even when C.J. Mosley returns from injury
One of the brightest spots of Sunday’s win over Denver was watching fourth-round rookie linebacker Kenny Young shine in his first NFL start. Young filled in for C.J. Mosley, who suffered a bone bruise in Cincinnati. Mosley practiced on a limited basis last week, but was ruled out shortly before kickoff.
Young didn’t waste any time making his presence felt. He led the team with 10 tackles (eight solo), including one tackle-for-loss. He flies around the field and is around the ball often. He’s easily been the most impressive rookie on defense so far.
It’s no secret that Mosley is in his contract year and, according to reports, has not been approached by the Ravens yet over signing an extension. Mosley is a very intelligent football player. When he’s in the game, he wears the helmet connected to the headsets of defensive coaches who relay the play calls to him. However, there are flaws in his game, particularly in pass coverage. If he doesn’t put together this best season after coming back from this bone bruise, and Young continues to impress in his rookie campaign, paying Mosley could become less likely.
Young has a long way to go before replacing Mosley becomes a real possibility, but his first start could not have gone much better.
4. Run game needs improvement, but balance helps Flacco
By no means was the Ravens’ rushing attack impressive on Sunday. Both Alex Collins and Allen combined for 75 rushing yards and struggled to find open holes to burst through. With that said, it was refreshing to see offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg commit to the run game and at least try to get it going. Flacco operates best when the running game clicks. Even though the Ravens averaged under three yards-per-carry, it took some of the pressure off Flacco.
With a commitment to the run game present, Flacco completed 63% of his passes, threw for 277 yards with a touchdown and did not turn the ball over. Against Cincinnati, Flacco threw the ball 55 times and turned the football over twice while only 22 running plays were called. The offensive line still has a long way to go, but at least the Ravens showed a commitment to running the football.
5. Brandon Carr could be a huge liability against the Steelers next week
Without Jimmy Smith last season, Brandon Carr got exposed against top wide receivers. Carr put together a solid performance with an interception in week one against Buffalo, but since then he’s left a lot to be desired.
In the second half, Case Keenum picked on Carr and it worked out well. It didn’t matter if it was Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, or Courtland Sutton, Carr gave up plays of 22 and 21 yards, as well as plays of eight and nine yards that resulted in first downs. He was also flagged for pass interference which turned into a 17-yard Denver gain.
It’s no secret that the Steelers’ wide receiving corps is loaded with the likes of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. In a December matchup against the Steelers last season, Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards without Smith in the Ravens’ secondary. It will be hard for Big Ben to match that total, but the thought of Carr covering Brown makes Ravens fans cringe.
Hopefully the Ravens learn from their mistakes and keep Marlon Humphrey on Brown next Sunday. Facing the Steelers offense is daunting enough, but without Smith it’s that much more of a challenge.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun