ATLANTA — The Ravens picked up a solid road win this week by taking down the Falcons 26-16. The victory puts them at 7-5 and gives them their first three-game win streak of the season. A tough matchup in Kansas City looms on the horizon. For now, let’s enjoy this win. Here are four takeaways from the game.
1: Defense dominates
Most of the focus leading up to this week’s game was on the Ravens quarterbacks but the defense ended up stealing the spotlight on Sunday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Lamar Jackson turned heads the past two weeks but the defense rose to the occasion in both of those games and sealed the win.
That was the case once again this week as the Ravens defense held Matt Ryan and company to just 131 yards of total offense. Ryan’s 97 passing yards stands as a career low for the veteran quarterback and the ground game wasn’t any better for Atlanta. Ito Smith led the way with 22 yards on seven carries while Tevin Coleman was practically nonexistent with eight yards on six carries. Surprisingly their 34 total rushing yards is not even their worst running performance of the season as they only mustered 26 in last week’s loss to the Saints.
It took the Falcons until the end of the fourth quarter to score a touchdown on offense and by that point the Ravens had already sealed a victory thanks to another timely turnover. Last week it was Matt Judon coming up with a big strip sack while Terrell Suggs picked it up and scored. The same scene played out this week but the cast was different. Patrick Onwuasor was able to get to Ryan on an all-out blitz and force a fumble which Tavon Young quickly scooped up and carried to the endzone.
2: A closer mentality
That fumble recovery by Young put the Ravens up 26-10 with a little over seven minutes to play. That’s the kind of game-sealing play that the Ravens could have used in a handful of crucial games the past few seasons.
With all the attention being put on Jackson and his first three NFL starts, the Ravens defense has put together three great games in a row. Has the level of competition been the toughest? Absolutely not, but tell me the last time you saw the Ravens defense successfully protect a fourth quarter lead three games in a row.
After the game Eric Weddle spoke on the way the defense has been approaching these past few games. The veteran safety told the media the defense looks at themselves as closers and they relish the opportunity to put games away in the fourth quarter.
Obviously you want this kind of attitude out of your defense every week but their importance has only increased with Jackson as the starter. The Ravens may be 3-0 with Jackson and the run game has been given new life, but the offense as a whole is averaging just 21 points a game. The defense has been forced into some tough situations between this lack of scoring and Jackson’s turnovers but they keep getting the job done.
There is a lot of debate as to whether the Ravens defense deserves to be called the best in the league, but when you look at what they have done these past three weeks, I don’t know how you could say they aren’t. Other units may have more turnovers and sacks, but the Ravens are holding opponents to just 18 points a game and in 2018 that should be praised. The league is not designed for this to happen but Wink Martindale and his crew are finding ways to play tough defense in a league that values high scoring shootouts on a week-to-week basis.
3: Containing Julio Jones & Calvin Ridley
The defense’s overall performance was outstanding and when you look at the stats, it rivals their performances against the Bills and Titans from earlier this year. However, the Falcons presented a much bigger challenge with their offensive weapons. Most teams will only hope to limit receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley but Baltimore ended up shutting them down as the duo combined for just five receptions for 40 yards. Jones was targeted eight times in the game but only hauled in two catches. Both Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith did a good job shadowing the star receiver and contesting almost every ball thrown in his direction.
In addition to that, the pass rush got to Ryan pretty quickly and forced some imperfect throws. The same thing happened a few weeks ago against the Bengals but you could really see how effective it was this Sunday as Ryan tried to stand tall behind a terrible offensive line. Very rarely have the Ravens gotten both their pass rush and secondary firing on all cylinders at the same time, but when they do they are very tough to beat.
4: Overcoming some bumps and bruises
The outcome of Sunday’s game was great but there was not a feeling of comfort while it was taking place. One reason behind that is the amount of Ravens players that left the game due to injury.
The most notable player to leave was Jackson in the third quarter. The rookie quarterback was leading the Ravens down the field and into scoring position looking to take the lead. On one of the last plays of the drive, Jackson scrambled for a gain of 10 yards. While being tackled, Jackson was accidentally kicked in the helmet by teammate Ronnie Stanley. Jackson did not leave the game right away but the NFL’s medical staff forced him to go into concussion protocol following the drive.
Fans started to become worried when Jackson exited the injury tent on the sideline and headed for the locker room. It was later revealed that the medical staff could not properly evaluate Jackson in the tent and needed to go the locker room where it was quieter. As a result of the prolonged concussion test, Jackson was absent for an entire drive and Robert Griffin III had to lead the Ravens offense.
Griffin performed well and helped the Ravens eat up over seven minutes of clock before picking up another field goal. Jackson would later return to the game to help close things out. Even if this is the only time we see Griffin this season, his presence should be valued. There was a lot of debate in the preseason around whether the Ravens should keep three quarterbacks or not. The case for keeping Griffin was mostly based on the possibility of Joe Flacco getting injured. That has come to be the case and having a guy like Griffin ready to go instead of scrambling to find some washed-up veteran in free agency was a very under-appreciated move.
Stanley was also injured on the previously mentioned play where his foot came in contact with Jackson’s helmet. Despite appearing to be in a good bit of pain, the left tackle would return to the game later in the third quarter. This is another huge relief for Stanley who has found himself banged up on a handful of plays in recent weeks.
Image credit: Danny Karnik / Associated Press