Three thoughts following Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start

The Baltimore Ravens picked up one of their biggest wins of the season on Sunday by taking down the Cincinnati Bengals 24-21. The win snapped a three-game losing streak and kept the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive as they prepare to enter the final stretch of the season.

Here are three key takeaways from the Ravens fifth win of the year: 

1 Jackson runs wild in first NFL start

You know I had to start with Lamar Jackson. After two weeks of quarterback uncertainty, the Ravens’ first-round rookie was given the opportunity to start his first NFL game. The circumstances were not ideal with Joe Flacco suffering a hip injury, but Jackson made the most of his first real opportunity by leading the offense to a 24-point afternoon and a victory.

Jackson has been involved in the Ravens’ offense throughout the season as a secret weapon of sorts but very rarely has he come through with a big play. That changed on Sunday as Jackson consistently fooled the Bengals defense with the read option. Marty Mornhinweg played to his young quarterback’s strengths and let him carry the ball 27 times. The result was a 117-yard afternoon on the ground for Jackson. Even with a handful of mobile quarterbacks finding a home in the NFL in recent years, none of them have carried the ball this many times in a game.

The former Louisville Cardinal added 150 yards through the air to cap off a solid debut. It would have been an even better afternoon for the rookie had he not thrown an ugly interception at the beginning of the second half but he still rebounded and led the offense to a comeback win.

One of the biggest differences I saw with Jackson under center was the length of drives. It’s no secret that if you run the ball well, you are going to eat up a lot of clock. The Ravens offense ended up running the ball over 50 times this week so it’s no surprise that they won the time of possession battle pretty easily. However, this should not be brushed off as an meaningless stat. By holding the ball for 38 minutes, the Ravens took the ball out of Andy Dalton’s hands and gave the Bengals offense fewer opportunities to go on the attack.

Jackson’s future as a starter this season is still up in the air, but if he does get the chance to start in big games against Kansas City the Los Angeles Chargers, an overwhelming run attack could be the key. It’s hard enough to play defense in today’s NFL so you have to do whatever you can to keep the ball away from guys like Patrick Mahomes and Phillip Rivers.

2. All aboard the Gus bus

The Ravens went into Sunday’s matchup with four active running backs as Ty Montgomery made his debut in purple and black. To the surprise of many fans, Gus Edwards emerged from this group as the leading rusher. The undrafted rookie made his debut off the practice squad earlier this season but made a name for himself this week with 115 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries to help lead the Ravens’ offense.

Marty Mornhinweg has had trouble getting the run game going all year but you wouldn’t be able to tell by watching Sunday’s game. Edwards’ 100+ yard afternoon was accompanied by 117 yards from Jackson, marking the first time since 2012 (Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce) that the Ravens have had two 100-yard rushers in one game.

While Edwards is certainly an unlikely hero, his success alongside Jackson is not a big surprise. While playing for Rutgers as a graduate transfer in 2017, Edwards was utilized heavily in a read option offense similar to the one being used here with Jackson. With that in mind, it makes sense why John Harbaugh and Mornhinweg would give him the majority of snaps.

Both Buck Allen and Montgomery are better utilized in the pass attack, making Alex Collins the only other running back on the depth chart that can carry the ball on a consistent basis. However, Collins’ fumbling troubles make him a liability in the read option where the quarterback and running back have to decide who will carry the ball in a matter of seconds.

3. Defense exorcises their Dalton demons

With all the focus on Jackson and his exciting debut as a starter, the Ravens defense will get lost in the media storm. You would bee a fool to ignore this defensive performance considering it was one of the best for the Ravens all season. With the Bengals’ offense seeking revenge after getting embarrassed at home by the New Orleans Saints, this looked like it could be a rough afternoon for the Ravens who have been slipping on defense in recent games. 

However, the Ravens defense was stout all afternoon and managed to hold a Bengals offense that has given them a lot of trouble to just 255 yards. Wink Martindale’s crew has allowed fewer yards in just two other games this season (Buffalo & Tennessee). In addition to this, the pass rush saw a return to form in Sunday’s win. Only two sacks were recorded but Dalton was rushed into a handful of bad throws after getting heavily pressured.

Overall, it was a rough afternoon for the Bengals quarterback as he completed just 19 of his 36 pass attempts. The absence of A.J. Green certainly had an impact but Dalton failed to deliver the ball to his other receivers on a consistent basis. The Ravens secondary and middle linebackers had good coverage all afternoon and got their hands on a few of Dalton’s off-target throws.

The biggest defensive play came on the final drive of the game when Marlon Humphrey broke up what would have been a huge fourth down conversion for the Bengals. Up until this play, things were feeling eerily similar to the heartbreaking loss in week 17 last year, but Humphrey and the rest of Martindale’s crew avenged that painful loss with a game-winning defensive stand.

Quick Hits:

Image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun

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Ravens acquire Ty Montgomery from Packers at trade deadline

On Tuesday afternoon the NFL trade deadline dominated the headlines with many big name players finding new homes across the league. The Ravens were not involved in one of the blockbuster deals but they still managed to make a low risk trade with the Green Bay Packers that could help their needs at the running back position.

Baltimore will receive Ty Montgomery from the Packers in exchange for a seventh round pick in the 2020 NFL draft. Montgomery was a third round pick in the 2015 draft and has started 14 games in Green Bay since then. He has accumulated just 849 rushing yards so far in his career but he does provide the Ravens with some options as a running back that can get involved in the pass game and special teams.

Baltimore’s offense has struggled to get the most out of its current running back core but Buck Allen currently fills the role of the receiving running back while Alex Collins does more of the work on the ground. At the end of the day neither Allen or Collins has been able to live up to the expectations surrounding them. Gus Edwards looked to provide a spark off the practice squad but his involvement has been shrinking since the Ravens win over Tennessee a few weeks ago.

Montgomery found himself on the trade block early this week after a costly fourth quarter fumble in this past Sunday’s game against the Rams. The 25-year-old running back coughed up the ball on a kick return late in the game and cost his team a chance at a potential game winning drive. Hopefully a change of scenery is beneficial for Montgomery but at the very least this is a lottery ticket move for the Ravens that could pay off down the stretch.

Image credit: Jeff Hanisch / USA Today Sports

Five key takeaways from Ravens 36-21 loss to Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens looked poised for a big afternoon after taking a 7-0 lead on their first possession of Sunday’s game in Charlotte but things quickly fell apart as Cam Newton led the Panthers to a 36-21 victory. Here are five key things I am focusing on following the Ravens’ fourth loss of the season

1. Running game can’t put together a complete game:

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ rushing attack has been lackluster all season. Alex Collins has failed to build upon his breakout 2017 campaign and the depth behind him is not providing much supplemental help.

Collins’struggles continued on Sunday when he fumbled at the beginning of the second quarter. Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love exploded through the offensive line with ease and leveled Collins for what appeared to be just a six-yard loss. Things took a quick turn for the worse when Collins juggled the ball after taking the hit and proceeded to cough it up. This marks the third time Collins has fumbled this season.

What’s frustrating is the fact that Collins was off to a solid start with 19 yards and a touchdown in the early goings. Collins ran the ball seven times after the fumble but I wouldn’t say the Ravens abandoned the run game in this one. It’s hard to keep going to a guy like Collins after a fumble but being down by three scores at the half doesn’t help either. Moving forward Buck Allen is going to need to be more involved in the run game. I don’t understand why but he has been called upon to run the ball just four times in the last three weeks.

2. Defense forced into tough situations:

The Ravens’ defense surrendered a season-high 36 points against the Panthers but the odds where not in their favor from start to finish as the Panthers found themselves starting with great field position on numerous drives.

Two Joe Flacco interceptions and the ugly fumble by Collins helped set up three short field scoring possessions for the Panthers. Overall it was a great afternoon for the Carolina offense as their average starting position was their own 37-yard line.

This still does not excuse the defense’s overall performance. Wink Martindale’s crew remained a top statistical defense even after last week’s game against New Orleans but the numbers were even worse in this one. The Ravens gave up a season-high 154 rushing yards and 386 total yards of offense. To give you some perspective, they have only given up more yards against the Browns (416) and that game featured an extra ten minutes of overtime.

3. Extended playing time for Lamar Jackson:

After the Panthers went up 36-14 late in the fourth quarter the Ravens opted to send Lamar Jackson out for the final offensive drive of the game. The rookie saw more playing time in the season opener against Buffalo but this week’s garbage time drive still showed us quite a bit. Jackson completed all four of his passes for 42 yards and capped off the two-minute drive with a touchdown pass to fellow rookie Hayden Hurst.

Prior to the final drive the Ravens were utilizing Jackson in the run game like they have most of this season. Jackson finished the afternoon with 26 rushing yards on three carries. His only mistake came in the first quarter when he failed to connect with a wide open Willie Snead on third and one.

4. Injury scare for Ronnie Stanley:

The Ravens have gotten pretty banged up over the past few weeks, especially on the offensive line. With Alex Lewis and James Hurst already inactive this week, everyone was holding their breath when Ronnie Stanley went down in the second half.

The Ravens’left tackle got rolled up by Flacco as he was in the process of falling to the ground. Flacco threw the ball away in an attempt to avoid the sack but he still came down hard on the back of the lineman’s legs. Stanley appeared to be in a lot of pain immediately following the play and had to be helped off the field.

Jermaine Eluemunor entered the game at left tackle after being called up from the practice squad earlier this week. Fortunately for the Ravens, Stanley was able to walk around the sideline after getting examined on the sideline and later returned to the game.

Right now the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, especially since Stanley returned to the game in garbage time, but the Ravens will need him at 100% moving forward. It goes without saying but the Ravens cannot afford anymore injuries on the offensive line. Their health was their strong suit early on this season but now that they have reached the midway point, it’s starting to get pretty shaky.

5. A look around the AFC North:

Morale was low following the heartbreaking loss to the Saints last week but at least the division standings didn’t change much with the Bengals and Browns both losing. This week there is no consolation for Ravens fans as the Steelers took down the Browns and the Bengals overcame a surprise Fitzmagic appearance for an overtime win.

Baltimore now finds themselves in third place with a record of 4-4. However, November will have a big impact on the way the division shakes out as the Ravens prepare to host both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the next three weeks.

Quick Hits:

Jake McDonnell’s postgame live stream:

Image credit: Mike McCarn / AP