Five thoughts following the Ravens 22-10 win over the Chargers

The Baltimore Ravens took the field on Saturday night dressed in their classic all-white uniforms and proceeded to pick up a 22-10 win on the shoulders of a heavy rush attack and a strong defense. What year is it?

It certainly didn’t feel like 2018 but I won’t waste any more of your time by setting the scene. Here are five takeaways from the Ravens biggest win of the season.

1 – First half domination (sort of):

If you missed the game and had to follow along with score updates, you would probably think the Ravens had a rough first half. A 6-3 lead was less than ideal but there was way more to like about the first half than dislike. The Baltimore defense was locked in for the entire half and absolutely manhandled the Chargers offense.

It all started on the first play when Philip Rivers tried to go deep down the sideline but was picked off by Brandon Carr. Mike Williams had Carr beat but Rivers under-threw the ball, allowing the Ravens corner to regain control and make a play.

The Ravens first turnover of the night set the tone for the first half and the rest of the game. The Chargers offense did not pick up a first down until the beginning of the second quarter and could not cross mid-field until the end of the half when a pass interference call finally moved them into Ravens territory.

Despite all of this, the Ravens offense only mustered six points. They certainly had their opportunities but could not capitalize. Justin Tucker missed a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter but on the next possession the Ravens found themselves in the red zone again. After getting stopped on third and goal, John Harbaugh decided to go for it but Lamar Jackson’s pass sailed out of the back of the end zone and the Ravens were left with another empty possession.

2 – Poor field conditions:

One of the things that made the first half ugly was the amount of plays stopped by a player losing their footing. Both teams had trouble with this early on but it seemed to impact the Ravens a little more as the road team. Carr fell down twice in coverage and later on in the first quarter Gus Edwards slipped on a run, tripping James Hurst in the process. The Ravens left guard was shaken up on the play but later returned to the game.

The footing issues disappeared at the half and didn’t have much of an impact on the remainder of the game. I would assume some players switched cleats during the break but that’s just a guess. The Chargers temporary home has been clowned for its seating capacity but I have not heard any complaints about the field up until now. Thankfully it did not have a bigger impact on the outcome of the game.

3 – Jackson outplays Rivers:

Perhaps one of the most surprising outcomes from this game was how the quarterback dual played out. I don’t think many people expected Jackson to have this good of a game, let alone outshine a future hall of fame quarterback.

Jackson finished the night 12-for-22 with 204 yards and a touchdown. It marks the first time Jackson has thrown for over 200 yards in his six-game career. On the other hand, Rivers was very lackluster, going 23-for-37 with 181 yards and two interceptions. Not only did Jackson have a better game throwing the ball, but he also continued to be a factor in the run game by adding 39 yards on the ground.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of the game but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Jackson act as cool as a cucumber through the whole game while Rivers did nothing but yell and scream at the refs. Everyone has highlighted the differences between Jackson and Joe Flacco the past five weeks, but the one similarity seems to be their demeanor in big games.

4 – Getting it done on third and long: 

After the Ravens defense broke our hearts a few weeks ago in a loss to Kansas City, it was nice to see them get the job done in third and long situations this time around. The Chargers started the game 0-for-6 on third down and their most favorable distance in that span was 3rd-and-15. That should tell you everything you need to know. Whether it was the Ravens pass rush setting up these long down situations or the Chargers committing offensive penalties, Baltimore was able to take advantage and get off the field.

5 – Pass rush comes up big in key situations:

It has certainly been a roller coaster year for the Ravens pass rush. We all know about the monster game they put together in Tenseness but there have also been a handful of games where the defensive line was not able to get to the opposing quarterback at all.

Saturday wasn’t the biggest day for the pass rush but it was one of the most clutch. After taking the run option away from the Chargers the Ravens knew that the ball would be in Rivers hands with the game on the line. This allowed them to do what they do best and send the house in key situations. More often than not it was a success for Baltimore as they recorded four sacks.

All four sacks came in the second half and three ultimately led to a Chargers punt. The biggest of the night was the final one recorded by Za’Darius Smith. The Ravens outside linebacker quickly shed a block and got to Rivers before he could look down field. What made it the biggest sack of the game was the timing. The Chargers were driving and had the ball at the Ravens 29-yard line with under six minutes to play. Smith dropped Rivers for an 11-yard loss and not only forced fourth down, but also pushed the Chargers out of field goal range in a six-point game.

One more game:

This win sets up yet another high-drama game for the Ravens to close out the season. For the second straight year they will host a division opponent in week 17 with the playoffs hanging in the balance. Last year the Bengals came to town and spoiled Baltimore’s chances at the postseason and this year the Browns will be looking to do the same.

While Cleveland was technically eliminated from playoff contention when the Titans won on Saturday, they are still playing with a lot of energy and purpose at this point in the season. That is something we haven’t been able to say about the Browns in a very long time. Cleveland definitely poses a threat to the Ravens, especially after coming out victorious in the first meeting between the two teams earlier this year.

If there is one advantage to the NFL’s scheduling blunder this week it is the fact that the Ravens will have an extra day to deal with any jet leg flying back to the east coast. It is commonly said by athletes that flying west to east is more difficult than the other direction. The Ravens will get back to Baltimore on Sunday and have some extra time to get adjusted before hitting the practice field.

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Image credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

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Four thoughts following the Ravens 26-16 win in Atlanta

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.

Other Ravens players who left the game due to injury include Jimmy Smith, Brandon Williams, Maxx Williams and Alex Lewis. All would return to the game except for Lewis who suffered a shoulder injury.

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Image credit: Danny Karnik / Associated Press

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 one sack was 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.

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Image credit: Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun