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Eisenberg: Beating Chiefs Validates How the Ravens Play

QB Lamar Jacskon
QB Lamar Jacskon

After the Ravens fell behind early Sunday night on a shocking pick-six, their offense returned to the field and rolled to a touchdown that tied the score. Five of the six plays on the 75-yard drive were runs.

The line blasted open holes to the left and right and up the middle. Four different backs carried the ball.

The drive sent quite a message to the Chiefs: Buckle up, we aren't rolling over.

Early in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens needed to keep their comeback-in-progress going, their offense drove 68 yards to a touchdown, taking up eight minutes. Eleven of the drive's 14 plays were runs. Four different backs carried the ball.

No other NFL team plays like that, especially when facing a double-digit deficit late in a game.

In the end, when they needed to convert on fourth-and-1 to secure a memorable win, there was no doubt what the Ravens would do. Keep the ball in Lamar Jackson's hands. Let the O-line go to work.

Nothing fancy. Ground and pound.

The win was significant for multiple reasons. The Ravens needed it to offset some of the damage caused by their season-opening loss in Las Vegas. Jackson needed it to show that, yes, he could go toe to toe with the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and win.

But the win was significant for no reason more than it went a long toward validating HOW the Ravens play.

Most other teams rely on their passing games to move the ball, but the Ravens' offense is built on a power running game and Jackson's one-of-a-kind dynamism.

They've zigged effectively while they rest of the league zags, setting rushing records and earning playoffs berths, but you become an easy target for criticism when you try a unique approach. The Ravens' 1-3 record in the playoffs since 2018 has given some skeptics all the evidence they need to tsk-tsk the idea as a flashy gamble with a limited ceiling.

But Sunday night illustrated that, in fact, the Ravens can beat the best teams in the league by being who they are.

Let's be clear about what happened. Jackson was spectacular, making play after play before a roaring crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. But fundamentally, the Ravens crammed the ball down the throats of the two-time defending AFC champions.

Baltimore ran on 41 of 68 offensive snaps, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt and finishing with 251 rushing yards. The effort was a masterpiece of power football. Big O-linemen pulled and feinted and blocked in concert. A sixth lineman and/or second tight end were added at times. A 305-pound fullback was repeatedly hurled at the point of attack.

The Ravens kicked some serious rear end. Trying to set edges and make stops, the Chiefs' defense took a beating and finally ran out of gas as the Ravens controlled the clock and kept Mahomes on the sideline – the key to victory, no question.

Jackson was at the controls, thrilling a national audience with his playmaking. But as always, he wasn't just winging it. Most of his dashes are on designed plays, behind a blocking sledgehammer. (In the video of Head Coach John Harbaugh's postgame locker room speech, note how Jackson makes sure the O-line gets recognized.)

Jackson also made numerous plays with his arm, none more electric than the jump-pass touchdown to Marquise Brown, an instant classic. But as hard as the Ravens have worked to improve their passing game, it's always going to be more of a complementary offensive phase, not the primary phase.

They're a power running team, their DNA so ingrained that they beat the Chiefs with a cadre of running backs new to the roster and a line missing its top tackle and featuring two players making their first-ever starts at their positions. Jackson finished with 346 total yards, exactly as many as Mahomes, who did the vast majority of his offensive damage in the air. But a yard is a yard, no matter how you gain it.

At this early point in the season, NFL teams usually are still trying to identify how they can win games. It's not always clear. Convention says you're in trouble if you haven't figured it out by October.

A devastating run of injuries has complicated the Ravens' search for a winning formula in 2021, but Sunday night's win was, in effect, a call to order.

They saw that they could beat the NFL's best with their power ground game and spectacular running quarterback. It's a formidable cornerstone to build on.

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