The Ravens scored their third straight win with a 27-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football.
Baltimore is now 6-3 and maintained first place in the AFC North with a valuable bye week up next.
Here are five thoughts on the Ravens' win:
This team is trending up – big time.
This was the Ravens' most dominant win since Week 1 against the Jets. For the second straight week, Ravens fans could keep their heart medication on the shelf, as it was in hand midway through the fourth quarter.
The Saints offense only put together three drives the entire game and was held to a season-low 243 yards. Two Saints drives ended with field goals and the third, which the game was all but over, ended with a fluky touchdown. Ravens players said they could smell a possible shutout brewing early, and they weren't far from it.
The Ravens also said they were a whole lot better than they were showing early in the season after their embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins. They were right. This defense has been trending up for a few weeks, but it's skyrocketing now.
Offensively, Lamar Jackson was still miffed after the game about some missed opportunities, but the fact that Baltimore performed so well despite being without Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman and Gus Edwards speaks to the long-term potential. Bateman won't be back this season, but the other two could be after the bye.
The way this ground game is rolling right now, the offense is hard to stop regardless. Baltimore's line and fullback Patrick Ricard are wearing opponents out and then breaking their will in the second half. The Ravens piled up 188 rushing yards and owned time of possession with 15 more minutes than the Saints. That's reminiscent of the 2019 formula. If Baltimore gets even more efficient in the passing game, watch out.
The bye week is a good time to step back and take stock. The Ravens are a good team, capable of doing big things this year. The arrow is way up.
Without top weapons, Jackson spreads the wealth.
Without some of the Ravens' offensive workhorses, Jackson went into the game knowing it would be a committee approach. Jackson completed passes to 10 different receivers and nobody had more than two grabs (James Proche II and Demarcus Robinson). Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely led the team with 24 receiving yards, all gained on one touchdown catch.
Jackson completed 12-of-22 passes for just 133 yards and one touchdown. That doesn't look great on the stat sheet, but the Ravens don't have to have a high-flying passing attack to win. They do need an efficient and/or clutch passing attack. That was accomplished, as the Ravens were 9-of-15 on third down and Jackson hit several key third-down passes to extend scoring drives. Several times, Jackson took what the defense gave him. He didn't try to force the ball down the field or into tight coverage, and it paid off.
Of course, the Ravens don't want to be without Andrews, Edwards and Bateman. But injuries happen, and the way a team, and the backups, respond can be a net positive. Head Coach John Harbaugh agreed that it could be a good thing over the course of a long season as Jackson leans on some of his ancillary targets and they come through for him. Even once the top guns return, Jackson will still need his role players to step up in critical moments.
Justin Houston has discovered the fountain of youth.
Justin Houston isn't supposed to be doing this at 33 years old. This is when pass rushers are supposed to be emptying the tank, sputtering a few times but slowly rolling to a halt. That seems to be the mode Houston was in entering the season, but turns out the tank had more gas in it than anyone realized. Asked for an explanation, Houston could only point to God.
With 2 ½ sacks, Houston is now tied for the second-most sacks in the league, and he even got an interception as the cherry on top against the Saints. His pass rush has allowed Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to blitz a whole lot less than his predecessor as Baltimore's four-man pressure is getting the job done.
It's going to get even better as Tyus Bowser gets more game action under his belt and when second-round rookie David Ojabo is back on the field. It's only a matter of time until Odafe Oweh gets hot too. Baltimore sacked Andy Dalton four times, but it felt like a lot more.
Roquan Smith trade already looks like an A+.
It didn't even take a half of football to come to a grade on the Ravens' trade for linebacker Roquan Smith. It's an A+. Smith was flying around the field and often found himself shadowing one of the game's most explosive players in Saints running back Alvin Kamara. After scoring three touchdowns last week, Kamara was held to 30 yards rushing, 32 yards receiving and zero touchdowns.
The wallop Smith put on Kamara for no gain on an early third-and-1 was a loud announcement that he has elevated Baltimore's defense. He finished with five tackles, tied for third-most on the team. The Ravens get extra rest on the bye, but watching Smith and Patrick Queen wreck the Saints' offensive line is going to make opposing coordinators lose sleep.
Smith's teammates were highly impressed with what they saw in the week of preparation as Smith grasped the Ravens' defense, and the way he played Monday night only further made them believers. Calais Campbell and Queen said he gives them more confidence on the field. The Ravens scored big-time with the deadline trade for Marcus Peters in 2019. The Smith deal is headed in the same direction.
- Rookie first-round pick Kyle Hamilton took some lumps early this season, but he's quietly emerging. Already the top-graded rookie safety in the league from Pro Football Focus, Hamilton was the Ravens' go-to player in the slot against the Saints and responded with six tackles. He also continued to show that he's an excellent special teams player. Hamilton would have had his first career interception had it not been for a questionable pass interference penalty called on Chuck Clark.
- Another player that isn't getting enough shine in the Ravens secondary is Marlon Humphrey, which is surprising considering he's a Pro Bowler and one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the game. Humphrey had some tough plays last year, especially deep. He's cleaned that up this season, and notched two stops in the red-zone – one blanketing of impressive rookie Chris Olave and a blitz sack – that forced Saints field goals.
- It didn't matter in the end, but it obviously was not a good look when Peters and Clark let Saints tight end Juwan Johnson cruise into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown when they thought he had been pushed out of bounds. But what do you say after that one? That's two veterans. They know you can't do that. That play will stick with everyone as a lesson learned.
- Kenyan Drake ran for 93 yards on 24 carries and had two touchdowns. A year after the Ravens struggled to find running backs with juice following last year's injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Edwards, Baltimore did well with its fortifications this year. Drake has juice.
- Harbaugh and his assistants lost a timeout on a failed challenge on a Houston sack and possible fumble, drawing critiques from fans watching at home when it was immediately clear on replay that Dalton didn't lose the ball early. Keep in mind, there is no immediate in-stadium replay and the TV broadcast didn't provide one fast enough before the hurrying Saints were about to take the next snap. Coaches rely on those replays to make a quick decision. It seemed worth a challenge in the moment, even though it failed.
- DeSean Jackson was the only injury of note coming out of the game, as the veteran wide receiver tweaked his hamstring. Harbaugh said he probably could have returned, but better to play it safe with the 35-year-old who flashed some before the injury.