Takeaways from Ravens' Victory in Tennessee
The Ravens enjoyed a statement win in Nashville on Sunday, shutting out the Tennessee Titans, 21-0. The win, paired with the Pittsburgh Steelers defeating the Cincinnati Bengals means the Ravens are now tied with the Bengals atop the AFC North standings with 4-2 records.
"This was a perfect expression of how the Ravens want to play," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
Here are a few of the highlights from yesterday's dominant win.
Defense Gets Close to NFL Single-Game Sack Record: Though this was a strong all-around performance from the team, the defense was the standout unit. Baltimore racked up 11 sacks, which is a franchise record, and just one shy of the most ever in an NFL game.
Baltimore Beatdown's Kyle Barber likened it to "playing Madden on rookie mode," while The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer referred to it as "a butt-kicking of the highest order." WNST's Luke Jones thinks it was an all-time performance from any Ravens defense.
"Playing defense in the NFL is a different animal than it was six or seven years ago, let alone trying to make comparisons to the 2000 Ravens," Jones wrote. "This is right up there among the best single-game defensive performances in team history."
Baltimore's fantastic showing meant it was a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day" for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, who managed just 10 completions. Mariota was the first quarterback to have just 10 completions while suffering more than 10 sacks since 1987. Yes, he finished with more sacks taken than completions.
The Ravens had more sacks in one game yesterday than eight teams have posted all season.
What makes this performance even more exciting is how well-regarded Tennessee's pass protection was entering the game. Before Sunday, the Titans had allowed just nine sacks in five games.
It was a particularly exciting performance for the defense because it happened in front of former Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who now holds the same job with Tennessee. And for Purple Reign Show's Matt Wise, the defense showed just how much its evolved in a short time under new Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
As the play clock was ticking towards 0:00 in the fourth quarter, CBS announcers Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon reflected on the defense's performance. Gannon, a former NFL quarterback, made it clear he was in no way jealous of Mariota for getting to play against the Ravens.
"The defense set a franchise record for sacks, which is saying something considering defense has been this franchise's calling card," Harlan said.
"Man, 11 sacks. Oof," Gannon said.
A lot of quarterbacks will surely have that reaction when hearing what Mariota had to endure at the hands of Baltimore's defense.
Za'Darius Smith Hat Trick Leads Sack Attack: Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, who is entering the final year of his rookie NFL contract, has made it pretty clear what one of his main goals for this season is: play well and earn a long-term deal. Barber likes the odds of that happening, writing, "Dude is going to get paid this offseason."
Smith led the defense with five tackles, including a remarkable three sacks.
"Smith's sacks were the most encouraging, as he lined up in several different places en route to recording the hat trick," Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy wrote. "Baltimore put him on the inside and the outside, and it worked well."
As RavensWire's Chuck Mills noted, "The impressive outing from Smith seems to be just business as usual for him." Smith now has 5.5 sacks this season, which equals the most he's ever had in an entire season (2015). In fact, Smith now has more sacks this year than he did during the previous two seasons combined (4.5).
As a result of his standout performance, Smith was named as one of the defensive players of the week by NBC Sports' Peter King in his weekly "Football Morning in America" column.
"Another one of General Manager Ozzie Newsome's draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game," King wrote. "Net passing yards for Mariota: 51."
Run Game Continues Low Average Per Carry*:* It was a fantastic day for the offense as the group effectively moved the ball against Tennessee, which entered with the No. 3 scoring defense in the NFL.
However, one area the offense still had trouble breaking open was in the run game. The Ravens finished with 123 rushing yards and two touchdowns, but running back Alex Collins managed just 2.8 yards per rush, which PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz described as "somewhat uninspiring."
As a team, the Ravens averaged 3.5 yards per carry, but if you take away quarterback Lamar Jackson's 22-yard carry (more on that later), the average drops to just under 3.0 yards per carry. Jackson is part of Baltimore's rushing attack though, so his contribution shouldn't be minimalized.
"The offensive line was exceptional in pass-protection, but they struggled to open up lanes in the running game," Levy wrote. "Baltimore clearly wants to be a great running football team, and they have plenty of work to do to meet that goal."
Despite not having an effective day on the ground, the offense continued to try to run the ball, which was encouraging after the defeat to Cleveland in which the Ravens ran it just 25 times to 57 pass attempts. In Tennessee, the Ravens ran it 35 times while passing it 37. Levy referred to the run-pass ratio as the closest to "even as they may ever get."
Still, the run game in Tennessee left more to be desired.
"You can't accuse the Ravens of abandoning the run in Tennessee, where Alex Collins, Gus Edwards and Buck Allen combined for 30 carries," Walker wrote. "They tried everything to get Collins untracked, from an outside pitch on his first carry to a backward swing pass from [quarterback Joe] Flacco. But aside from a 13-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, none of their shifting looks produced the desired space."
Lamar Jackson Nearly Finds End Zone: Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has still yet to score a touchdown in an NFL regular-season game, but he came oh so close to making that happen on Sunday.
Jackson unleashed a 22-yard run from the Titans' 24-yard[space]line, displaying the burst and elusiveness that made him "a human cheat code," during his collegiate career, according to ClutchPoints' Rexwell Villas.
Though Jackson came just short of the end zone, RavensWire's Nathan Beaucage still felt it was "undoubtedly one of his best [runs] to date."
Jackson himself is a little frustrated with how the run ended, saying, "I was disappointed, man. Supposed to keep my legs driving." As Villas put it, "It's just Jackson's first year in the NFL, so it's fair to expect that he'll churn out more highlights."
If that run is any indication, Jackson won't be kept out of the end zone for much longer.
Cyrus Jones Holds Impresses in Ravens Debut: Though what will stand out about the Ravens' win in Tennessee is all the sacks and excellent performance from the offense, it should be noted that returner/cornerback Cyrus Jones had a solid debut for the Ravens returning punts. Jones fielded four punts and had 50 return yards, including 26 on one that gave the Ravens excellent field position right before halftime.
The Ravens have been trying to find their punt returner all summer and season. Wide receivers/returners Janarion Grant and Tim White were both given chances to take the job, but each fumbled. Jones looked confident and sure-handed catching punts on Sunday, which is quite a statement considering it was raining in Tennessee.
"Cyrus Jones' 26-yard punt return is already longer than any of the nine punt returns by Tim White," Shaffer wrote. "Also, no fumbles. So far."
Earlier in the week, Harbaugh threw out wide receivers John Brown and Willie Snead IV as potential solutions at punt returner. Neither saw the field on special teams Sunday, and if Jones continues to hold onto the ball, they probably won't for the foreseeable future.
It's an encouraging debut from the Baltimore native who played at Gilman School. Jones wasn't the only former Gilman player in the game on Sunday either. Tennessee wide receiver Darius Jennings, who also returns punts, played at Gilman, and even starred in the same backfield as Jones.
Wink Martindale Named Peter King's Coach of the Week
Smith wasn't the only Raven highlighted by King this week, as Martindale was named his Coach of the Week. As King put it, "When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules."
"Martindale's pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it," King wrote.
King isn't the only national pundit that's gushing over the Ravens' defense after the game in Tennessee, as NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said, "Best defense in the NFL are the Baltimore Ravens."
Potential Offensive Line Shuffling?
The biggest negative from the Ravens' victory in Tennessee was the neck injury suffered by left guard Alex Lewis at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Lewis was immediately taken to the hospital.
Thankfully, Lewis was able to travel back to Baltimore with the team, and he will undergo more tests today. We'll have an update as soon as we get it.
It remains to be seen if Lewis will miss any time. If he does, the Ravens will have to figure out who they want to take Lewis' spot in the starting lineup.
"Will they put Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle and shift James Hurst to left guard?" Levy asked. "Another option would be to have Bradley Bozeman play left guard and keep Hurst at right tackle."
Right after Lewis' injury, the Ravens opted to have Bozeman step in at left guard and keep Hurst at right tackle, leaving Brown on the bench. In total, Bozeman was on the field for 17 snaps. When the game was out of reach though, Hurst was moved to left guard and Brown took over at right tackle.
When asked about it after the game, Head Coach John Harbaugh said the decision came down to Hurst having gotten the majority of his practice reps at right tackle and Bozeman at left guard.
"Yes, that's exactly what it is," Harbaugh said. "That's the way he [Bozeman] was prepared to play the left guard spot and James [Hurst] practicing the right tackle spot the whole time. We could do it the other way too if we had to, but that's the way that [Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris] wanted to do it."
Before Lewis' injury, many pundits believed the 6-foot-8, 345-pound Brown should be given a chance to start. The rookie had an excellent training camp, and with his size, would contribute a lot of physicality to the starting unit. Many pundits also felt Brown's presence could help the team's run attack improve. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec even wrote, "It seems inevitable" that Brown would become a starter at some point this season.
It should be noted too that Hurst started last year at left guard and excelled, which is why many felt inserting Brown at right tackle could work. From the Ravens' perspective though, just because Hurst has played left guard before doesn't mean that he'd be best after not practicing there all season.
This will be a situation to monitor throughout the week, as the Ravens will have several days of practices before hosting the New Orleans Saints next Sunday.
PFF Offensive and Defensive Ratings
· Right guard Marshal Yanda had the highest PFF rating of any Ravens player with a 3.0. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree scored a 2.5, while Hurst finished with a 2.4 mark.
· Tight end Maxx Williams scored a -2.3 on Sunday, while quarterback Joe Flacco finished with a -1.8. Center Matt Skura was given a PFF rating of -1.6.
· Smith scored the highest on defense with a 2.0. Defensive tackle Michael Pierce finished with a 1.8 mark, and safety Tony Jefferson had a 1.6 rating.
· Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley was given a -2.2 rating by PFF. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs scored a -1.9. Cornerback Jimmy Smith finished with a -1.1 mark.