Takeaways From a 31-17 Bounce Back Win Against Washington
This time last year, the Ravens were 2-2 coming off a 40-25 loss to the Cleveland Browns with more questions than answers.
We all know what happened the rest of the regular season.
Fast forward one year and the Ravens came into Sunday's game against the Washington Football Team looking to put their "Monday Night Football" loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the rearview mirror.
The Ravens only outgained Washington (350 to 343), ran fewer plays (70 to 56), and converted fewer first downs (24 to 18). Their 31-17 win wasn't always pretty, but pundits believe this is a team that's on track to reach its peak.
"This year, the Ravens know, they are catching no one by surprise," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Tight end Mark Andrews said afterward that 'everyone kind of has a bull's-eye on us.' Still, they're 3-1, and they could be playing a lot better. There are worse situations to be in."
"Was it a great performance? Not even close," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "Are there still concerns, like the pass rush, the downfield passing game and consistency running the football? You bet there are. Was the performance good enough to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team's next top-flight opponent four weeks from now? Probably not.
"But on a short week, after a deflating and humbling loss in prime time and without your All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, the Ravens needn't offer any apologies for their victory Sunday. They just have to know that they are going to need to play a lot better in the weeks ahead and one sideline conversation late in the game between two of the team's biggest stars, quarterback Lamar Jackson and [Marlon] Humphrey, as backup quarterback Robert Griffin III finished the proceedings off suggests that they understand that."
Zrebiec suggested that maybe it's unfair to compare this year's team to last season given the roster changes and the effect of the coronavirus pandemic. But the reality is that the Ravens have a better record than at this point last season.
And there's reason to believe they'll get better.
"So even after four weeks of imperfect play, these Ravens are, by one measure, one step ahead," Shaffer wrote. "[T]he Ravens enter Week 5 with a 3-1 record and a manageable October slate. They'll host the 1-2-1 Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday and travel to Philadelphia to face the [1-2-1] Eagles the week after. They should enter their Week 7 bye with a 5-1 record."
There were plenty of positives to take away from Sunday's game. Lamar Jackson showed flashes of the MVP we saw last season, and the Ravens rushed for 144 yards on 4.5 yards per carry.
Defensively, they totaled three sacks and held Dwayne Haskins Jr. to an average depth of target of less than five yards.
"Perhaps Sunday best serves as a reminder that it's all about winning rather than piling up as many style points and records as possible," WNST's Luke Jones wrote. "You'd be hard-pressed arguing the Week 4 performance would have been good enough to beat the Chiefs, but the Ravens did more than enough against a lesser opponent.
"That's all that matters as they aim to find their best selves by January."
Big Plays From Humphrey are Becoming a Weekly Occurrence
Humphrey is a rich man, but still the same dominant cornerback.
It didn't take long for Humphrey to make his presence felt Sunday when he ripped the ball away from Washington running back J.D. McKissic late in the first quarter. The play jump-started the Ravens as Mark Ingram II barreled his way into the end zone on the ensuing drive to take a 7-0 lead.
"Fresh off a five-year contract extension signed earlier this week, Humphrey reminded us again why he's now the second highest-paid cornerback in the NFL," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote.
"Humphrey showed once again why the Ravens view him as a long-term cornerstone of their defense," Press Box's Bo Smolka added. "Humphrey recorded a career-high nine tackles, and was active all over the field. With an interception and two forced fumbles already this year, Humphrey continues to burnish his reputation as a game-changing defender."
We're getting used to these game-changing plays from Humphrey. After an interception in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns and forced fumble against the Houston Texans, they're becoming a weekly occurrence.
The punch out is now a signature part of Humphrey's game and he almost forced another fumble later in the game, but it was ruled an incomplete pass.
According to Pro Football Focus, Humphrey has graded the highest of any cornerback in single coverage (91.1) since 2018. His coverage skills alone put him among the NFL's best, but it's his playmaking at the point of attack that sets him apart.
"Since 2017, Humphrey has 79 tackles, 18 passes defended, four interceptions, three forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns," Zrebiec wrote. "That's also a stretch where Humphrey has been used often in his less comfortable slot position because of [Tavon] Young's ongoing injury issues. It hasn't impacted his performance, nor has matching up with top receivers, like the Cleveland Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. and the Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster.
"... He has become one of the top young cornerbacks in football and was a first-team All-Pro last year. He's shown an ability to match up with the opponent's top receiver and move into the slot when the need arises. His profile as a defensive playmaker is on the rise. He's also emerged as a locker room leader who is not afraid to challenge teammates."
AFC North Might Be the Best Division in Football
The win puts the Ravens back on track, but their quest for a third straight division title isn't going to be easy. Right now, the AFC North is shaping up to be one of the best in football.
"The Ravens ran away with the AFC North last season, winning by a whopping six games, with none of the other AFC North rivals posting a winning record," Smolka wrote. "This year, the division is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the league, with major improvement seen from all three of the Ravens' divisional rivals.
"Through Week 4, the top three teams in the AFC North are 9-2. The Pittsburgh Steelers are undefeated at 3-0 after their Week 4 game against the Tennessee Titans was postponed because of the Titans' COVID outbreak. The Cleveland Browns (3-1) outslugged the Dallas Cowboys, 49-38, opening up a 41-14 lead at one point. And the Cincinnati Bengals (1-2-1) and No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow recorded their first win with a 33-25 triumph against Jacksonville in Week 4."
As Smolka pointed out, it's not just the Steelers who pose a threat. The Browns are 3-1 for the first time since 2001, and the Bengals look much improved with Burrow under center.
Two of the Ravens' next four games are divisional matchups, including a Week 5 bout against the Bengals. There's a good chance we could see three teams from the AFC North competing for a playoff berth come December.
Special Teams Strengths Continue to Show
The Ravens take pride in having one of the league's top special teams units, and that was on display against Washington.
"As title contenders, the Ravens know certain details can represent the difference between a squandered season and a Super Bowl," Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "Special teams matter in Baltimore. Sunday's performance, on every unit, showed as much."
In addition to punter Sam Koch's fourth down pass, the kicking performance was sound across the board. After Devin Duvernay scored a kickoff return touchdown last week, James Proche is developing into a solid punt returner.
The Ravens struggled with special teams at times last season, but Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton's unit has been very good through four games.
"Whether it's the kicking operation of the 'Wolfpack,' featuring long snapper Morgan Cox, holder Koch and kicker Justin Tucker, or the kick return game, which produced the first kick return touchdown in the league this year by Duvernay last week, or punt coverage, the Ravens almost always have the edge in special teams play," Smolka wrote.
The Story Behind Andrews' Rock-Paper-Scissors Celebration
Every time he scores, Andrews is competing to prove he's one of the NFL's best tight ends. He's also competing against teammate Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown in rock-paper-scissors.
"Both players say they're uber competitive," Kasinitz wrote. "So any game, even a quick one a 5-year-old can learn, is appealing. … [Andrews'] problem? He's struggling to make his rock-paper-scissors performances match his on-field showings."
Kasinitz noted that the competitiveness of Andrews and Brown dates back to when they were teammates at Oklahoma. Now they're both integral parts of the Ravens' passing attack.
"Two out of three is a game," Andrews said, via Kasinitz. "Brown actually beat me. He's beaten me four weeks — I haven't won one game in four weeks. He's got my number, so I have to switch up my gameplan."