Divine Intervention? Pundits Search for Answers on How Ravens Keep Winning
Each week, it seems the Ravens have a new obstacle to overcome. They're missing a plethora of players who account for 19-percent of their total cap. Last week, they dealt with multiple in-week injuries. This time, it was a doubled-over Lamar Jackson on the team flight, who was too ill to play the Bears on Sunday.
Yet, the Ravens have overcome the obstacles at nearly every turn, including in Sunday's 16-13 win over the Chicago Bears. It was the Ravens' first ever win in Solider Field and may have been the most improbable.
The latest comeback has left pundits searching for answers as to how the Ravens keep winning. It has USA Today's Jarrett Bell considering the extraordinary.
"[The Ravens won] despite getting scorched for a 49-yard touchdown on a fourth-down heave by Andy Dalton inside the final two minutes," Bell wrote. "With Jackson suffering from an illness that apparently is not related to COVID-19, they did it with spit, grit and prayer. Explain that. Maybe it's divine intervention."
Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer had a similar thought, writing, "this sure did feel like another miracle."
According to both media members, each texted Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh after the gutsy win and received the same response.
"Another miracle," Harbaugh replied. "Only God does things like that."
Linebackers Lock Down Bears in Close Contest
Chicago Bears backup quarterback Andy Dalton, a familiar face in the AFC North and one who has broken the hearts of Ravens fans before, had one final opportunity to do so again with a Hail Mary attempt from the Bears' 48-yard line.
However, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser hardly gave him a second to drop back before bear-hugging the backup and ending the game with a walk-off sack.
The game-sealing play by Bowser wasn't his first splash play on the day; throughout the entire contest, Bowser was flying around the field and NFL.com's Kevin Patra, among others, took notice.
"Bowser was in the thick of the game early, not allowing Fields to scamper for big gains," Patra wrote. "The 26-year-old nailed two sacks, two QB hits, three pressures, and a tackle for loss to go along with five tackles."
"Bowser was a force in the Ravens' front seven throughout the afternoon. In addition to the two sacks, he had five total tackles and a forced fumble," The Baltimore Sun's Ryan McFadden's wrote.
It wasn't Bowser alone who impressed on defense. It was more a group effort from the linebackers, with Bowser leading the way. Other linebackers had their moments, including rookie Odafe Oweh and veteran Justin Houston, along with inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes. This game, according to Russell Street Report's Darin McCann, "might have been the best game of the season by the Ravens linebackers."
"Patrick Queen continues to play well, stuffing [running back David] Montgomery early to force a field goal attempt the Bears missed, and generating two incompletions with his rush," McCann wrote. "Josh Bynes blew up a fourth-down wildcat run by Montgomery."
Patra, who touched on Bowser's big day, also noted Oweh's pressure-filled performance.
"Rookie Odafe Oweh also generated six QB pressures on 26 pass rushes, tied for the most for the first-year player this season," Patra wrote. "The Ravens D took advantage of a porous Bears O-line, screaming into the backfield with regularity."
As mentioned, the inside linebackers played admirably, and many have noticed the elevated play from Queen, specifically, PFF.com's Jacob Rosenfarb.
"Patrick Queen was a force, leading Baltimore with seven total tackles including a crucial third-down tackle for loss midway through the first quarter," Rosenfarb wrote. "He captained a Ravens linebacking corps that dominated in coverage, as they conceded receptions on just one of their five unit-wide targets for 2 yards."
Offensive Line Strong in Run Game, Falters in Blitz Protection
With Jackson out and backup quarterback Tyler "Snoop" Huntley in the game, the game plan was expected to be run heavy. The Ravens didn't make this a secret, nor could they, kicking off their first possession with three rushing attempts in a row, before attempting another 30 run plays by game's end. When they were running, the offensive line held up well, according to Press Box’s Bo Smolka.
"On the bright side, the Ravens found some success running between the tackles, and though it wasn't spectacular, they stayed committed to the run and totaled 123 yards on 34 carries," Smolka wrote. "Devonta Freeman led the way with 16 carries for 49 yards, and Latavius Murray, back in action after missing three games with an ankle injury, had 10 carries for 32 yards."
The "on the bright side" comment alludes to the same unit in pass protection, where things weren't as successful.
"You would never know that the Bears were missing two of their most disruptive defenders in defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and edge rusher Khalil Mack," Smolka wrote. "The Bears' defensive front overmatched the Ravens offensive line for much of the game. Tyler Huntley was sacked six times, with 3.5 coming from Robert Quinn, who proved to be just too quick for left tackle Alejandro Villanueva."
Smolka wasn't the only media member critical of the Ravens protection unit, as Rosenfarb counted 25 pressures allowed by the unit, with Villanueva, "allowing a team-high four pressures and one sack in pass protection." Villanueva felt the defender was offsides on his sack (and he may be right).
Though this won't completely excuse the 25 pressures allowed, there is a caveat. The Bears weren't just sending four rushers and getting home. They were sending extra rushers at a rate unseen this season.
The Bears had clearly watched film from the Ravens' previous game against the Miami Dolphins. However, the Ravens were more prepared.
Defense Holds Strong for All But Two Big Plays
The big-play lapses that have haunted the Ravens' secondary returned this week as the Bears hit on one play of 50-plus yards and a second one going for 49 yards. The tackling issues also popped up at times, as described by Sports Illustrated's Todd Karpovich.
"The big plays were almost fatal to the Ravens again," Karpovich wrote. "Andy Dalton gave the Bears a 7-6 lead on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Mooney. At least three Ravens defenders missed a tackle on the play. Then, Bears wide receiver Marquise Goodwin beat Ravens cornerback Chris Westry on a double move and caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Dalton with under two minutes left."
But for every successful big play allowed, there was an impressive stop by the defense, as Rosenfarb and McCann described.
"The Ravens' secondary was inconsistent, as their man-heavy scheme resulted in a gut-wrenching mix of highlight-worthy stops and head-scratching blunders," Rosenfarb wrote.
"This is just who the Ravens are on defense," McCann wrote. "They look like a very good unit most of the game, only to give up explosive plays, via missed tackles or bad coverage. This game featured both."
Special Teams Help Lift Ravens Past Bears
Though the thrilling conclusion of this matchup featured a pair of go-ahead touchdowns by each team, multiple plays made by the Ravens special teams unit was a significant factor in the win, and CBS Sports John Breech didn't want that to be lost in the chaos of the final minutes.
"Of course, Huntley wouldn't have been in a position to win the game if not for a huge performance from Baltimore's special teams," Breech wrote. "Not only did Justin Tucker kick three field goals, but the Ravens also tipped a punt in the fourth quarter, which led to a 17-yard kick by the Bears. The short punt set up one of Tucker's three field goals."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko said from the box score alone, you could tell it was a classic Ravens affair of "strong defense and special teams play."
Tyler Huntley Support Extends Across the League—And Beyond
When backup quarterback "Snoop" got the text from Jackson saying, "Go do your thing today. I'm going to be watching," he knew it was going to be a big day.
That text was probably buried on Snoop's phone after his game-winning drive. The support for Snoop started in the locker room, before extended beyond the NFL.
The support didn't just feature current Ravens, as former wide receiver Dez Bryant sang his praise. Before the game, former Utah Ute's teammate and current Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick made sure to show his excitement. Eventually, more tweets rolled in.
NBC Sports’ Peter King recognized Huntley’s poise, writing, "With Lamar Jackson sidelined with an illness that had him curled into a ball on the plane from Baltimore to Chicago on Sunday, Huntley, undrafted from Utah last year, started his first game, and drove the Ravens to the winning TD in the final minutes. Chicago blitzed Huntley 28 times, but he still completed 72 percent of his throws. Though Huntley plays the running and mobile game that Jackson plays, the Ravens hope this is a one-time thing."