Late for Work 12/17: Ravens Pack a Strong Defense and Ground Attack in the Rain

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Takeaways from Ravens vs. Buccaneers

The Ravens got back to their winning ways this week, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-12, on a rainy afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. The victory gives the Ravens an 8-6 mark and keeps them in the No. 6 playoff spot ahead of next week's crucial clash on the West Coast with the Los Angeles Chargers.

Here are a few takeaways from yesterday's game:

Dominant day for the secondary.

In the current pass-happy era of the NFL, the Buccaneers actually led the league with 318.9 passing yards per game. Given the challenge the Ravens were up against, holding Tampa Bay to just 156 yards through the air, their lowest total of the season, is a tremendous achievement.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey deservedly received a lot of praise for his performance, which included four passes defended, two tackles and an interception, but it was a strong performance from the entire group, with Russell Street Report's Cole Jackson giving the defensive backs an A.

In addition to Humphrey, Jackson noted that cornerback "Brandon Carr also should receive mention for having a quiet, but solid game." Carr provided excellent coverage throughout the contest, and got targeted so infrequently that he didn't register a tackle.

"The defense particularly deserves credit for holding Tampa Bay to 12 points in a game where the Buccaneers seemed to have great field position for almost the entire day," Ravens Wire's Kevin Oestreicher wrote. "The defense didn't let the Buccaneers establish any sort of momentum, and aside from a terrible play on a third-and-20 that ended in a 64-yard gain, the defense held strong."

Sunday's performance put the Ravens back in first in terms of yards allowed per game (290.2). As far as passing yards allowed per game, Baltimore sits third in the NFL (202.6).

In other words, it's been a strong season for the defense, particularly the secondary. However, one area where the group has struggled has been against tight ends. Entering Sunday's game, Baltimore had given up the fourth-most receptions to tight ends (73), and the seventh-most receiving yards (858). The Ravens had also given up six touchdowns in the previous seven games to tight ends.

Though Tampa Bay was without talented tight end O.J. Howard, the Ravens still had to contend with Cameron Brate, who has six touchdowns this year. And unlike in previous weeks, Brate was unable to make a significant impact. He had one catch for nine yards.

"This week was a much different story," Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy wrote. "Cameron Brate was held to only one reception for nine yards on two targets. Baltimore utilized different coverage strategies to shutdown Brate, who has been effective in the red zone this season."

Running game once again leads the way.

As it has ever since rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson became the starter, Baltimore's attack was centered around its run game. By the end of Sunday's contest, Baltimore had rushed 242 yards on 49 carries, which is good for a 4.9 average per carry. This is the fourth time in Jackson's five starts the Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards.

Running back Gus Edwards led the way with 104 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, while Jackson was right behind him with 95 yards on 18 attempts.

"Edwards and Lamar Jackson were the lead players in another ferocious display from the Ravens' ground game," Pro Football Focus wrote. "The scheme and the offensive line gave them a solid platform, but along with [running back] Kenneth Dixon, the Ravens' ball carriers were at their elusive best and forced more than 10 missed tackles on the ground."

Jackson, deservedly, gets a lot of credit for the revitalization of Baltimore's rushing attack, though he did lose a fumble during the first half. Still, PressBox's Bo Smolka believes "Jackson's elusiveness is just exhausting to a defense…. more than once, as he popped up after a sizable gain and handed the ball to the officials, Bucs defenders looked at each other and waved their hands in frustration. Jackson had just moved the chains again, and they were staying on the field."

Still, don't forget the key role Edwards has played. He has been Baltimore's leading rusher its last four games, and his physicality wore down Tampa Bay in the second half.

"It's hard not to love the running style of Gus Edwards," Cole Jackson wrote. "He has that old school hard running style that reminds me of many Ravens over the years. His quickness and decisive running are working well with Jackson."

Does Cyrus Jones gaffe re-open the punt returner competition?

One of the main talking points this offseason for the Ravens was who would become the team's punt returner. The competition was initially between Janarion Grant and Tim White, both of whom lost the job due to fumbles.

Cornerback Cyrus Jones, who spent the preseason with the New England Patriots, excelled when given an opportunity, returning a punt for a touchdown against Oakland, then setting up a touchdown against Kansas City with a 55-yard return.

Jones had his first major mistake against Tampa Bay though, touching the ball on a punt, and allowing the Buccaneers to recover it for a first down. The Buccaneers went on to kick a field goal.

Levy believes Jones' mistake could lead to him getting less of an opportunity to return punts.

"With seven cornerbacks on the roster, Jones does not have a significant role on the defense and Chris Moore could easily take over as the punt returner," Levy wrote. "It is unlikely Jones will be cut, but he could lose reps to Moore."

Considering the playmaking abilities he has shown as a returner, my bet is he has built up enough good will that one mistake won't change his position on the team. Head Coach John Harbaugh said he wanted to forget that it ever happened.

Though they'll want to avoid mistakes likes Jones' over the final two weeks of the season, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker believes the Ravens' response to that adversity shows how tough they are.

"Resilience might not be enough against the league's top teams, such as the one the Ravens will face in Los Angeles on Saturday night. They'll need to avoid handing away points on mistakes such as Jones' muff and Jackson's fumble," Walker wrote. "But give them this — they're not a weak-minded team."

Rapoport: Ravens Expected to Move on from Joe Flacco

Prior to yesterday's game, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the Ravens are expected to not retain quarterback Joe Flacco after the 2018 season.

"Look at Flacco's future, he's 33 years old, he's set to make $18.5 million next year. The Ravens are expected to move on from him this offseason," Rapoport said. "They'll incur $16 million of dead money, but, of course, they're not going to bring him back as a backup making $16 million. All of which is to say if Flacco decides he wants to continue playing, he's actually going to be a fairly coveted free agent this offseason. Rarely do starting quarterbacks become available, and Joe Flacco absolutely is."

As NBC Sports' Peter King put it, "I can buy the possibility of the Ravens moving on from Joe Flacco. ... He's got one playoff win since he quarterbacked the Ravens to the Super Bowl win, and is 43-42 since. Certainly not all his fault, but there's a reason Baltimore used a first-round pick on a quarterback."

Another part of the report was that a source told Rapoport that the Ravens could trade Flacco to a team he'd like to play for. Taking Flacco's opinion into account would certainly be a respectful move by the organization, but it's a move Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio believes will only go so far, writing "commitment to giving Flacco a classy sendoff may not extend to, for example, trading him to the [Cincinnati] Bengals."

There are sure to be teams the Ravens would not be willing to send Flacco to, with division rivals being at the top of the list. It remains to be seen which teams will inquire about Flacco's services, but NFL.com's Kevin Patra believes a whole host of organizations will be interested, naming the Jacksonville Jaguars, Washington Redskins, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders among those he thinks would be good landing spots.

"Even at the tail end of his career, the former Super Bowl MVP would represent an upgrade for several teams this offseason," Patra wrote.

Flacco did not play in yesterday's game, his first contest on the active roster since suffering a hip injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. He spoke with The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee about watching the game instead of participating in it, saying "It's different, but it's a good team win, and it's always exciting to be on the sideline like today."

"It's been a long time since I've been in a situation like this," Flacco said. "I just prepared as normal, and if anything bad happened, then I had to be ready to go for my teammates and for myself. So, I was ready to go at any point."

Willie Snead IV Emerging as Crucial Piece in Passing Game

Though seven different Ravens hauled in passes against Tampa Bay, one was clearly Jackson's favorite target: wide receiver Willie Snead IV. He did all of his damage against the Buccaneers in the first half, finishing with five catches for 58 yards.

To compare, not counting Snead, wide receivers only caught two passes for 14 yards. As Smolka put it, "Snead is the key receiver in this offense."

"It seems that Snead is turning into the reliable, security blanket receiver for Jackson that every quarterback needs, and it makes sense. Snead runs a lot of short-to-intermediate patterns that match well to Jackson's throwing abilities, and since training camp, Snead has shown strong hands and a knack for getting open," Smolka wrote. "It's one reason that Snead leads the Ravens in catches with 61, and that number figures to grow with Jackson now entrenched as the starting quarterback."

Snead has been Baltimore's leading receiver in three of Jackson's five starts, including the last two. He's also proven adept at run blocking in Baltimore's run-heavy offense, providing a key block to allow wide receiver Chris Moore to score a touchdown in the second quarter.

For Snead, his success with Jackson is due to his ability to execute when the ball comes his way.

"You've got to make the most of (your opportunities) as a receiver in this offense right now," Snead said. "We're a run first, pass second (offense), and I've just been fortunate to hold on to the passes."

PFF Offensive and Defensive Rankings

  • Edwards was given the best grade by PFF for the Ravens offense with a 2.7. Left guard Bradley Bozeman finished with a 2.4, while Snead scored a 2.3.
  • Center Matt Skura was given a -5.3. Right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. accumulated a -2.1 rating, while left tackle Ronnie Stanley finished with a -1.5.
  • Defensive tackle Michael Pierce led the defense with a 2.4 score. Both defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Marlon Humphrey accumulated a 2.2.
  • Cornerback Jimmy Smith was given a -2.4. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon finished with a -0.5, while safety Anthony Levine Sr. registered a -0.4.

Quick Hits

  • King noted an interesting coaching stat shared by Harbaugh and legendary Raiders Head Coach John Madden. Both now have 112 career victories. It took Madden 10 seasons to reach that total, while Harbaugh got there in 11 seasons.
  • As part of Fox's coverage before the game, Jackson sat down with retired quarterback Michael Vick. The two spoke about a variety of topics, including how Jackson felt about his original role of being a change of pace quarterback. "I really didn't get it because I couldn't feel out the game like I wanted to, so now I can execute like I want to," Jackson said.
  • Last week, O.J. Brigance participated in Baltimore Business Journal's weekly segment called "Water Cooler Talk," where shed light on his battle with ALS.
  • PFF's Cole Brown highlighted the top five rookie offensive linemen in the NFL, and Brown Jr. was ranked No. 4. "Brown has allowed just 14 total pressures (including zero sacks) which is second-fewest among qualifying rookies and his 97.3 pass-blocking efficiency is tied for the third-best among qualifying rookies on the offensive line," Brown wrote.

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