Takeaways from Ravens vs. Falcons
The Ravens notched a 26-16 victory in Atlanta yesterday, giving Baltimore a 7-5 record, and a 3-0 mark with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson.
More importantly, the victory kept the Ravens in the No. 6 playoff seed, put them just ½ game back of the division lead, and sets the team up nicely to make a postseason push.
"The Ravens had to have this road game to remain in decent position in the playoff hunt and they were able to grind it out," The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck wrote.
Here are a few takeaways from yesterday's game:
Defense's historic performance began in the trenches
Make no mistake about it: the defense led the charge on Sunday. Matched up against Atlanta's potent offense featuring quarterback Matt Ryan and a dynamic wide receiver trio of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, the Ravens easily won the encounter.
In fact, the Falcons had through their worst offensive performance of this millennium.
NBC Sports' Peter King was particularly impressed with the Ravens' defense, naming the whole group first in the Defensive Players of the Week section of his weekly article, "Football Morning in America."
"Can't pick one guy. This was a tremendous defensive effort in Atlanta…," King wrote. "It was a suffocating unit Sunday."
The dominant display started in the trenches. The Falcons tried to establish their struggling running game early, but the defensive line simply didn't allow it. Atlanta finished with 34 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
"The defensive line did a solid job bottling up the Falcons' running game and put decent pressure on quarterback Matt Ryan, though both of the Ravens' first-half sacks were credited to linebackers," Schmuck wrote. "Though the [defensive linemen] didn't spend a lot of time dancing in the backfield, they took care of business."
According to Pro Football Focus, none were more impressive than defensive tackle Brandon Williams. He finished with only one tackle, but Williams was a constant force that Atlanta simply couldn't slow down.
"It started early and continued throughout, [but] this [was] the very best of Brandon Williams," PFF wrote. "The heavy-hitting defensive tackle was too strong for any of the Falcons' interior linemen, producing one of the most complete performances of his 2018 season."
Defensive stalwarts deliver
Since 2003, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been one of the main faces of the Ravens defense. Ever since he got drafted in 2014, the same can be said of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.
On a day when the defense was so dominant, it's unsurprising that both delivered superb displays, according to The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker.
"Neither man played up to his high standards in November, but both made significant plays behind the line of scrimmage as the Ravens knocked Ryan and the Falcons on their heels in the first half," Walker wrote.
Suggs delivered a monstrous sack during the first quarter, ending his four-game streak without one. He finished the game with three quarterback hits.
"Last week, Suggs praised coaches for managing his workload in the first half of the season and promised to floor his pedal for the stretch run," Walker wrote. "Against the Falcons, he delivered."
Though Mosley leads the Ravens in tackles this season, some detractors think a good chunk of them occur down the field and not near the line of scrimmage. As Walker noted, Mosley "had tackled opponents in the backfield just twice all season."
That wasn't the case in Atlanta when Mosley stuffed Falcons running back Tevin Coleman for a 2-yard loss on their first drive. It sparked an effort in which he was continually limiting Atlanta's dynamic playmakers near the line of scrimmage.
"It's no coincidence that the Ravens' signature defensive performance featured aggressive outings from their stalwarts," Walker wrote. "They'll need more of the same from Suggs and Mosley if they hope to play into January."
Lamar Jackson battles through up-and-down performance
Jackson struggled for stretches in Atlanta, but to be fair, that is to be expected with a rookie making his first road start. He finished 12-for-21 passing for 125 yards and ran the ball 17 times for 75 yards.
Walker wrote "This was Lamar Jackson's sloppiest performance as an NFL starter," while Russell Street Report's John Darcey believes yesterday's game was a "snapshot of what to expect from Lamar going forward. Moments of electrifying play and then some careless turnovers."
Jackson did make some big plays, including a 13-yard touchdown run that was the offense's lone trip into Atlanta's end zone. Still, it wasn't a standout game from the rookie, which means this week will feature more speculation about if Jackson will continue to start once quarterback Joe Flacco is cleared to play.
"The belief was that another win would solidify Jackson's position as the team's starting quarterback, regardless of Flacco's health," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote. "Did this offensive performance do that? Who is under center when the Ravens visit the cauldron that is Arrowhead Stadium to face the 10-2 Chiefs? It will be another fascinating week of speculation in Baltimore."
Russell Street Report's Todd Karpovich was impressed with Jackson's game, particularly because of the struggles he had to overcome to lead the offense. To Karpovich, Jackson's perseverance showed a lot about his overall character.
"Those aren't gaudy numbers, but Jackson knows how to win — an intangible that can't be taught," Karpovich wrote. "[Running back] Gus Edwards talked up Jackson's leadership skills after the game. It's not a coincidence the Ravens are playing better with Jackson under center."
Run game keeps rolling
The Ravens rushed for 207 yards, which marked the third straight game the team has eclipsed 200 yards, a franchise first.
Despite the impressive total yardage, don't expect to see too many highlights of Ravens running the ball on television. Baltimore ran the ball 49 times, giving the team a solid 4.2 yards per carry. Edwards led the charge with 82 yards on 21 carries, while fellow running backs Kenneth Dixon and Ty Montgomery, as well as Jackson, contributed too.
It wasn't flashy, but who cares?
"The Ravens will take winning ugly every time," Smolka wrote. "Six- and 7-yard runs up the middle aren't going to lead SportsCenter. The Ravens don't care. If those plays are going to move the chains, eat up the clock, keep the other team's offense on the sideline and lead to a victory speech by [Head Coach] John Harbaugh, they'll take it every time."
PFF was particularly impressed with Edwards' consistent approach, even though his longest run went for just nine yards.
"Edwards didn't break off anything big. What he was able to do was consistently get yards through contact to turn one- or two-yard gains into four- and five-yard gains," PFF wrote. "That field position was vital in keeping the Falcons' defense guessing, eating up plenty of clock and ultimately securing a much-deserved win."
Smolka went on to describe the offense's performance as "[chewing] up huge chunks of clock on yeoman-like, blue-collar drives."
Not a lot of style, but a whole lot of substance. No doubt, the Ravens will take it.
Ravens need to hold onto the ball better
The offense seemed to be plagued with a case of the yips yesterday.
The Ravens had four fumbles, three of which were Jackson's and another was running back Kenneth Dixon's. One of Jackson's fumbles turned into a 74-yard touchdown for the Falcons that changed the momentum.
As Smolka put it, "The Ravens were fortunate that they didn't turn the ball over on the other two fumbles."
Though fumbling three times in his first road start was clearly not part of Jackson's vision for how Sunday would go, Russell Street Report's Nick Capecci is chalking it up to growing pains.
"The fumbles are concerning of course, but learning to protect the football comes with more exposure to the speed of the game," Capecci wrote.
Pro Bowl Chatter for Marlon Humphrey
Yes, the defense's dominant performance was a complete team effort. To a lot of pundits however, the standout performer of the week was cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Even King, after naming the entire defense as one of his standout players of the week, couldn't resist mentioning Humphrey by name, writing "Great days for Marlon Humphrey, the former first-round corner, and … well, lots of guys."
He didn't finish with any tackles, but Humphrey led the defense with two passes defended, and combined with cornerback Jimmy Smith to effectively take Jones out of the game. Jones finished with two catches for 18 yards, well below his average of 110.25 yards per game.
"Marlon Humphrey belongs in the Pro Bowl conversation," Smolka wrote. "It's probably not fair to single one player out after such a dominant team defensive effort, but it's hard to ignore the play of Humphrey, who once again was physical and disruptive on contested catches."
Joe Schiller of 105.7 the Fan is with Smolka, and thinks Humphrey should be voted to his first Pro Bowl. It's a difficult position to get that recognition though, with Smolka noting that Humphrey's lack of flashy stats – he does not have an interception this season and registered just 24 tackles – may hurt his chances.
Still, there's no doubt that Humphrey has taken a major step forward in his second professional season. Schiller doesn't think "it's premature to say that the Ravens have found their future No. 1 cornerback in Marlon Humphrey and games like Sunday continue to further that notion."
"Matched up against Pro Bowl-caliber receivers such as Jones and Ridley, Humphrey won the battle nearly every time," Smolka wrote. "That's what a lockdown defender does."
Sam Koch Inserts Himself Into Quarterback Conversation
With the Ravens facing a fourth-and-7 from Atlanta's 46-yard line, punter Sam Koch received the snap from long snapper Morgan Cox and started his punting motion. Only he stopped, looked up-field and hit wide receiver Chris Moore on a 21-yard completion instead.
The play ended up not having a big impact in the game as Baltimore's drive ended with a Jackson fumble two plays later, but The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer immediately noticed the quarterback controversy Harbaugh now had on his hands. Shaffer also made it clear who he was supporting.
All jokes aside, it was an excellent throw by Koch. That Koch can throw the ball effectively isn't surprising considering he's completed all five of his career passes for 69 yards.
The throw caught the eye of King, who referred to it as a "beautiful throw." King named Koch among his special teams players of the week, writing "The 21-yard gain on a cool play design was the best special-teams moment of the weekend."
It was a big passing play in a game where there wasn't many. In fact, Koch's completion matched Jackson's longest of the day, and eclipsed Ryan's.
PFF Offensive and Defensive Rankings
- Edwards and right guard Marshal Yanda tied for the offense's top performers, according to PFF, with scores of 1.2. Tight end Mark Andrews was right behind them with a 1.1.
- Jackson was the offense's lowest rated performer with a -3.3. Wide receiver Willie Snead IV finished with a -2.5, while Dixon scored a -1.8.
- Williams led the defense with a PFF score of 4.4. Safety Eric Weddle accumulated a 3.0, while defensive tackle Michael Pierce registered a 2.1.
- Outside linebacker Matthew Judon scored a -2.3. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was given a -1.4, while cornerback Brandon Carr registered a -1.3.
- Yesterday's win was made that much more exciting after the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts lost. The Steelers blew a 23-7 halftime lead to the Los Angeles Chargers, and now sit just a half game ahead of the Ravens for first place in the AFC North. The Colts, who many pundits thought were the Ravens' greatest threat to getting the second wild-card spot, got shut out by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and now sit a game behind Baltimore.
- Weddle's tradition of eating large quantities of delicious-looking ice cream the night after a victory has become a viral sensation amongst the Ravens Flock. ESPN's Jac Collinsworth joined in on the ice cream bonanza after last week's win against Oakland (what a tough work assignment), which included a trip to the supermarket, where Weddle purchased close to $100 worth of ingredients.