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Late for Work 9/24: Defense Is Most Reassuring Part of Win; Confusion on Blocked Field Goal


Resilient Ravens Soar to Victory

On Sunday, the Ravens looked refreshed, focused and determined to put their Week 2 defeat to Cincinnati behind them. The team did just that, as Baltimore defeated the Denver Broncos, 27-14.

It's a big win early in the season considering Baltimore's next three games are on the road. As The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec noted, "Week Three is too early for a must-win game, but the Ravens certainly would have been in a rough predicament if they'd lost."

Below are a few points that many pundits focused on after the game.

Ravens Fight Back From Early Deficits: Despite finishing the game with a win, the Ravens started extremely slow. Baltimore's first possession resulted in a three-and-out, which included Broncos outside linebacker Bradley Chubb sacking quarterback Joe Flacco. On the ensuing punt after the three-and-out, Broncos linebacker Joe Jones broke into the Ravens' backfield and blocked Sam Koch's punt. Denver running back Royce Freeman scored via a 6-yard run on the very next play.

 "It had all the feels of last week's start versus the Bengals," Russell Street Report’s Adam Bonaccorsi wrote, while The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck referred to it as "scary." PressBox’s Bo Smolka noted "the Ravens found themselves quickly down again at a critical point in their young season."

Unlike in Week 2 though, the Ravens immediately bounced back from their frustrating start. The following drive, which was aided by a 37-yard kick return from wide receiver Tim White that also had a Denver unnecessary roughness penalty tacked onto it, took just five plays and resulted in a touchdown from running back Alex Collins.

"It's hard to overestimate the importance of that first scoring drive for the Ravens," Smolka wrote.

Though the Broncos would respond with a touchdown drive of their own on their next possession, the Ravens offense managed a 40-yard drive that was capped off by a field goal from Justin Tucker.

It was a stark difference from the Week 2 defeat in Cincinnati. Though the Ravens gave up 14 points, the offense didn't allow the difference to snowball into more than a one-possession score.

"A nightmarish beginning was only the prelude to a comfortable end," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote.

"In the closing minutes, Baltimore's slow start seemed more like a distant memory than a stretch of poor play that could've sent the season spiraling," PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote.

Defense Shuts Out Denver for Three Quarters: A lot of the focus coming into Sunday's game was how well the defense would do without inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who missed just the third game of his career with a knee bruise. After its slow start, the defense shut out the Denver Broncos over the final three quarters of the game.

"The most reassuring aspect of the Ravens' second victory was the play of their defense," Zrebiec wrote.

The pass rush was much improved from Week 2, as the Ravens recorded three sacks. Smolka noted that Denver quarterback Case Keenum was hit nine times.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs finished with 1.5 sacks, which moved him into 15th in the NFL career sacks list. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon split a sack with Suggs, which was his first of the season. Another outside linebacker that stood out was Za'Darius Smith, who registered one sack and hit Keenum four times.

"Everyone who's been sleeping on Za'Darius Smith needs to wake up," Russell Street Report’s Mitchell Wolfman wrote. "He was extremely active today and was a dominant force inside."

Though the pass rush was better in general, a contributing factor was also a strong showing from the secondary, which Head Coach John Harbaugh referred to as "phenomenal."

Keenum is known for distributing the football quickly, and getting it into the hands of his talented receivers like Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. He wasn't able to do that effectively in Baltimore though because a lot of times, Denver's receivers weren't open.

"Really solid game from Marlon Humphrey, who looked strong in coverage on Emmanuel Sanders," Wolfman wrote. "But I was very impressed to see Tavon Young step up after a disappointing game against the Bengals. He was the strongest cornerback on the day."

It wasn't all rave reviews for the secondary though as Pro Football Focus believed that "drops and inaccurate throws prevented Denver from putting up more points."

It should also be noted that the defense did well without having key members of the unit, including Mosley, cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Willie Henry. When the defense has all of its players available again, it should be even better.

Broncos Pass Rush Has Quiet Afternoon: After a rough showing by the offensive line in Week 2, many pundits believed Denver's pass rush, led by Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller, would consistently disrupt Baltimore's passing game.

Instead, the offensive line held its ground and the plan put together by Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was well executed. Denver managed just two sacks, while Miller finished the game with two sacks, as well as two offsides penalties.

"The Ravens used play action, quick slants, help from tight ends and other schemes to buy Flacco time or quicken the timing of throws," Smolka wrote. "In general, it was successful."

Miller moved throughout Denver's defensive line, trying to find an opening which he ultimately didn't find. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst blocked Miller the most. On Hurst, The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote he "played one of the best games of his career."

Stanley also stood out, and scored a 3.5 rating from PFF.

"Stanley had a major bounce back game," Wolfman wrote. "Really credit should go to the entire offensive line who kept a clean pocket and, shockingly didn't surrender a single sack to Von Miller. Wow."

Balanced Approach on Offense Unleashes Playmakers

Many pundits believed the Ravens were too pass-happy in Week 2 after running 59 pass plays to just 22 run plays. A big reason for that was the team falling behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, but despite falling behind twice in the first quarter on Sunday, the Ravens remained committed to running the ball.

To be fair, it wasn't the most prolific day on the ground for the Ravens – the team averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.

"Collins carried the ball seven times in the first quarter, just two fewer that he did in the entirety of the team's previous game, a 34-23 loss in Cincinnati," Walker wrote. "And that commitment set up the rest of the team's attack."

Still, Collins was his usual self – making tacklers miss, continually fighting for yardage, and seeming like a constant threat for a big play whenever he had the ball.

More importantly, with the Ravens running the ball more, Denver's defense wasn't able to key in on just stopping Flacco from throwing. It led to a more efficient performance than in Week 2 for Flacco, who went 25-for-40 with 277 passing yards. He also threw a touchdown to running back Javorius Allen, and nine different players caught passes.

"Flacco has always been at his best as a play-action quarterback, but he made a variety of excellent throws against Denver and perhaps most importantly, he made them quickly," Walker wrote.

While Flacco looked very sharp despite playing in the rain, it was his new revamped receiving corps that stood out for a lot of pundits.

"With this receiver group, it's easy to see how the Ravens can be more efficient on third down and in the red zone this year," Smolka wrote.

Wide receiver John Brown once again showed his big play ability after hauling in five catches for 86 yards, which led to ESPN writing that "Brown has cemented his role as the Ravens' top playmaker." He has some competition for that title, though Brown does lead the team with 222 receiving yards through three games.

Wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV each had solid days, with Crabtree leading the way with seven catches for 61 yards, all of which happened in the first half. Snead finished with three catches for 39 yards, which included hauling in a key third-down conversion in the third quarter.

Tight end Mark Andrews has also emerged as a viable playmaker. Though he caught just two passes, they went for 59 yards.

"Andrews' 30-yard catch and run in the first quarter showcased his ability to gobble up open space with long strides," Walker wrote. "More impressive still was his 29-yard catch in heavy traffic to set up a Baltimore touchdown in the third quarter. Andrews brushed past a missed connection on the previous down to make one of the most important plays of the game."

With Andrews, a rookie third-round selection, making plays, Walker thinks the Ravens could get even more production from their tight ends when rookie first round pick Hayden Hurst (foot) returns. Hurst had an excellent preseason, and looked ready to contribute right away in the NFL. That could spell trouble for future Baltimore opponents.

"The Ravens would have a more dangerous receiving corps this season even if they got nothing from their tight ends," Walker wrote. "But opponents will have to account for Andrews and eventually, Hurst."

Blocked Kick Ruling Leads to Confusion

In an odd first half, the Ravens had both a punt and field goal attempt blocked. The blocked field goal was particularly confusing though, as Broncos safety Justin Simmons leapt over the line to block Tucker's 43-yard attempt.

What makes it so confusing is that the NFL recently changed its rule about being able to jump over linemen on field-goal attempts. The new rule specifies that a player cannot get a running start and then leap over a lineman.

"We didn't think you could jump over the line there," Harbaugh said.

As far as the referees' reasoning for not throwing a flag on Simmons' leap, Kasinitz wrote, "Ravens players in the locker room said officials contended that Simmons was in the defensive line area when Baltimore snapped the ball, which would classify him as stationary."

It's a difficult call to make, as Simmons is lined up at the line of scrimmage and appears to make a move before the ball is snapped. However, it isn't clear if that move could be classified as running.

"This should have been marked as a dead play and the Ravens should have been given another shot at the field goal," RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens wrote.

Harbaugh plans to get further explanation from the league about the call. And thankfully, since the Ravens ended up beating the Broncos, it wasn't a major factor in the game.

Regardless of the explanation the NFL provides, safety Anthony Levine Sr. isn't pleased the Ravens had both a punt and kick blocked.

"That's a no-no around here," Levine said. "We work too hard on special teams to give up stuff like that. We know better. We got players that work hard at it, and it's unacceptable."

PFF Offense and Defense Rankings

· Flacco led the way for the offense with a 4.9 overall PFF score. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley's 3.5 rating was good for second-best on the team, while tight end Nick Boyle rounded out the top three with a 2.3.

· Despite keeping Denver's vaunted pass rush in check, PFF wasn't a big fan of the offensive line. Right tackle James Hurst had the lowest score with a -2.7, while left guard Alex Lewis had a -2.3. Right guard Marshal Yanda finished with a -1.3.

· Defensive tackle Brandon Williams had a standout day on defense with a 4.0 score. Smith scored a 3.8, while defensive end Brent Urban finished with a 2.0 rating.

· Cornerback Brandon Carr was given the defense's lowest ranking with a -4.8 mark. Rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young, who led Baltimore with 10 tackles, scored a -1.4, while defensive tackle Patrick Ricard was given a -1.3 rating for his eight snaps on defense.

Quick Hits

· Tucker was named Special Teams Player of the Week in NBC Sports’ Peter King’s “Football Morning in America” column. "Tucker, the NFL's state-of-the-art kicker, booted 52-yard field goals in the first and second quarters in the Ravens' 27-14 win over previously unbeaten Denver," King wrote. "You want the amazing stat about Tucker? Since opening day 2016, he's made 18 of 20 field goals from 50 yards or more."

· After scoring touchdowns in each of their three trips to the red zone, the Ravens are now the first team in NFL history to be 12-for-12 in red zone trips resulting in touchdowns, according to ESPN. "This kind of scoring ability should make the Ravens' offense one of the best in the league if everything works properly," RavensWire’s Chuck Mills wrote.

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