As the Ravens prepare for the Detroit Lions in Week 3, Lamar Jackson missed Thursday's practice because of an illness.
Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic reported that Jackson had a slight stomach bug and was expected to be fine by Sunday's game.
The only discomfort Jackson mentioned during his press conference Wednesday stemmed from his flip into the end zone during his touchdown run against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I'm kind of sore," Jackson said. "I didn't want to tell (Head) Coach [John Harbaugh], because coach probably would have said something to me about flipping next time. So, I don't know. I'd probably do it again, though. It was pretty cool."
The return of nose tackle Brandon Williams (neck) and cornerback Tavon Young (knee) to the practice field was welcomed. With veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe (back/hip) unable to play so far this year, Williams' presence as a run stopper is even more crucial heading into Sunday's game. Young has been one of the NFL's top nickel backs during his career, and he made a key interception in Sunday's win.
Greg Roman Adds to Prowess As Run Game Guru
The Ravens have the NFL's top rushing attack averaging 222.0 yards per game, far ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles (162.0 yards) who are second. Many people thought Baltimore's run production would take a serious hit after running backs J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill suffered season-ending injuries.
However, Roman keeps adjusting on the fly, adding new wrinkles to a system that is deep and diverse. In Sunday night's victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, Roman said the Ravens ran 36 different run plays.
"Whatever plays we run in the games, there's also a lot more that we didn't run," Roman said. "The players are working on that stuff every week. We might work on something for five weeks in a row and it doesn't show up until Week 8. There's a lot that goes into this and you try to choose wisely on game day. I think we ran 36 different runs in that game, completely different runs, and I promise you we had a lot more on the shelf. Credit to the players and the assistant coaches."
In addition to the running back injuries, the Ravens were forced to shuffle the offensive line without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) in Week 2. Alejandro Villanueva switched from right tackle to left tackle and played well, as did Patrick Mekari who stepped in at right tackle.
However, the two constants for the Ravens are Jackson's unique running ability and Roman's scheme. Jackson is third in the league in rushing (193 yards), and his presence as the best running quarterback in league history has been a huge asset for running backs Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Devonta Freeman. Opponents must honor Jackson's ability as a runner, and even when they do, he can still burn them.
Meanwhile, Roman keeps dialing up plays from his arsenal that make it difficult for opponents to anticipate what's coming. It's still early in the season, but it's clear that Baltimore's rushing attack remains a force to be reckoned with.
"We have a philosophy; we have some principles that we believe in," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Greg is the author of the system. He's been building this system for many years, so we've built on that even more. The offensive line, obviously, is very important – wide receivers, like we talked about, tight ends. It's a group effort, but in the end, it revolves around the quarterback. Lamar is the thing that gives you the opportunity to do the things that we do and make the thing really go the way it does."
Justin Houston Helped Wink Martindale's Strategy Against Chiefs
The Ravens added a new wrinkle to their defensive game plan against the Chiefs, using rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh to jam All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce at the line of scrimmage before coming off as a delayed pass rusher. The plan worked to perfection in the fourth quarter, when Oweh got a piece of Kelce, then pressured quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes threw a poor throw under duress that was intercepted by Young, starting Baltimore's comeback from a 35-24 deficit to win, 36-35.
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale received well-deserved praised from Harbaugh after the game for a terrific defensive game plan. However, Martindale spread the love Thursday, crediting veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston for the idea to use Oweh as one of the players who would jam Kelce at the line.
"I would like to take credit and say that it was my idea to put him out there on Kelce and do that, but it was Justin Houston," Martindale said. "What great foresight to see that. We got him work on Friday out there doing it and it was a good thing we did, because that's what caused the interception."
Oweh was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in just his second NFL game. What happened to all the critics who questioned whether Oweh was too raw to be a first-round pick? The Ravens were ahead of the curve on the Oweh bandwagon, and Martindale referenced a conversation he had prior to the draft with Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome.
"Ozzie told me, 'You need to watch this 99 from Penn State, he's a Raven,'" Martindale said. "Those traits that we all look for here in Baltimore, he checked every one of those boxes."
Ravens Working On Missed Tackles
Tackling is one phase of defensive play that the Ravens have not been pleased with.
The most blatant example came on Kelce's 46-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, when he ran through at least four missed tackles into the end zone. Kelce is a great player, but Martindale knows the Ravens tackling needs to be more solid. The Ravens also gave up a 40-yard touchdown to Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle when he got the edge on the defense.
"I'm not giving any excuses for missed tackles," Martindale said. "We took terrible angles. Make not bones about it, we worked on it this week. I'm expecting it to improve every week."
Martindale Gives Props to Home Fans
The atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium was electric Sunday night and the Ravens fed off the energy. Fans were robbed of having significant impact on games during the 2020 season due to the pandemic, but with the stadium rocking again, the Ravens' full homefield advantage returned.
Martindale said the fans' role in the fourth-quarter comeback should not be downplayed. The Chiefs' final three offensive drives ended with an interception, punt, and fumble.
"The thing that jumped out to me the most was our fans," Martindale said. "It was unbelievable. That's the loudest I think I've ever heard it, especially in that fourth quarter. It's not – 'I think it made a difference.' That fourth quarter was some of the best defense that we've played."