Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-17 victory over the Washington Football Team Sunday at FedEx Field:
It had been a full calendar year since the Ravens played a regular-season contest after losing one the week before, and if you thought they experienced a hangover, that was probably due to the fact that they were heavily favored and rebuilding Washington competed well, generating almost as many offensive yards and more first downs. But the Ravens' superior playmaking ability on both sides of the ball rendered that irrelevant, producing a lopsided score and relatively stress-free afternoon. What really mattered was the Ravens didn't let the wounds from their "Monday Night Football" loss bleed into another game. If they weren't hitting on all cylinders all day, well, I would urge you to recall the days when not hitting on all cylinders meant a baseball-like score and a late field goal to survive. With big plays galore, this was a serious upgrade over that.
Shortly before kickoff, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale took some heat on the national pregame shows for having blitzed too often against Kansas City on Monday night. I'm sure he wasn't watching and couldn't care less, but it almost seemed as if he heard it and was determined to show the Ravens weren't going to stop being aggressive on defense just because the strategy didn't work once. The Ravens brought the heat, hurling a variety of blitzes at Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who was sacked three times, absorbed nine quarterback hits and was limited to operating a short passing game because he seldom had time to stand in the pocket and throw deep. Importantly, linebacker Matthew Judon led the charge with his first two sacks of 2020 and more than half of the hits on Haskins. Teammate Marlon Humphrey said Sunday that Judon was hard on himself after the loss to Kansas City, saying he "had to do more." This certainly was more, and the Ravens' pass rush was the better for it.
You can't coach a guy to make big plays. There isn't a technique for it or fundamentals to hone. It's just a knack, and for the most part, either you have it or you don't. The Ravens have plenty of guys with the knack and many exhibited it Sunday. That was the difference in the game, in fact, as both teams moved the ball and did things both right and wrong, but only the Ravens repeatedly came up with truly difference-making plays. There was Humphrey punching the ball out of a receiver's hands to set up the game's first touchdown. There was Lamar Jackson turning a routine scramble on third-and-4 into a 50-yard touchdown run. There was Hollywood Brown getting open and catching passes of 35 and 31 yards to set up touchdowns. There was Jackson hitting Mark Andrews on touchdown passes of 22 and 25 yards. There was punter Sam Koch throwing a strike on a perfectly-executed fake (see below). Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "That was the key, plays being made. That's what it boils down to in most NFL games – four, five, six, seven, eight plays." The Ravens made almost all of them.
Speaking of the fake punt, it may have been the biggest of those big plays. The game was still up for grabs late in the second quarter when the Ravens rolled it out. They led, 14-7, but Washington had scored a touchdown on its last possession and now the Ravens faced fourth-and-9 at the Washington 43. Koch lined up to punt, but rather than give Washington possession with a chance to tie, he coolly fired a pass to receiver Miles Boykin for a first down. Moments later, Jackson hit Andrews for a touchdown and the Ravens would hold a double-digit lead for the rest of the game. Harbaugh called it "a very important play in the game to give us a little separation." It was the perfect moment for the call, with relatively minimal downside if it failed, and the coaches trust few players more than Koch, who is 7-for-7 in his career as a passer. "He's just so good at it, so clutch," Harbaugh said. Between the successful fake punt, Devin Duvernay's kickoff return for a touchdown a week ago and Justin Tucker's perfect record on field goal attempts so far (7-for-7), the Ravens' special teams are off to a strong start in 2020.
Short take: The Ravens made as many third-down stops in the first quarter Sunday (three) as they did in the entire Kansas City game ... Ronnie Stanley's absence due to a shoulder injury precipitated quite a shuffle in the offensive line, with Orlando Brown Jr. moving from right tackle into Stanley's left tackle spot and D.J. Fluker stepping in to start in Brown's normal spot at left tackle. The new alignment seemed to hold up well as Jackson was sacked just once for two yards and the Ravens rushed for 144 yards on 32 carries … Jackson said after the game that he was mad about the interception he threw just before halftime, which ended his run of 160 straight pass attempts without a pick … The Ravens' top two tacklers were Patrick Queen (nine solo) and Humphrey (eight), but the highest after those two were L.J. Fort and Anthony Averett with five solo tackles apiece … The Ravens have won eight straight road games.