Five thoughts on the Ravens' 44-20 win over the Detroit Lions Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Offense Saved the Day, and Demonstrated that the Ravens' Ceiling Might Be Higher Than People Thought
After the Ravens offense struggled in a win over Houston six days earlier, safety Eric Weddle tried to support the maligned unit, insisting the day would come when the defense struggled and the offense had to save the day. "Everyone looked at me crazy when I said that," Weddle said Sunday. This wasn't quite the extreme case he envisioned, as the defense shut out Detroit's dangerous offense in the first half, enabling the Ravens to build a 20-point lead. But when Detroit engineered three long touchdown drives after halftime, twice turning what had been a rout into a one-score game, the offense definitely needed to save the day. Boy, did it. "We had to do our part at some point, right?" receiver Mike Wallace grinned after the offense capped off its best game of 2017 with three late scores and the Ravens won their third straight game, in the process demonstrating that the ceiling for this 7-5 team might be higher than people think. The defense and special teams are already playoff-caliber; if Joe Flacco and the offense are coming around, things could get interesting.
There's No Sugar-Coating the Jimmy Smith Loss, But the Secondary Should Hold Its Own
When cornerback Jimmy Smith left the field in the second quarter with what appeared to be an Achilles injury, his teammates were sad, but not surprised. They'd watched Smith practice and play on a tender Achilles for weeks. "As players, we know, it's only a matter of time," Weddle said. The Ravens held out hope for weeks that Smith could avoid a bad injury, but Head Coach John Harbaugh confirmed after the game that Smith is out for the year. There's no way to sugar-coat what it means to the Ravens; Smith is their top pass defender and was having his best season, even with a sore Achilles. It's also, plain and simple, a bummer for Smith. "We'll have him in our prayers and we'll play for him," Wallace said. But if there's a silver lining, it's that the Ravens are deeper at cornerback this year, and thus, better able to withstand losing Smith, whose injuries have doomed several prior seasons. "It's different this year," Harbaugh insisted, and I do believe he's right. Yes, the Lions fared a lot better on offense in this game once Smith was out, but the Ravens are replacing him with a talented first-round pick, Marlon Humphrey, not some guy off the street. There could be some rough spots ahead, but in the long run, the secondary should hold its own.
Joe Flacco's Request Was Granted – the Offense Was More Daring
I honestly don't know if there's a philosophical clash in the Ravens offensive meeting room, with Flacco wanting to push the ball upfield more than the coaches. But regardless, Flacco certainly got his way in this game after commenting following the last game that the offense probably needed to become more daring and find another gear if the Ravens are going to accomplish anything in 2017. On paper, it appeared the Lions defense was most vulnerable against the run, ranked No. 26, but from the outset, Flacco put the ball in the air – and not just in the air, but downfield. By halftime, he had 192 passing yards, surpassing his per-game average for 2017, and the Ravens had a 20-point lead. He continued to fire away as the Lions mounted a rally in the second half, which the offense eventually quelled by continuing to score. In the end, the offense leaned more heavily on pass attempts (36) than rushes (27) and Flacco was one happy guy. Asked if this was the "next level" he alluded to, he said, "We all know what that other level is. We got guys involved today. It goes without saying that it helps our confidence."
The Makeshift Offensive Line Performed Like a First-Rate Unit
No one is going to label the Ravens' starting offensive line a collection of stars. The guards both entered the league as undrafted free agents. The center is a first-year starter. The left tackle is a former first-round pick and the right tackle signed as a free agent for solid dollars, but overall, it's not a group that experts and analysts think much of. In fact, if you recall, there was a time when the Ravens had lost so many linemen, starting with Marshal Yanda, that some wondered if their season was doomed. Well, no one is going to say that after this game. After months of practicing and playing together, the formerly makeshift line performed like a first-rate unit. Flacco faced some pressure now and then, but was never sacked, not once. And the running backs had holes to run through all day, as evidenced by Alex Collins and Javorius Allen combining for 97 yards on 22 carries. Flacco and his playmakers are in the headlines, as they should be, but the line had an excellent day. No doubt, it has come a long way.
In another example of why Justin Tucker is so valuable, Detroit's Matt Prater missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt and an extra point, both when the game was close. Tucker, meanwhile, nailed field goals of 38, 46 and 51 yards, with the latter especially important late in the fourth quarter … It was unfortunate to see former Ravens tackle Rick Wagner carted to the locker room with an ankle injury in the second quarter in his return to Baltimore … Chris Moore replaced Breshad Perriman (inactive) as the No. 3 receiver and touched the ball on two kickoffs, three pass receptions and a reverse, which bodes well for him continuing to get the nod … The Ravens are now 4-2 at home and 3-3 on the road.
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens battle the Lions in week 13!