Welcome to the very first edition of Purple Stars!
After each Ravens game, I’ll be recapping my top 3 players based on the impact of their performance, big plays made and how they might contribute moving forward. In a sense, each player will be earning a Purple Star (like how there’s Three Stars after a game of hockey…what else would you expect from a Canadian).
After writing for Russell Street Report for some time, I wanted to start a weekly piece with a unique identity that you guys can look forward to reading after each game. I’m stoked that I finally get to do that with Purple Stars and look forward to hearing what you all think.
And with that, the first ever Purple Star in Ravens history (which is a monumental feat) goes to …
Stats: 25/40 completions, 277 yards, 1 TD
Joseph Vincent Flacco – remember all three of his names. It’s been so refreshing to watch a completely reinvigorated Flacco, who looks so much more composed throwing the ball. His stats weren’t electric, but Flacco played a solid game in terms of his decision making and ball placement on several nice throws all around the field.
Did you expect to see so many clean pockets for Flacco after the offensive line got clobbered by the Bengals last week? I was anticipating the return of the knee brace. But Flacco had plenty of time to read the field, stand strong in the pocket and deliver well-timed strikes as routes developed. Flacco also flashed his scrambling ability on a patient bootleg pass to John Brown while rolling out right and on a clutch third down run to move the chains and seal the win.
Flacco mostly directed his damage towards the middle of the field. Mark Andrews, who has emerged as legitimate receiving tight end, connected with Flacco on two deep passes over the middle, including a beautiful 30-yard dart while surrounded by three Broncos defenders to set up a TD on the drive. Along the sideline, Flacco also connected with John Brown on a stunning 44-yard rainbow pass that had the perfect touch that allowed Brown to maintain speed on his route.
The passing game has completely transformed this season and will be in good hands if Flacco continues to play this solid. However, I’m curious to see how he performs against a stronger secondary than the Broncos 23rd ranked unit.
Stats: Rushing – 7 yards, 1 TD; Receiving – 3 catches for 19 yards, 1 TD
Speaking of expectations, I don’t even think the Ravens knew that Buck Allen would be leaning towards a more productive first quarter of the season than Alex Collins. Over these three weeks, Allen has redefined his role from being a situational RB to become a legitimate weapon on this offense. Granted, the run blocking from the offensive line has been atrocious and Collins has been forced to earn most of his rushing yards after contact. But as the passing game has maintained prevalence, Allen has garnered a larger role as Flacco’s primary check down option and an ideal target on third downs.
One of his third down conversions came from a quick pass on a flat route where Allen quickly scampered along the sideline, outran Von Miller and dove for the pylon to score a 12-yard TD. This play was pretty damn impressive by Allen, especially considering he laid out three yards from the end zone to hit the pylon without his knee hitting the ground. And to do that while outplaying one of the league’s most dominant edge defenders in Miller? Now that’s a special play.
Allen’s second TD came from a 1-yard goal line rush while lined up as a FB. As Collins motioned out right to the H-back spot as decoy, Allen took the snap inside and powered his way into the end zone. This run is signature to Allen’s game and is effective in short yard situations.
Although I had Allen leading the offense in TDs this season, I’m shocked to see him start this hot.
Stats: 2 tackles (1 TFL), 4 QB hits, 1 sack
Those who have read my previous articles know that I’m a big Za’Darius Smith “truther,” and for good reason. So far Smith has been the most consistent pass rusher for the Ravens this season in terms of his total sacks and how much pocket pressure he’s been able to generate.
Through the first three weeks, Smith’s 2 sacks rank second on the team but his team-leading 7 QB pressures (per PFF) is very impressive and has been a huge boost to the Ravens pass rush. You could also make that case for Terrell Suggs, who had a dominant afternoon as well. But Smith keeps mowing his way into offensive backfields and Case Keenum was his latest culprit.
I’ve probably re-watched his sack about 500 times now. While lined up as a rush linebacker on Broncos RT Jared Veldheer, Smith jab stepped outside, followed with quick side-step inside and a chop that left Veldheer on skates and laid a crushing blow on Keenum (with no flag!). It’s been nice to see Smith get more opportunities as an edge rusher instead of predominantly playing inside. But Smith still saw plenty of looks as an interior pass rusher during this game, as it created mismatch problems for the Broncos with his large build and speed off the line.
If you’re still sleeping on Za’Darius Smith, this stat might wake you up. Per PFF, Smith currently ranks 9th among all edge defenders in pass rushing productivity with a grade of 10.4. At this rate, this man is cashing out (of Baltimore) this offseason.