For a short time, I did a podcast called Baltimore Sack Exchange. And for this week, at least, the Ravens took that name as their own.
Don’t worry guys, I’m not going to sue for infringement. I prefer it this way, and besides, that podcast is dead (shameless plug, listen to the Neutral Zone Infraction podcast, hosted by myself and @AdamBMore).
Ravens fans couldn’t have asked for a better outcome than a 21-0 result on the road, against an old AFC Central (what the AFC North used to be called, for you young cats) rival.
With another week, and another victory, comes a much happier version of The Good, Bad, and Ugly. Let’s begin.
Willie Snead. The Ravens’ slot receiver posted a 7-of-10 completion line, which included two overthrown passes, and was good for a 70% catch percentage – which is the third worst of his six games as a Raven. He had 60 yards receiving, and showed himself, again, to be great on third down situations, converting multiple times. It’s almost like Joe Flacco has been missing a sure-handed third down receiver. Weird. He’s my favorite offensive player on the Ravens – never flashy, but sturdy, consistent, and reliable.
Third down playcalling. Against the Browns, the Ravens were miserable on third down, converting just four of sixteen attempts. Against the Titans, they converted 12-of-17, and were near-perfect until the offense hiccupped late in the game. Whether it was a four-yard pass to Michael Crabtree (more on him later), an 11-yard catch-and-run by Javorius Allen, or Snead being Snead, the Ravens would not be stopped on third down. I’ve seen people question why there were so many third downs to begin with, and the answer is that the Ravens didn’t need to be flashy this week, and ground out the yards, eating up the clock.
Time of possession. As I just mentioned, the Ravens made great use of their time with the ball, and there was a lot of time with the ball. 37 minutes and 34 seconds, actually. For comparison, the Titans had just under 22-and-a-half minutes of possession. Dominating the TOP will win you football games more often than not, and the Ravens did just that.
Run/pass balance. Perhaps you remember a previous article that I wrote, where I was irritated by John Harbaugh’s lack of acknowledgement that the playcalling was one-sided? Perhaps he wasn’t telling the truth in that presser (imagine that), or maybe this is just game flow. Either way, the Ravens passed 37 times yesterday, and ran 35, showing a great balance between the two, even though the run game only averaged 3.5YPC – a number inflated by an almost-touchdown run by Lamar Jackson (Alex Collins would score on the ground one play later).
Pass rush. What a beautiful sight to see. Wink Martindale dialed up numerous disguised pressures, exotic blitzes, and spectacular secondary packages, creating pressure both up the middle, and from the edges. Eight players tallied a sack, with Za’Darius Smith (3) leading the team. They flushed Mariota into the arms of the outside linebackers waiting on the edge, took him to the ground in the pocket, and made his life wholly miserable. The Ravens had more sacks (11) than Marcus Mariota had completions (10), and stood tall on third down far more often than not. The Titans had allowed just nine sacks through five games, but the Ravens couldn’t be stopped. However, they had help…
Coverage. The secondary, largely unheralded in this game, played a very good game. Outside of Eric Weddle biting on an ‘In’ route, and leaving Jimmy Smith to cover Taywan Taylor deep (the pass fell incomplete), the corners blanketed the Tennessee wideouts through the entire game, providing time for the reinvigorated pass rush to get home, as Mariota had no options open to him.
And finally… Michael Crabtree. Look, I meant everything that I said last week. I haven’t forgotten the drops, especially the one that would’ve put the Ravens at 5-1, instead of 4-2. But what a way to rebound. He caught six of his nine targets, for 93 yards and a score. He made two beautiful toe-tapping grabs on the sideline, extended drives, and looked more like the wide receiver the Ravens had hoped he would be than he has all season. I’d love to see more of this Crabtree, and less of the Week 5 version.
Honestly, it was a very complete game from the Ravens, so there’s not much to say in this category. However, I can’t leave it blank, and there are a couple of points that are worth mentioning.
Run blocking. The Ravens generated 123 yards on the ground, 22 of which belonged to Jackson. That’s not bad, but they averaged just 3.5YPC, and that drops to under 3.0 YPC if you remove the LJ run. While I commend the commitment to the run game, even if it’s largely inefficient, something has got to improve up front. Collins is a big play waiting to happen, if he could just get better blocking. We’ll see how the line changes, with Alex Lewis potentially missing some time after a scary moment (more on that later.)
The middle of the defense. The Ravens defense was not without its flaws yesterday. Granted, the Titans couldn’t take advantage of the deficiencies, but on the few plays that did connect (and some that didn’t) the eye test showed that there’s still a hole in the middle of the defense, one that better teams will take advantage of. The Ravens should consider themselves lucky that Delanie Walker was not a part of the contest, or that flaw would likely have been exposed.
Alex Lewis. It’s a scary thing, seeing a player go down on his own, on minimal contact, especially with a glazed look in his eye. It’s even scarier when everybody takes a knee, and doctors from both teams come out to take a look at him. For what seemed like an eternity, Lewis lay motionless on the ground, as he was strapped to a stretcher and eventually carted off, weakly waving to his teammates and the crowd. A lot of fans have called for a reworked offensive line, but nobody wanted it to happen like this. Hopefully the young man has a speedy recovery.
Matt Judon. Yet another player that I’ve referenced before, and not in a positive light. Yet another unnecessary penalty, with the roughing the punter call (a cheap shot on a punter?! Really?!). Yet another game in which he cost the team (even if it didn’t matter in the end). Judon is on pace for five times more penalties than sacks this season. Unacceptable production from the guy who stated that his goal was to lead the league in sacks in 2018.
The Megan Fox Award goes to…
Za’Darius Smith! Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a secondary piece of the Ravens’ front seven is in a contract year, makes a push to get a bag, and ends up signed to another team, where he is ultimately a non-factor. Sound familiar? That’s exactly the track that Z is on. Five tackles in this game, to go along with his team-leading three sacks, Z was a force against the hapless Titans offensive line. He now has 5.5 sacks this season, besting his total from the past two seasons combined. I hope the trend continues, as Judon has been.. Less than spectacular, and Tyus Bowser has been a non-factor (even though the words ‘developmental leap’ were used in reference to his off-season.) However, don’t get too used to seeing him in purple-and-black, Baltimore. Solid chance that this guy is off to be the next in a long line of defensive players that get overpaid to underperform elsewhere.
We’re onto New Orleans. Let’s hope the Ravens defense is every bit as dominant, and the offense is every bit as efficient, at home next week. Brees/Thomas/Kamara/Ingram is a true test – elite offense against elite defense.