The Baltimore Ravens are in the 2019 NFL Playoffs. They are firmly in control of the No. 1 seed in the AFC, and of their destiny. They haven’t done enough yet, but for this week, they did what they had to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to this week’s edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly – a brief, dirty, blue-collar breakdown of the team’s game. Let’s begin.
We’ve grown used to the 2019 Ravens offense being the focal point of the media. We’ve grown used to the offensive fireworks. We’ve grown used to the skill positions scoring at will.
With all of those statements, it’s easy to forget the meat-and-potatoes of what’s always made this team great: the defense. And man did they come to play this week.
The #Ravens defense is playing December (and January) football today.
— DB Enthusiast 🇮🇪 (@LateRoundCorner) December 8, 2019
Time after time, they got a third-down stop at a critical point of the game. Time after time, the corners made plays on the ball, knocking them away from receivers at the catch point, or simply smothering the receivers so that Josh Allen had to hold onto the ball for too long, resulting in coverage sacks.
Speaking of sacks, there were six of them, with Matthew Judon leading the way (1.5) and Earl Thomas getting the first full sack of his Hall of Fame-worthy career. The pass rush had their way with the Buffalo offensive line for much of the game, leading some to believe that Baltimore has solved their pass rush problem (they haven’t).
There was one drive at the end of the game where I started to question whether the defense was going to break, and send the game to overtime, but when Baltimore needed him most, Marcus Peters came through and did what he does best – made a play on a good pass to John Brown to end the game and give the Ravens their ninth straight win and lock in a playoff spot.
The defense was the hero on Sunday – a gentle reminder that, behind the MVP frontrunner, behind the tank known as Mark Ingram, there’s ‘big truss’ in the Baltimore defense.
As good as the defense was, the run game was that bad. Something you don’t hear about a team that has a (quite literally) historic run game. As a team, Baltimore only gained 118 yards on the ground. As a team, they averaged 3.65 yards per carry.
Ingram averaged 3.3 YPC.
Lamar Jackson was bottled up, averaging just 3.6 YPC.
Justice Hill‘s speed was negated, averaging just 2.7 YPC.
Gus Edwards was the only one who found success, averaging 5.0 YPC, but he only got four carries in a game where the Ravens led the entire time.
Look, I’m aware that Buffalo stacked the box for the majority of the game, daring Jackson to beat them with his arm, and that can severely limit a team’s ability to run, especially against a good defense – which Buffalo has. However, for a team that has a supposedly ‘unstoppable’ run game, a historic run game, they have to find a way to do better.
I realize I’m nitpicking. I realize they won, and except for the end of the fourth quarter, the game never really felt that close. But December football is the time you have to play perfect football. It’s crunch time.
Figure it out.
Not great, especially with TNF in four days.
— DB Enthusiast 🇮🇪 (@LateRoundCorner) December 8, 2019
It feels like a long time since we’ve had to talk about injuries with the Ravens (outside of Matt Skura). Sunday brought us screeching back to reality.
Chris Board went down with a concussion after making the tackles on the first two Bills kick returns.
Chris Moore went down with a head stinger – though he did return shortly thereafter.
Anthony Levine, Sr. went out with an ankle injury.
That’s three special teamer standouts in one game. If special team injuries don’t concern you, you’re a fan of the wrong team, but to make matters worse, Mark Andrews went out with an injury after a no-catch touchdown, and he didn’t return.
During his press conference, John Harbaugh did say that he spoke to Levine and Andrews, who both said that they were minor dings and that they would play on Thursday. The underlying point is that injuries at this time of year, even minor ones, can derail a seeding run.
Luckily, Brynden Trawick is back, so the special teams casualties don’t take a massive hit.
Luckily, the Ravens have a guy who’s been underrated for his whole career, because of injury and being overshadowed by a 3rd round draft pick.
That guy? That guy was the star of the show on Sunday.
The Marie Avgeropoulos
My guess is Hayden Hurst and a third round pick
— sportsfanatic006 (@oriolesfan68) October 21, 2019
To which I replied:
To all the #Ravens fans asking what I've heard about Hayden Hurst being traded, or his cryptic tweet..
The answer has been an emphatic 'no' to all inquiries about him thus far.
As it should be. pic.twitter.com/LHb60mIBXg
— DB Enthusiast 🇮🇪 (@LateRoundCorner) October 26, 2019
‘Hayden shouldn’t be traded’ I said.
‘What if Andrews goes down?’ I asked.
Well, Andrews did go down, and Hayden Hurst stepped up. When Lamar looked for him, he was there, catching three passes for 73 yards and a score. He averaged 24.3 YPR, made key blocks in the struggling run game, and added an exclamation point with a 61-yard TD catch-and-run.
The Baltimore Ravens have guys that are very loved – Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, Marlon Humphrey, Mark Andrews, the list goes on. However, I’m here to say that if you don’t love Hayden Hurst because he’s not a focal point of the offense, or doesn’t make a lot of splash plays, I encourage you to go watch his tape.
He’s an underrated asset for the Ravens. A key part of the offense. They took him in the first round for a reason, and just because he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers doesn’t mean he isn’t a good player.
He’s this week’s winner because he not only did the dirty work, and led the team in receiving yards, but also stepped up in the biggest of ways.
The Ravens don’t get a break in their run all over the league, as they turn around and play the Jets on Thursday Night Football – a game that if they win, will clinch the AFC North for them in back-to-back years.
One game at a time is their mantra, and so far, they’ve done very well at holding to that.
Until next time, folks. Be sure to follow all the Russell Street Report writers, and find me on Twitter, @LateRoundCorner.