2020 has been a cluster. Nothing seems quite the same. And yesterday while we all watched as the Ravens hosted their divisional rival the Browns, we wondered what it might look like – what it might feel like. Clearly it wasn’t the same.
The stadium was devoid of fans. The scene was solemn by NFL standards. On a personal level, it reminded me that September 13, 2020 was the first time since 1981 when I didn’t attend an NFL home opener in Baltimore. Energy was lacking and as John Harbaugh and Calais Campbell later said, it was a BYOE event – Bring Your Own Energy.
The Ravens did exactly that.
From a broader perspective, I soaked the day in with friends and later on at home to take in a day of NFL football. As different as it may seem it is back and for a few hours, things almost felt normal again. And pandemic or no pandemic, it was the same old Browns.
Football back in my life is a beautiful thing in normal times, but today it was like seeing a long lost friend that you haven’t seen in 15 years. Glorious. #Ravens #Wolfpack #GladHarbsDidntRockTheFaceShield
— Josh Charles (@MrJoshCharles) September 14, 2020
As for the Ravens, the 38-6 win didn’t quite feel all that great. Don’t get me wrong, a (1-0) start is a good one and it keeps them at pace with 15 other teams. But despite the lopsided score, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling that they are so much better and the vibe in the locker room following the game suggests that my takeaway has merit.
“[We] got off to a fast start. We’re 1-0. And obviously, I don’t think anybody feels like they played their best football. But we’re 1-0 – a lot to look forward to.” ~ Calais Campbell
“We gave up more rushing yards than we wanted to, our guys are not going to be happy about that. I already know they’re not, because I’ve seen them, and that’s how they feel about it.” ~ John Harbaugh
There’s work to do. There are many details and assignments that need to be cleaned up and they will be. A team that isn’t satisfied with a 38-6 win is a team that isn’t satisfied with small victories. It’s a team that has steely-eyed focus on a much grander prize.
That said, despite the attention upon fixing what didn’t go right instead of gloating about the league’s most lopsided victory during the NFL’s opening week (so far), a mark of a champion, and the lack of a preseason, the play on the field (well, at least for the Ravens) was nowhere near as sloppy as I expected and the tackling, while not always textbook, wasn’t too shabby.
Overall, Sunday was a building block for the balance of 2020. So let’s get to the Good, Bad & Ugly.
Throughout camp, Mark Andrews put in a ton on work. He practiced like a man hellbent on achieving greatness and he’s well on his way. The big TE registered 2 TDs catches for the third time in his career (two of those occasions have come against Cleveland) and finished with 5 receptions for 58 yards…Another Raven and like Andrews, a former Oklahoma Sooner, Marquise Brown, has also worked diligently to refine his craft. His route running is razor sharp and suddenness in and out of breaks is impressive. Brown produced his second-career 100-yard receiving game (101 on 5 catches), and he registered the game’s biggest play when he reeled in a 47-yard strike from QB Lamar Jackson.
Willie Snead was on the receiving end of a Lamar tear drop for a score. He chipped in with 4 catches for 64 yards…Orlando Brown, Jr. did a very nice job sealing off the menacing Myles Garrett who was limited to one tackle during the afternoon…Tyre Phillips got a surprise start at right guard and seemed to hold his own…J.K. Dobbins didn’t set the cardboard fans in attendance ablaze, but he did flash some of what lies ahead for the talented former Buckeye. J.K. rushed 7 times for 22 yards and 2 TDs and became the very first Ravens rookie to tally 2 rushing TDs in his NFL debut.
— Slade ⚓️ (@BigPlayReceiver) September 14, 2020
Defensively, one of the game’s stars was newcomer Calais Campbell who contributed a career game-high 3 passes defensed, the second of which led to the interception by Marlon Humphrey…Although it was tough to tell with complete conviction, the Ravens secondary played extremely well given the ample amount of time Baker Mayfield had to set and throw. The Browns have a ton of weapons and to hold those assets to six points regardless of the circumstances is impressive. Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young and DeShon Elliott were the back-end standouts.
Patrick Queen shined in his debut. Early on he seemed a bit hesitant and got caught up in the wash at times. Yet he tallied a team-high 8 tackles, 1 sack and 1 FF. He nearly had a second sack but Mayfield was able to side-step his burst through the LOS.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) September 13, 2020
The Ravens defense limited Cleveland to 0-for-3 on fourth down and 3-of-12 (25%) on third down… After allowing 6 points and 101 total yards to Cleveland in the first quarter, Baltimore’s defense limited the Browns’ attack to 0 points and 205 yards in the ensuing three quarters.
Justin Tucker is a Baltimore Treasure. The guy just makes placekicking look so easy and lures you into thinking that it might be. But then when you look around the league and see so many kickers go wide or clank kicks off the upright, you realize just how special he his. Even JT understands how special he is! WARNING: Explicit language.
Justin Tucker yelling “STILL FUCKING GOT IT” as he bangs another field goal is such a mood pic.twitter.com/5NZ8vgtHuq
— Big Truzz Banks (@BarstoolBanks) September 13, 2020
The Ravens interior offensive line struggled against a formidable Browns defensive front. Matt Skura seemed a tad slow but his recovery from major knee surgery almost assures that. Bradley Bozeman seemed overpowered at times.
When you think back to 2019, the one thing that really sticks in the collective craw is the run defense. It was exposed by the Browns in Game 4 of last season and then again in the Divisional Playoff Game against the Titans. The Ravens invested resources to clean that up this offseason and the overall feeling was that they had.
So, when the Browns broke off some big runs yesterday, it was hard not to think, “Here we go again.” Yet a closer look reveals that maybe it wasn’t as bad as it appeared – that maybe we all still have some cold sweats courtesy of Derrick Henry.
Q1 wasn’t great (6 carries for 65 yards, including gains of 29 and 22), but they settled in after that. Gave up some longer runs once they were up big (10, 10, 9 in late Q3 + Q4), but stout in between, but strong play in Q2/Q3. pic.twitter.com/SqdjlYwXAJ
— KingMoose (@Yoshi2052) September 14, 2020
THE MO GABA
We all know Mo Gaba, an angel while on Earth and an inspiration to us all. From this point forward, our Player of the Game will be called, “The Mo Gaba”. And fittingly, the distinction of the inaugural Mo Gaba is Lamar Jackson.
Lamar completed 20-of-25 (80%) passes for 275 yards and 3 TDS, adding up to a 152.1 passer rating. Fittingly, Lamar also added a team-high 45 rushing yards on 7 carries (6.4 avg.). In his past two season openers, Jackson is 37-of-45 (82.2%) passing for 599 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INTs and a perfect 158.3 rating. His two opening day starts have produced a combined score of 96-16. On Sunday LJ became the first QB in NFL history to produce at least three games with 3-plus TD passes & a 150-plus passer rating (min. 10 attempts) during his first three seasons. Under Lamar’s guidance the Ravens offense was 6-of-11 (55%) on third down, and more importantly, 5-of-6 (83.0) in red zone TD efficiency. This mark also includes a perfect 4-for-4 in goal-to-go efficiency.
Moreover, his ball distribution was outstanding with a nice spread of left and right, short-intermediate-deep targets. His pocket presence was perfect. His speed and burst allow him to let plays develop, and read through progressions with calmness and laser focus.
Not bad for a running back.