This was the game we’ve all been waiting for from the training camp darling. James Proche finished as the Ravens’ second-leading receiver with five catches for 74 yards, both by far career highs. Four of his five receptions went for first downs.
Lamar Jackson continues to spread the ball around to all of his pass catchers at an unprecedented level. Five receivers had at least five targets, and only Mark Andrews and Sammy Watkins finished with more than Proche’s six.
The second-year receiver did a nice job of finding open spots in Denver’s zone coverages, and I particularly liked the toughness he showed to push forward through a defender for a first down when he caught a pass on 3rd-and-7 late in the third quarter a few yards short of the sticks.
big boy strength here from Proche pic.twitter.com/WMRQf0Vly9
— Taylor Lyons (@taylorjlyons) October 4, 2021
When it was announced that Denver would be without both of their starting guards on Sunday, Justin Madubuike was set up to have a dominant showing. He was disruptive early. On the Broncos’ fourth play from scrimmage, he quickly beat left guard Netani Muti and knocked down Teddy Bridgewater just after he threw. He deflected a pass down early in the second quarter on the first play of a three-and-out stop, and also collected his first sack of the season just after halftime to put Denver in a third and long.
Like we thought he would, he made easy work of the backup guards he faced. Although he’s gotten pressure, Madubuike’s been absent from the stat sheet up until now. He’ll face another backup guard next week with Indianapolis’ Quenton Nelson being placed on IR.
In his second game back from injury, Jimmy Smith was a part of some big defensive stops early in the game. He had a pass defensed, his second straight game with one, on a 3rd-and-9 covering tight end Noah Fant, and played good, tight coverage on multiple incomplete passes.
After a training camp injury that feels all too familiar with Smith at this point in his career and losing Marcus Peters for the season put a damper on the cornerback depth. Smith coming back and becoming a good rotational piece, which also limits his snap count to keep him healthy, is the ideal way to move forward.
In his second season, Devin Duvernay has emerged as both a legit option in the passing game and the best punt returner in football.
After Week 4, he leads the NFL in total punt return yards (189), yards per return (18.9) and longest return (42), set on Sunday. Over the last 50 years, no one has ever finished a season with more yards per punt return than Duvernay’s 18.9. Despite some dropped punts in the past, he’s been able to move past them and become a Devin Hester/DeSean Jackson-level threat on special teams.
He’s also making strides as a receiver. We saw him haul in his first career touchdown reception last week. For an encore, he set his career high in catches and yards with three and 31, respectively, and should’ve added a long touchdown to his line, but Jackson just missed him with a few steps on his defender.
Maybe he’ll lose some of those opportunities when Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin return, but he’s doing his best to stay in the rotation for now, while also having the best season of any punt returner ever so far.
Ty’Son Williams was a healthy scratch, so Latavius Murray received the bulk of the running back work with 18 attempts. He finished with 59 yards, good for 3.3 per carry. He looked good on his touchdown run, but other than that, it was another uninspiring showing.
On the season, the 31-year-old has run for 2.9 yards a clip. According to reporters close to the team, the coaches don’t seem to be the biggest Williams fans, saying he’s run “tentatively.” Whatever that means, Murray isn’t convincing anyone that he’s a better option than Williams. I’m guessing the running back splits will continue to be weird as they look for the right mix, but Murray surely hasn’t made a case to remain in a lead role.