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High Times in Denver!

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On the heels of a less than impressive win in Detroit, the Ravens traveled to Denver to take on the Broncos. And while I admittedly had some reservations given the Ravens injuries and the challenges of playing at Empower Field at Mile High, I thought that the mounting injuries suffered by the Broncos, particularly those across their offensive front, would ultimately be the difference in the game. In part, that WAS the case, but the Ravens win can be attributed to more than just that. And in the end it was a sound team effort which produced the 23-7 win.

The Broncos had given up just 26 points through 3 games entering Sunday’s contest. Granted, the achievement came at the expense of less than formidable opponents but clearly Denver and Vic Fangio’s defense would surely be the most daunting challenge to-date for Greg Roman’s offense.

Fangio’s game plan was pretty clear from the jump – force Lamar to beat the Broncos with his arm. And the Ravens franchise QB was up to the challenge.

THE GOOD

Lamar was 22 of 37 for 316 yards and a score. He did miss a streaking Devin Duvernay for a long-distance connection and he short-armed a couple of throws under pressure, but the progress he’s made outside the numbers must now be accounted for by opponents and that helps to further open up Roman’s playbook. Making the performance even more impressive is the fact that Lamar missed two practices last week and it appeared that he was playing at less than 100%. Roman didn’t dial up many opportunities for Lamar to run and probably with good reason…James Ogden in his Battle Plans stressed the chess match at play between familiar faces – those of Roman and Fangio. Give Roman credit for knowing that Fangio would sell out to stop the run and Lamar clearly delivered.

Sammy Watkins showed good awareness coming back to the ball on a third-down throw and understanding that he needed a spin move to advance the ball and move the chains…The ball distribution to the receivers was also very solid. James Proche had his biggest day as a pro hauling in 5 balls for 74 yards. Give him credit for field awareness, lowering his shoulder and driving towards the sticks for first down yardage…Mark Andrews had a productive day despite having a TD taken off the board due to a lazy penalty from Andre Smith, finishing with 5 catches for 67 yards.

Heading into the game, there were warranted concerns about Patrick Mekari taking on Von Miller and while Pat’s performance was hardly flawless, he held his own – something he’s done surprisingly well since assuming the spot at right tackle…Before his injury, Alejandro Villanueva manned the blindside adequately, never an easy task against an active Broncos front seven…Props to Eric Tomlinson and Patrick Ricard on the Latavius Murray 11-yard TD scamper around the left edge. Tomlinson caved in the defensive right side of the Broncos while Ricard escorted Murray untouched into pay dirt…the Ravens had a 6-minute time of possession edge (33:07 v. 26:53).

 

Calais Campbell took advantage of the Broncos inexperience at the guard positions as did Justin Madubuike. Campbell has played with youthful exuberance so far this season and Madubuike is becoming the player many thought he would be based on flashes from 2020 and his very productive training camp. While neither was especially good v. the run, both created havoc while disrupting the pocket for Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock. According to PFF, Campbell had a pass rush win rate of 18.8% on his 32 pass rush snaps while Madubuike won on 23.5% of his 17 attempts at rushing the QB…Odafe Oweh showed his explosiveness during a first quarter sack of Bridgewater and during a screen pass in the second half that forced Lock to throw the ball before the play developed, resulting in a minimal gain.

Tyus Bowser was very active and had his best game of the season with two sacks and a couple other pressures. He was good in pursuit, sideline-to-sideline…Anthony Averett was targeted 7 times and allowed just 2 completions and tackled well. He also had the end zone INT inside of 10 seconds to help limit the Broncos scoring…Speaking of good tackling, there’s Chuck Clark who has put together consecutive sparkling games. He closes quickly from his safety spot due to plus recognition skills…Give Brandon Stephens some credit for surviving a baptism of fire subbing for the injured DeShon Elliott. It wasn’t a great day for Stephens but it did represent valuable on-the-job training while his team won. A solid first start.

Duvernay is a very good return specialist and had a big 42-yard punt return to help set up the final points of the first half. He averaged 21.3 yards on three returns. On the downside, he opted to field a punt at the 4-yard line while choosing not to come up and catch a punt at the 22 that ultimately bounced to the Ravens 2 where it was downed.

Props to John Harbaugh who opted to try and draw the Broncos offsides late in the second half when the Ravens faced a fourth-and-3. The fake conversion attempt took 30 seconds off the clock while Fangio let it tick down despite having 3 timeouts left with under 2 minutes in the half. Maybe Vic should spend his time self-scouting instead of pouting about Lamar’s run to end the game and push the Ravens over 100 yards for the 43rd consecutive game. More kudos to Harbs for making that happen. It’s something that the team takes pride in which in turn fosters a greater locker room vibe…The Ravens held the Broncos to Justin Tucker doing Justin Tucker things, adding 11 points going 3-for-3 on FGA’s.

THE BAD

The Ravens averaged just 3.4 YPC. None of the backs seemed to have much room to operate in and, none looked particularly explosive…Greg Roman’s play calling during 3rd and less than 3 was a bit suspect with Fangio selling out to stop the run.

THE UGLY

A couple of red zone opportunities the Ravens offense earned were completely wasted. Towards the end of the first half, the Ravens had a first-and-10 at the Broncos 13 with 25 seconds to go. Lamar misfired on consecutive passes to Andrews which left the Ravens facing 3rd-and-10 at the 13 with 18 seconds to go. They were then flagged for too many men on the field pushing the ball back to the 18. On 3rd-and-15, Lamar was sacked. Tucker came on to finish the drive with a 40-yard FG. Then later, with 2:12 left in the game, the Ravens had another red zone opportunity with a first-and-goal at the Broncos 6. An incomplete pass to Duvernay was followed by a 3-yard Murray run and then a throw away by Lamar on 3rd down. Tucker came on to kick a 20-yard field goal.

Reserve tackle Andre Smith is horrific. He doesn’t move much better than a 50-gallon trash can and the trash can doesn’t grab an opponent’s face mask and cost its team a touchdown. I get that practice squad player Adrian Ealy is an undrafted rookie from Oklahoma but it’s almost inconceivable that he would be worse than this iteration of the former No. 6 overall pick…Speaking of No. 6, Patrick Queen has been a disappointment to say the least. Once engaged by a blocker, he’s done – out of the play. His tackling in space is weak at best and his coverage – well, let’s just say that he may as well be wearing a bullseye on his back instead of No. 6. He can’t cover a corpse with a blanket!

The Broncos caught the Ravens in man coverage and flanked TE Albert Okwuegbunam wide right, outside the numbers. Bridgewater’s eyes must have lit up like the opening of a brand new Denver dispensary upon seeing the one-on-one match up. Okwuegbunam blew Queen’s doors off but seemingly lost the ball in the sun and didn’t haul in what should have been a 51-yard score. A full offseason of prep and conditioning; a full array of OTA’s and training camp were supposed to have corrected Queen’s rookie flaws. So far, those flaws are as apparent as those cicadas in June.

The Ravens tackling still leaves a lot to be desired as the Broncos averaged 6.2 YPC. Special thanks to Pat Shurmur for abandoning the run. During Javonte Williams’ 31-yard run, Chris Board shot the A-gap and greeted the rookie RB quickly, only to bounce off and fail to finish. Then Stephens and Malik Harrison took whiffs at the 34. Marlon Humphrey then came to the “rescue”, latching on to Williams at the 30 and then was skull-dragged to the Ravens 9…a couple of plays later Bridgewater connected with Noah Fant for the game’s first points, an assignment completely blown by Stephens.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

Before I share the MFA, it has been brought to my attention that we changed the award’s namesake to Mo Gaba last season in honor of the late Baltimore Super Fan. I opted not to use Mo’s name this season because I didn’t want to give the perception that we were in any way trying to exploit Mo’s memory. He was an angel on Earth and given the deserved notoriety he’s received posthumously, I’ve been very sensitive about using his name again. I have reached out to Sonsy Gaba, Mo’s Mom, to get her take and once I hear back from her, we’ll adjust accordingly. Until then…

This week’s MFA goes to a player who received a ton of criticism after last week’s game in Detroit, much of it delivered in vitriolic fashion via social media. The mark of a man’s character is often measured by the way he handles adversity and to that extent, Marquise Brown came through like a champ. Brown had 4 catches for 91 yards (22.8 YPC) and a diving catch in the end zone for a score that gave the Ravens a lead they would never relinquish. Great bounce back Marquise. Your character shines through.

OTHER NOTES, ODDS & ENDS

We’re nearly at the quarter pole of the 2021 season so perhaps it’s only natural that game officials are trying to get their collective groove on, just like the players. But the inconsistencies in Denver were on full display.


Odd Man Out?

Throughout OTA’s, training camp and during the scrimmaging sessions with the Carolina Panthers, James Proche has been terrific. Finally he got a chance for some “extended” playing time in Denver with 24 snaps. He was targeted 6 times and had 5 catches. But with Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin set to return to the Ravens 53-man squad as soon as this coming week, who will be the odd men out? It can’t be Proche, right? Maybe Tylan Wallace gets sidelined with an ingrown toenail? It will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle this one.

Rocky Mountain Ravens

I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest at a rally hosted by the Rocky Mountain Ravens (the Denver Flock) at Choppers in Denver. The RMR is a collection of Ravens fans who call Colorado home and they gather at Choppers for each Ravens game. If you are in the Denver area for any reason during a Ravens game, stop by, wear your colors and enjoy the wonderful hospitality at Choppers and the great people who comprise the RMR including Ryan Banbury, Nicci & Phil Hyatt, Greg O’Brien, Channing Evans, Adam Rahll and Eddie Bennett. I’m looking forward to the next Ravens game at Mile High.

Denver ~ Choppers
Pictured left to right from Chopper’s on October 2, 2021: Jenna Rahll, Stacey Bennett, Christine O’Brien, Poe, Kimberly Thompson and Channing Evans

High Times at Mile High

It’s not what you’re thinking…

Sunday was my first trip to Mile High and I have to say that I was impressed with the way the Broncos produce their games and in their ability to inspire fan participation. The stadium was loud and raucous without incident. When the game was pretty much over with the Ravens in total control, fans exited and as they did, several took the time to congratulate Ravens fans in attendance. It was as it should be. Friendly banter between opposing fans should add to the experience, not detract from it. Thank you Denver for doing it right!

The Nose Bleeds

Tickets for the game weren’t cheap. I traveled with a group of 10 so finding seats together made the task even more daunting. I was able to land 10 together, making the game enjoyable but it did come with a sacrifice. We were about 10 rows from the top of the stadium. In other words, we were higher than a mile. I felt a little bad for my friends by not delivering better seats but when you combine a city that supports its team very well with a (3-0) record, demand exceeds supply and well, you know the rest.

That said, I felt a little better after a halftime conversation…

My son sat beside me and he was off to take care of some “business”. Beside his empty chair was a girl dressed in Ravens colors so I decided to strike up a conversation and learn a bit more about her. It turns out that her name was Haley Ricard, the wife of Ravens FB Patrick Ricard. She sat beside Patrick’s brother. Not only was it a pleasure meeting Haley and learning more about the wives of the players, but I also didn’t feel so bad about the nose bleeds that I “scored”. If a Ravens wife can sit in Section 541, so could I.

Call God

Marquise Brown wears eye black that reads, “Call God”. In other words, have faith! Believe. Work harder. It sends a great message, especially to children who look up to athletes like Marquise. Unfortunately the league has notified Brown that he can no longer wear the eye black. Someone, somewhere must be offended, right? Yet players can decorate spikes when granted permission, in any of a b-zillion ways and they can make their political stances available to the world on the back of their helmets. But make a statement about God? Forget about it, or risk a fine. #SMH.

Denver

Road Trip Success

One of the best parts of going to a road game is to greet the team as they exit the field. We were a tad late getting there, having to trek from up above in 541 to field level. I’m an unabashed ticket snob so my upper deck experiences are memories from Memorial Stadium. So I didn’t account for the down-the-ramp travel time.

But thanks to Luisa Renzi and Bobby Martinez who got there a tad before me, we were able to snag this winning vid. Until next week Flockers, enjoy the week of (3-1). Cheers.

And Finally…

Upon leaving Denver’s Empower Field, my group bumped into a sole Ravens fan who approached us to say hello and congratulations. Cesar Cobos from Chihuahua, Mexico was attending his first NFL game. I asked how he became a Ravens fan. To paraphrase Cesar said, “While in Mexico my friend introduced me to the NFL and I loved it. I gravitated towards Ray Lewis because of his leadership and energy. I’ve been a Ravens fan ever since.”

Cesar, 22 years old, has lived in Denver for 4 years and got to see his favorite team live and leave the stadium with the “dub”. We all felt great about the win, but the joy was heightened by Cesar’s obvious emotion. Thanks for the gift of your acquaintance Cesar. It was an honor to share that victory with you.

Denver
Empower Field at Mile High, October 3, 2021 (Pictured left to right: David Ellis, Cesar Cobos)
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