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Week 6: Five Most Important Plays

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The Ravens offense was downright explosive during Sunday’s showdown with Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers, in a way we’re much more accustomed to seeing from this team.

After a couple weeks of heavy passing numbers from Lamar Jackson, they were able to get back to their record setting rushing roots thanks to a more than exploitable Los Angeles defensive front. All three active running backs in this game (Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray) found pay dirt at some point, and the team ended the day with 187 yards on the ground in total.

Don’t worry, we’ll spare you the “it felt like watching guys from your 2017 fantasy team” joke we’ve heard on television 50 times since Sunday while watching Messrs. Bell, Freeman and Murray. It wasn’t all great, but any time you beat a conference contender by 28 points to claim the No. 1 spot in the standings, you can’t help but be more than satisfied. Let’s check out the five most important plays from Sunday’s route at M&T Bank Stadium.

Latavius Murray 14 yard touchdown

One thing the Ravens hadn’t done consistently heading into Sunday was start the game strong. Having allowed the first touchdown to Kansas City, Denver, and Indianapolis respectively, you have to think scoring early points was emphasized in John Harbaugh’s message to the team this week. After the defense stood tough and forced a punt on the Chargers’ opening drive, they would do just that.

The Ravens would start positioned all the way back on their own 10 yard line, and responded with a masterful 12 play, nearly 7 minute methodical drive right through the teeth of the defense. A combination of runs and short passes through the holes in the Chargers front, set the Ravens up with 1st and 10 from the Los Angeles 14, and there were zero signs of slowing down.

Jackson lined up in the shotgun with Murray to his left, and on the pre-snap sent Devin Duvernay in motion from the right. By sending Duvernay to the left, Jackson was able to get the entire defense flowing in one direction before taking the snap and handing to Murray the opposite way. Ben Powers and Alejandro Villanueva pulled down the line of scrimmage and got great kick out blocks on the Chargers defenders in the hole, and once Murray entered the second level there was nothing but green grass ahead of him.

Le’Veon Bell 2 yard touchdown

Following the aforementioned touchdown, the Ravens defense would force a quick three-and-out for the Chargers offense and give Jackson and company an opportunity to continue setting the tone. After firmly establishing the run on their opening possession, this attack was much more aerial, attempting to catch the Los Angeles defense completely off guard. Mark Andrews grabbed three passes for 46 yards on the drive, the last of which would give the Ravens 1st and goal from the Chargers 2 yard line.

Jackson came out in a heavy set to the left with Andrews, Duvernay and Pat Ricard all bunched at the end of the line of scrimmage. With Bell also to Jackson’s left, Greg Roman was giving the illusion that they were going to let Jackson do what he does best, follow his big bodies and use his legs to get home.

Instead, Andrews and Ricard would pull down the right side of the line on the snap, and Jackson would give the misdirection handoff to Bell going right who walked into the end zone untouched. It was Bell’s first NFL touchdown since week 16 of last year, and after all the uncertainty he’s faced in his career since, it was nice to see No. 17 finally get a moment to shine while padding the Ravens lead.

It has to be mentioned how odd of a sight this was in a vacuum. Had you told a Steelers fan 4 years ago that Bell would be scoring touchdowns for the Ravens in 2021, they might’ve all pulled a Jersey Jerry simultaneously (if you don’t know what that is, look it up, very much worth it). This touchdown made the game 14-0 in favor of the purple birds, and it didn’t get much better for Los Angeles from there. There was a slight moment of hope for them towards the end of the first half though, which we’re about to discuss.

Lamar Jackson first half interception

Well, we said it wasn’t all good. Leading 17-0 with just under five minutes to go in the half, DeShon Elliot intercepted Herbert and gave the Ravens the ball with an opportunity to essentially end the game before the break. Roman would dial up a play action pass on the first play of the drive to see if they could catch the defense napping, and instead Jackson would throw one of the ugliest interceptions of his career to linebacker Kyzir White. White returned the pick deep into Ravens territory, after which Herbert led a scoring drive capped by a Jared Cook touchdown to keep their slim hopes alive.

It appeared as if Jackson didn’t see White in coverage on the play, as he was attempting to throw to Rashod Bateman who was in single coverage over the middle. Regardless, the pass was well short of where Bateman was running and White was the only one within almost 10 yards of the pass. It’s certainly possible that it was a simple miscommunication between Jackson and Bateman, given that this was Bateman’s first regular season game of his NFL career, but no matter the cause it’s a play that just cannot happen.

I’m sure the boos from the crowd will be out on this statement, but Jackson has been known to turn the ball over at inopportune times in big games. Against Kansas City on the opening possession this year, twice in Las Vegas, in Buffalo during the playoffs last year, vs Tennessee in 2020 (which was equally on Andrews to be fair). Luckily this time it didn’t cost the Ravens, and his development as a passer this year has made those mistakes much more manageable in the long run. These untimely turnovers are still something he’ll have to fix throughout the season though, if the Ravens intended to make the Super Bowl run they appear to be on currently.

Rashod Bateman 3rd quarter first down catch

After what was a potential 13 point swing to end the half, the Ravens would receive the opening kickoff of the final thirty minutes in need of another tone setting drive to wash the taste out of their mouth. A nice return by Duvernay set the Ravens up at midfield, and two Murray rushes would result in a 3rd and 3 from the Los Angeles 45.

Jackson took the snap from shotgun and quickly fired the ball outside the right hash to Bateman (remember when people said he couldn’t do that?), who ran an out route towards the sideline on the play and hauled in a big first down. Bateman was popped and taken down almost instantly on the play, so credit to him for keeping possession through the catch and giving the Ravens a fresh set of downs to work with.

Bateman finished the day with four catches for 29 yards, and all four of his grabs went for first downs. In just his first NFL game, he’s already shown he can be a reliable chain mover that Jackson can count on in a crucial moment. None of his routes were anything fancy, but the knack he showed for finding the soft spot in the defense and knowing exactly where he needs to be in order to pick up a 1st was very Anquan Boldin-esque. A very promising opening performance for Bateman overall, one that he’ll look to build on this week against a tough Bengals secondary.

Mark Andrews 9 yard touchdown

Following the conversion from Bateman, the Ravens offense would continue marching down field seemingly unphased by the mishap they suffered to close the second quarter. It was apparent that they knew they couldn’t give this Chargers offense even a sliver of hope with the amount of firepower in their arsenal.

After a few nice runs from Freeman and another first down grab for Bateman got them inside the 10, Jackson took the snap on 2nd and goal from the 9 and faked the handoff to Bell. Andrews lined up off the right end of the line of scrimmage and ran a post route towards the middle of the end zone, a route he’s scored on more times than you can count at this point. Motioning Duvernay pre-snap and faking the handoff caused both Derwin James and Amen Ogbongbemiga to take a forward first step on the snap, and with Andrews streaking right between them, neither were able to readjust and catch up to him in the end zone.

It was Ravens football at its finest, and perhaps the most important score of the day. The offense drained half of the third quarter on this one drive alone, and capping it with a score to make the game 24-6 seemed to be the final nail in the Chargers’ coffin. The Ravens’ ability to respond to self-imposed adverse situations this year (some tougher than others) has been the biggest reason they currently sit atop the AFC, and that ability was on display yet again during this entire drive.

Wrap up

All in all, the Ravens offense had a great day at the office on Sunday. The rushing attack was dominant, the young rookie made some key plays in his first outing donning purple, and when the slightest crack of light emerged for Los Angeles they were prompt in closing it.

Another performance like this would have all the makings of a similar blowout when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town this weekend, and would give the Ravens substantial breathing room atop the AFC North in the process. We’ll see if they’re able to do just that next week, when we break down the five most important plays from the Baltimore Ravens offense.

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