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The Beauty of Ugly

Ugly
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The Ravens 2021 season so far has been quite a ride. Each week the team encounters new challenges and daunting obstacles, most of which seem insurmountable. Yet time and again they’ve been able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. At the core of those unlikely victories is Lamar Jackson who seemingly runs into a phone booth, maybe even a locker room latrine, and suddenly that No. 8 jersey morphs into Superman’s cape. Shortly thereafter, another disaster is averted.

Last night against the Browns, there was no phone booth, no rejuvenating commode and Superman had the night off. Instead what the Ravens had behind center was a bespectacled Clark Kent in need of new prescription lenses. It would surprise no one if LensCrafters showed up in Owings Mills today with a brand new endorsement deal only missing Lamar’s signature. His performance was not one for sore eyes.

But in the end, the Ravens figured out a way to win despite what was arguably Lamar’s worst performance as a professional – maybe the worst of his life. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not a bad thing. You might even conclude that it was a good thing because beating a divisional rival even when your star quarterback throws four interceptions, suggests that the Ravens did many other things well. It suggests that it was a team win, heavily influenced by a defense that has been disappointing throughout the 2021 campaign. But not on Sunday Night.

Today, despite a very modest point differential of just +23 (14th best), the Ravens sit atop the AFC North and they are currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC with an (8-3) record.

THE GOOD

Devonta Freeman wasn’t flashy but he was workmanlike on a night when that was needed. Freeman had 52 yards on 16 carries with a long of 8 yards (3.3 YPC) but he was vital to the Ravens success during their final possession as they attempted to kill the clock. Freeman had 5 carries for 24 yards on that drive when the Browns sold out to stop the run. The Ravens were able to produce 3 more points and drain the clock of 5:18, leaving the Browns just over a minute to score a winning touchdown. Give the guys up front credit to for grinding it out when it counted the most. What they lacked in pass pro they made up for in the ground game…

Mark Andrews regularly found openings in the Cleveland defense although Lamar didn’t regularly deliver. The Ravens big TE had 4 catches for 65 yards, including a spectacular 39-yard grab. In an ironic twist of fate, Andrews was also the team’s fourth leading tackler with four thanks to, well, more on that later…Marquise Brown had 8 catches for 51 yards but it was his field awareness that was impressive. During the Ravens all-important opening drive in the second half, Brown converted a third-and-6, accelerating down the right sideline to just beyond the sticks. The Ravens would score their only touchdown on that drive to take a 13-3 lead. Brown also converted a 2nd-and-9 on their clock killing drive in the fourth.

The Ravens controlled the clock 37:04 to 22:56, running 77 plays to the Browns 57. The time of possession would have been even more lopsided if Lamar hadn’t transformed into a turnover machine…The Ravens did improve upon their yearly third down conversion rate (35.4%) by converting 7 of 15 third down opportunities (46.7%)…Justin Tucker doing JT things, blistering attempts from 25, 49 and 52 yards out.

The Ravens defensive front was spectacular, limiting the Browns to 40 yards on 17 carries (2.4 YPC). The Browns were the league’s No. 1 rushing offense heading into the game, averaging 156.8 yards per game and 5.2 YPC. Although it won’t show up much in the stat sheet, Justin Ellis, Brandon Williams, Broderick Washington and Justin Madubuike did a great job clogging running lanes. They made Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt seem rather pedestrian…Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston (3 pressures) were relentless in applying pressure to Baker Mayfield. According to PFF the pair combined for nine pressures. Oweh had his 5th sack of the season and 3rd forced fumble.

Anthony Averett had a quiet night which suggests he was sound in coverage, often pressing at the LOS…Brandon Stephens continues to flash although from a technique perspective he needs a bit of refinement. But for a player who three years ago was a running back, converted to corner and is now a safety in the NFL, what he’s done this season as a rookie has been impressive…The Ravens held the Browns to 4 of 13 on third-down (30.8%). They’ve averaged 37.4% on such conversion attempts…The Browns managed just 262 yards of offense despite averaging 362.5 YPG coming in…The Browns deepest penetration into Ravens territory was the 20…Coverage teams were solid. The Browns only kick return produced 15 yards and their only punt return, just 3 yards.

THE BAD

The Ravens offensive line in pass protection was ineffective. On Myles Garrett’s sack in the first quarter he was chipped by Andrews, then by Pat Ricard and finally Alejandro Villanueva stepped in, looking like someone trying to find his way to the bathroom in a strange house during the middle of the night. AV in pass pro, looks like the lead character in Weekend at Bernie’s…Ben Powers wasn’t much better in protection…Kevin Zeitler had a false start on fourth-and-goal from the 2. He is a rather regular yellow laundry recipient although outside of those two plays he had a solid night.

Marlon Humphrey was targeted early and didn’t perform very well. He was flagged for DPI, allowed 4 completions for first downs and according to PFF was responsible for over 100 yards of Mayfield’s passing total of 247…Leading 13-10 the Ravens forced a punt with 8:36 left in the game. Stephens was beaten badly by Browns gunner AJ Green who dropped Devin Duvernay violently after a return of just 1 yard (score keeper generosity) at the Ravens 14. The impact was immediate and could have resulted in a turnover.

THE UGLY

The ugliness is almost exclusively Lamar’s but before we get that out of the way, let’s all remember that the Ravens had a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter when Mayfield sailed a pass over his intended target and into the bread basket of Chuck Clark. He dropped it like it was Taylor Swift…

Now, enter Lamar.

Statistically, last night was Lamar’s worst performance in a Ravens uniform. It was worse than anything he ever did at Louisville and I feel pretty comfortable saying, he never performed as poorly on the high school fields of South Florida. He was awful. Jackson was 20 of 32 for 165 yards, 1 TD and FOUR INTERCEPTIONS – three of them coming within 6 passes of each other. He stared down receivers, ignored defenders and single-handedly kept the Browns in the game.

To his credit Lamar never stopped battling and made some plays with his feet late in the game to keep the chains moving and the clocking dwindling. No one will be harder on Lamar than Lamar so I’d expect a very determined effort in Pittsburgh.

COACHING

Wink Martindale, despite being short-handed, had an excellent plan to thwart the Browns dangerous running game which in turn mitigated Cleveland’s effectiveness in play action. Martindale’s D-line rotation kept the interior defenders fresh, a huge component to the defense’s overall effectiveness…Greg Roman stayed with the running game in part to mitigate the huge advantage that the Browns had on the edge with Messrs. Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney over AV and Patrick Mekari. I would have liked to see him avoid so many second and third and long situations with some short first-down passing but in the end, the plan was solid and could have been even more effective if not for Lamar being so caught up in the Season of Giving.

THE MEGAN FOX

I was really torn about the MF award so I decided to cop out and split it. Both players are very deserving. First up is Patrick Queen. The sophomore linebacker had 8 tackles, 2 for losses and he had a fumble recovery. He timed a run blitz perfectly to drop Chubb for a loss and was all over a waggle play to Harrison Bryant in the first quarter. He’s been explosive over the past four games and is becoming the player the Ravens thought he might be when they made him their first-round pick in 2020.

Sharing this distinction with Queen is Tyus Bowser, Wink’s Swiss Army Knife. Whether rushing the passer, covering a slot receiver, knocking down a pass late in the game or making the game-clinching tackle, Bowser was like Johnny Cash – he was everywhere man!

Good, Bad & Ugly

OTHER NOTES

The Ravens head to Heinz Field on Sunday for a 4:25 kickoff. They open as 3-point road favorites. Last season you may recall, the Ravens were 10 point underdogs at Heinz, playing at 3:40 on a Wednesday afternoon due to complications stemming from COVID-19…The Bengals host the Chargers while the Bills host the Patriots next Monday Night…The Titans are on a bye, as are the Browns.

Speaking of the Browns, remember the drama triggered by Odell Beckham, Jr.’s dad? Well it looks like Kareem Hunt, Sr., the dad of the Browns multi-talented tailback now wants in on the action. Browns doing Browns things.

Hey remember when the Browns were a Super Bowl favorite?

And about that Super Bowl that will be played in LA. Remember when the Rams traded for Von Miller and they were suddenly the favorites to win it all? Since the trade on November 2 the Rams are (0-3) while Miller’s former employer, the Broncos, are (2-1). The Rams are (0-2) since trading for OBJ.

Extended Forecast for Pittsburgh: On Sunday, temps are expected to be in the low 40’s with a 35% chance of rain.

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