Some weeks are harder to grade than others, and this week’s reminds me of that student who was lugging around a solid “F” until getting himself together to rally for the final exam, only to stumble when given an opportunity at an extra-credit assignment to get a passing grade.
Also, I might have been that student a few times in my life.
There will be some grades you agree with here, some you don’t and some you just can’t get your head around. I know I couldn’t.
Look, there are some things to like with what the offense did today. There really are, and we’ll try to touch on all of them. But they only generated 22 points and were 1-for-12 on third downs. There were also two costly fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown and one which came in the opposing red zone. Along with some holding penalties and generally-poor outside blocking, the totality of this was below average. Late-game heroics salvaged a score this high.
Lamar Jackson didn’t really play enough before getting hurt to figure in his performance (and there will be further discussion on those opening drives). We’re going to look instead at young Tyler Huntley, who was pressed into action without real preparation for a second time this season, and again tantalized with both his legs and arm. The turnovers were critical, and he has to get dinged significantly for that. But some of his scrambles were Lamar-esque, he was 4-4 on fourth-down throws and made some stone-cold, big-time plays. The 4th-and-6 throw down the sideline to rookie Rashod Bateman was absolutely electric.
Running Backs: B
Devonta Freeman had another nice, solid game, slicing and dicing effectively between the tackles, and producing a big 21-yard carry in the third quarter when he bounced outside and hit upfield. Latavius Murray did a Latavius Murray thing and bullied his way to a 1-yard touchdown.
Mark Andrews had 11 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, and was stellar throughout the day. How about that catch-and-run for 31 yards in that opening drive of the second half? Bateman had a tremendous game, particularly in the second half, and rebounded from an extended-game silence to look like a potential future star. He produced 103 yards on seven catches. Marquise Brown and Devin Duvernay both made plays out of short catches, and Josh Oliver caught a pass. A real pass! This was a great second half, but the first half was just so… quiet.
Offensive Line: D-
Tackles Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips got a lot of attention today. That is not good. Villanueva got called for holding a couple times and got consistently beaten by Myles Garrett. Phillips also picked up some laundry, and was absolutely destroyed by Jadeveon Clowney for a sack on their potential game-winning drive at the end. The interior guys appeared to fare better, getting some push in the run game from start to finish. You just can’t allow that kind of pressure, and pick up those kind of flags, without hurting your offense at critical points. Look to today for confirmation of that.
They shut out the Browns in the second half, which has to count for something, and they also held them to under 300 yards on the day. But there were some frustrating lapses in coverage (again), too many penalties in the backfield and another frustrating drop of an interception. Their run defense was absolutely stout, once again, and the linebacking crew had another nice outing.
Defensive Line: B+
The Calais Campbell injury hurt, but I felt like the line controlled the Browns vaunted offensive line most of the game, and the success Nick Chubb did have was due more to his impressive talents than anything else. Brandon Williams pushed the interior back into Chubb several times, and Justin Ellis made an impact against both the run and in pass rush. Justin Madubuike had four tackles, and nearly got Baker Mayfield on one rush. Broderick Washington absolutely crushed Mayfield on one rush.
This unit is as improved as any on the roster, and they put together another nice game, in my opinion. Tyus Bowser, once again, stood out. I had him forcing incompletions on three third-down passes by hurrying Mayfield, including back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter. Justin Houston set a great edge all game, forcing Chubb to alter his plans, and it was exciting to see Chubb get stuffed by emerging players Bowser, Patrick Queen and Odafe Oweh at the end of the first half. Josh Bynes made a great open-field cutback on Chubb at the end of the third on a cutback that looked scary at first. Kristian Welch also made a big play on a tackle on Kareem Hunt.
Defensive Backs: C
Chris Westry had an up and down game, picking up a couple PI flags (though one was, admittedly, questionable). He did make a great break-up on a deep sideline pass, and contained Chubb on a swing pass for a short game in the fourth quarter. Anthony Averett also got a big flag early, but his interception set up the Ravens for a field goal. Brandon Stephens played like a third-round rookie with impressive traits. He got beat early on a slant and dropped an easy pick, but he also made some solid open-field plays and led the Ravens in tackles. I like his potential a ton. Chuck Clark got beat by Austin Hooper for a touchdown, but he had a solid game tackling. Tavon Young also got beat for a touchdown, and had an end-zone PI call that set up a touchdown. Kevon Seymour made a big stop on third down late in the fourth.
Special Teams: B+
Justin Tucker was, once again, remarkable. In difficult weather conditions, he made three kicks over 40 yards, two of which were over 50. His onside kick, for the second straight week, was very-well executed, and this one was recovered by an alert Chuck Clark. Anthony Levine and Tylan Wallace both had nice tackles on punt returns. Duvernay wasn’t great, averaging 18 yards, and probably should have just let his first opportunity go for a touchback. Sam Koch was pretty good, but only landed one kick inside the 20, and a late short kickoff didn’t go great, giving the Browns the ball at their 31-yard line.
This grade is high because this team was basically on life support at halftime, down their best offensive and defensive players entering the game and almost came back and won. If you had any concerns over this team’s intestinal fortitude the past few years, share not those feelings this year. The 2021 Ravens are tough, and that comes from their head coach.
I didn’t like the third-down calls on the opening two drives with designed quarterback draws. The very first play of the game was a nifty 11-yard pass to Marquise Brown, but then things got jumbled up again. Didn’t love that. But this team rallies. Again and again. You have to credit the coaches and veteran leadership for a big part of that.
I didn’t hate the attempt to go for two. I was thinking at the time to just get the extra point and get within one score and move on. But there is something to be said for knowing the cards you’re holding and planning accordingly. Again, wouldn’t have been my decision, but I get it.