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Huntley Nearly Completes The Comeback

Huntley
CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 12: Tyler Huntley #2 of the Baltimore Ravens scrambles for yardage against the Cleveland Browns during the third quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 12, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
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You’ve heard it said often, “there are no moral victories in the NFL”. But the Ravens loss to the Browns by the score of 24-22 at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, sure did feel like one.

We’ve discussed from the jump this season, how decimated by injury the Ravens have been and at some point you’d think they’d finally reach the end of their rope with their tried and true credo, “Next man up”. And maybe they will. But what the Ravens might lack in terms of skillful personnel at this point in 2021, they make up for with a collective resilience and unwavering faith in each other to still get the job down against all odds. And that strength of character was on full display in Cleveland.

Let’s recap…

The Ravens started the day knowing that their All-Pro CB Marlon Humphrey was done for the season, the third starter in the secondary to be forced to shut it down in 2021. They looked to the raw and unproven Chris Westry for help. They hoped that Jimmy Smith could step in and provide some quality snaps in place of Marlon. Instead, Smith opted to stay in Baltimore to hand out cigars following the birth of his newborn child. Tavon Young was not at 100% while Anthony Averett was the most targeted CB in the league heading into the game. On offense the Ravens would be without Patrick Ricard and Nick Boyle, both chess pieces for OC Greg Roman in the run game and when trying to counter the threats named Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney.

Making matters worse, and you hate to use officiating as a scapegoat, the Ravens were hosed on a few calls while racking up 125 yards in penalties. The calls against Westry and Devonta Freeman were ridiculous and the DPI on Young in the end zone was also quite ticky-tacky. The Ravens then lost Calais Campbell to injury after just 6 snaps, a player they really counted on to help contain the Browns lethal rushing attack. And then of course Lamar Jackson went down with an ankle injury on the first play of the second quarter.

Shortly thereafter, the Ravens found themselves down 24-3, against a rested and well prepared team, playing before a hostile crowd that wants to beat no other team more than they hope to beat the Ravens. Keep in mind that given the back-to-back games against the Ravens and their bye week, the Browns staff and players could focus upon just one team for 20 consecutive days. The. Baltimore. Ravens. That’s a decided advantage. And the Ravens had every reason to fold and look ahead to next week’s showdown in Baltimore against the now (10-3) Green Bay Packers.

But they didn’t.

Instead, led by the heroics of Tyler Huntley (not a misprint), the Ravens nearly completed an amazing comeback, only to fall 2 points short. Two. points. More on that in a moment.

Can the Ravens build on the effort and carry the momentum forward? Time will tell but in a division where no team seems to want to step up and seize control, anything is possible in January, particularly in a conference that is rather weak – particularly if that moral victory carries forward.

THE GOOD

Devonta Freeman just keeps chopping and his workmanlike effort in Cleveland produced 64 yards on 13 carries for a very respectable 4.9 average…Mark Andrews had a great game. He was targeted in the slot 10 times and pulled in every one. He finished with 11 catches for 115 yards and touchdown, along the way eclipsing Todd Heap’s single-season record for tight ends of 855 receiving yards. Andrews now has 926 yards this season to go with 75 receptions. His effort after the catch during the Ravens opening drive set the tone for the second half. The message was clear – there’s no quit in the Ravens.

Rashod Bateman had 7 catches for 103 yards and is beginning to show that he is a capable playmaker. Facing a first-and-10 situation with 13 seconds left in the first half, Bateman ran a little hitch, pivoted quickly and advanced the ball 19 yards to set up Justin Tucker for a 42-yard attempt. Bateman also showcased his skill set on the boundaries by plucking the ball off the defender and advancing it to just inside the Browns 1. It should have been called a touchdown…The Ravens offensive line provided a good push in the running game. According to PFF Freeman averaged 2.9 yards before contact, a respectable effort across the front. Pass pro was a different story.

The Ravens defensive front held up well defending the run. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 64 yards on 19 carries (3.4 YPC) and caught 5 balls for 19 yards (3.8 YPR). The front-7 did a nice job sniffing out screens…Justin Madubuike, Tyus Bowser and Patrick Queen were all aggressive in pursuit. Madubuike had a few pressures which forced Baker Mayfield to unload sooner than desired. Bowser was a regular disrupter while Queen played very fast. He did however overrun some plays, but his speed threw off the Browns offensive rhythm at times.

After being flagged for a DPI in the first quarter, Anthony Averett settled down and played well. He allowed just 3 catches on 6 targets for 46 yards according to PFF. He also registered his third INT on the season…The Browns only had 95 yards of offense in the second half. Mayfield was just 6 of 12 for 47 yards after intermission…Chris Westry played well in coverage and supported the run with solid tackling…Special teams were strong. Tucker connected from 50, 42 and 55 yards while the Ravens enjoyed a 7.4 yard net advantage on the 5 punts exchanged by the teams. The Ravens also had a 4.7 yard average edge on kick returns. They also pulled off an onsides kick, the very first (I believe) in Tucker’s career.

THE BAD

Before his injury it seemed pretty clear that Lamar Jackson’s struggles would continue. In his limited number of snaps, Lamar made bad decisions with the football, leading receivers into defenders for little to no gain. He’s in quite a funk and there’s been little to no sign that he’ll soon emerge from it…Sammy Watkins should probably see the bench for a bit. He just doesn’t match Bateman’s intensity and playmaking abilities. He lacks energy on the field…Tyre Phillips was overwhelmed at times by Clowney and Takkarist McKinley. He just doesn’t possess the prerequisite mobility and foot speed to compete on the edge.

The defensive front was unable to sack Mayfield on 37 drop backs. The Browns QB successfully avoided pressure 5 times on scrambles, a couple of which went for first downs…Each week there seems to be another communication breakdown in the secondary. Averett and Geno Stone misfired while leaving Donovan Peoples-Jones all alone for a 34-yard gain in the first quarter. Stone appeared to be the culprit…Brandon Stephens dropped an easy INT – TWICE…With a little over 3 minutes left in the first half, Tucker’s kickoff following a field goal, was ruled out of bounds due to a heads up play by returner JoJo Natson. It gave the Browns next drive a start from the 40-yard line.

THE UGLY

Huntley lost two fumbles, both of which were costly, yet a byproduct of the constant pressure he was under (PFF credited the Browns with 24 pressures). He was sacked 3 times (Lamar was sacked once), the big one of course coming on Myles Garrett’s strip sack for a touchdown to put the Browns up 24-3. Huntley lost another fumble when he was hit from behind by McKinley at the Browns 13 during the Ravens opening possession of the 3rd quarter…Alejandro Villanueva was completely overmatched again. On the Ravens opening possession, the Browns John Johnson rushed off the Ravens left edge and the 6’0”, 209 pound safety pushed Villanueva to the side to take Jackson down for a sack. Later on Villanueva was flagged twice for holding. Once after Lamar scrambled 11 yards for a first down to the 41 yard line. Instead they faced a 2nd-and-15 from the 20. Jackson was injured on the very next play. In the third quarter Villanueva was called for holding on a 2nd-and-10 play, leaving the Ravens with a daunting 2nd-and-20. And of course AV was the guilty party during Garrett’s strip sack for a TD. Comparatively speaking, AV is just not a very good athlete. His struggles are likely to continue.

Ten penalties for 125 yards. That’s not going to help a team win games on the road, particularly when they lose the turnover battle yet again. The Ravens are now -9 on the season in the turnover category…The Browns were the 26th-ranked defense on third down coming into the game, yielding conversions to the tune of 43.4%. The Ravens were just 1 of 12 on third down (8.3%).

In the past Browns fans have thrown bottles at referees on the field; they’ve tackled a young Jets fan heading to the parking lot; they’ve ripped out benches from the stadium; so why should we be surprised that they’d mock Lamar after an injury. Stay classy Cleveland.

[Ravens Report Card]

COACHING

Give credit to John Harbaugh for having his team fully focused for 60 minutes. The team showed a ton of character hanging in the game and that character starts at the top with John. Also credit Wink Martindale for making the proper halftime adjustments…Greg Roman did a nice job with play calling for his young backup QB, taking advantage of the seams with Andrews and taking shots downfield to try and exploit Browns CB Greedy Williams. The opportunities were there with Marquise Brown but the Ravens couldn’t finish the plays. The Ravens final offensive play, obviously the most important, lacked options for Huntley in the face of a blitz and you just knew the blitz would be coming in that situation.

Harbaugh can talk until he’s blue in the face about the analytics and why they went for two while down 24-15 with just under 9 minutes to go in the game. You CANNOT risk a two-point failure there. You MUST make it a one-possession game. Here’s John’s explanation of the rationale behind the decision to go for two. For the record, I’m not buying it. File this one under ANALytics.

“Well, it’s pretty much a standard non-decision. You do it at that point in time because you’re going to have to win a two-point conversion [at some point]. So, you understand if you get it or won’t get it early, where you’re at and go from there – how many possessions you’re going to need and what you’re going to have to do. If you wait until the last two-point conversion, and you don’t get it, the game’s over. You’ve lost. So, you try it early. We’re in a 7-point game, and we know where we stand. If we don’t get it, we’re in a 9-point game, and we know that we need two possessions.”

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

Tyler Huntley was thrown into a tough situation. The Browns defensive front was eating the Ravens up on the edges and the team played without the capable blocking contributions of Patrick Ricard and Nick Boyle. Yet the Ravens second-year backup didn’t flinch. He entered the game in the second quarter, went 27 of 38 for 270 yards and a score for a passer rating of 99.7, one that would have cracked 100 had Bateman been properly credited with a touchdown. Huntley also added 45 yards on the ground. He played with confidence and great presence and had the Ravens converted that fourth-and-6 at the 1 minute mark, we’re likely talking about a great Ravens comeback from a deficit of 24-3. And Huntley deserves a massive amount of credit for that opportunity. Given the way Lamar has been playing, I’m not sure that the team has that same opportunity had he remained at the offensive controls.

NOTES

The Ravens are currently a 7-point home underdog against the Packers. That seems to suggest that Vegas doesn’t think that Lamar Jackson will be a go this week…According to Jeff Zrebiec, former Ravens S Tony Jefferson is visiting the team today. If the workout goes well, he could be signed. TJ was most recently with the San Francisco 49ers.

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