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Young WRs Flash Potential in Cincinnati

Tylan Wallace in Cincinnati against the Bengals
Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens
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Well, that game was certainly…something? It’s tough to pick out the five most important offensive plays from a day where the other side of the ball gave up a record passing performance, one that ensured the vast majority of offensive plays would ultimately be meaningless. We could sit here and lament the moments where Greg Roman called designed runs for his 35-year-old quarterback, or the most predictable 4th down play call of all time early in the game, but it’s the holiday season. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss things such as that before we know it, so for today let’s think a little more positively.

This time around we’re going to discuss five plays that showed us something to build off of, whether that’s for the stretch run of this season or looking ahead to 2022. If there’s one centimeter of silver lining in all of the injuries and Covid-19 mess throughout this year, it’s that guys who normally wouldn’t see much playing time at all are getting valuable reps. We’ll highlight a few of those today, along with some big plays from the offensive staples we’ve come to expect every week.

Bateman First Career TD

After months of up and down production (through no fault of his own) Rashod Bateman finally found the promised land on the first offensive drive in Cincinnati. And just as we all predicted when he was drafted, he caught it from Josh Johnson! Oy…anyway,on 3rd and goal from the 4-yard line, Bateman lined up in the slot and quickly stutter stepped on the snap before cutting inside on a slant, leaving cornerback Mike Hilton on skates.

Johnson showed a veteran poise all throughout this game, even when the scoreboard was completely out of hand, and that was on full display here. He quickly checked his reads to the right before looking back and firing a dart between the numbers to Bateman over the middle of the field. He knew exactly what his options were on the play, and where his receivers were going to be. For someone who’s barely been on the roster for two weeks, it was impressive to see how in command of the offense he was.

For Bateman, this is hopefully the first of many scores we’ll see throughout his time wearing purple. The talent on the field is undeniable, and every week it seems as if his confidence and swagger builds more and more. Since Lamar Jackson went down in Cleveland, Bateman has compiled 12 catches for 134 yards and this touchdown. While there are elite players in the league who put up this stat line in one game, it’s shown that he’s more than worthy of handling a larger share of the passing work. When Jackson comes back (whether that’s this week or in 2022), you’d have to imagine that getting Bateman more involved will be at the top of his priority list.

Proche 3rd-and-12 Catch

Down 24-7 late in the 2nd quarter, the Ravens offense was faced with a 3rd and 12 deep in their own territory. While the game would still get out of hand shortly afterwards, this was still a desperation drive at the time, one where they needed points if they had any hope of staying competitive. Johnson takes the shotgun snap and fires a crisp pass just outside the numbers to James Proche, who was bumped heavily at the line but did a great job of readjusting and still finding the ball. Proche had a few nice grabs on the day that we could’ve highlighted, but this moment was his most clutch, and something we’ve been dying to see from him since the reports of his spectacular camp performance came to light.

With Bateman and Marquise Brown locked into the #1 and #2 spots heading into 2022, there could be a real camp battle going on for that #3 spot regardless of whether or not the team re-signs Sammy Watkins. If I was betting today, I’d guess he isn’t picked back up, which means it’ll be Devin Duvernay, Proche, and another player we’ll be talking about here in a moment duking it out for reps. This performance certainly did nothing but help Proche’s case, and another good performance or two over the final stretch of this season could put him in the driver’s seat for that role.

Wallace 18-Yard Catch

Later in this drive, the Ravens would again find themselves in a 3rd and long scenario just over their own 40-yard line. Johnson takes the snap and fires a pass over the middle to Tylan Wallace, who ran a slant out of the slot position that was well short of the first down yardage. Johnson was very clearly just looking to not make a mistake on the play, but Wallace had something different in mind. He catches the slant, evades the first tackler in Tre Flowers, and then puts his shoulder into Hilton while barreling forward past the sticks for a gain of 18.

Wallace thrived in the slot during his time at Oklahoma State, and while the Ravens didn’t necessarily need another receiver at the time where he was drafted this past year, they felt the talent was too much to pass on. A tough-catch kind of guy, who also isn’t afraid of contact by any means. As with Proche, we’ve waited to see that talent translate to playing time all year, but until recently that hadn’t happened. After finally securing his first catch last week against Green Bay in a diving effort, and showing a massive level of physicality on this grab, we’ve now seen flashes of what Wallace may be able to bring to this offense in 2022 and beyond.

Freeman TD

Proche and Wallace’s clutch 3rd down catches could’ve meant even more had this game stayed competitive until the end, because it largely helped set up this next play. On 2nd-and-1 from the 3-yard line, Johnson hands off inside to Devonta Freeman who uses his lower center of gravity and strong legs to create a tiny crack of daylight between the offensive line and hit paydirt. In a moment where the Ravens desperately needed points, the offense came up with an answer.

Massive credit to the offensive line, not just on this play, but on their play over the last two weeks as a whole. After a day in Cleveland where sacks and pressures were a major determining factor in the ball game, they’ve only given up two total since. Part of me can’t help but lament the fact that if they could’ve started this trend ONE week earlier Jackson may have never been injured, but like Don Meredith once said, “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?”

Freeman’s knack for finding the end zone on the goal line may just be the determining factor in him having a job in the NFL again for 2022, whether that’s in Baltimore or elsewhere. When looking at Justice Hill‘s lack of flashes at the pro level, combined with the fact that he’ll now be coming off a torn Achilles, maybe purple will be the color for Freeman again though. In a time as uncertain as this, the more players who will be ready to go and that already know your system, the better.

Andrews TD

At this point in the game, down 20 points starting the 4th quarter, it was pretty apparent how the final result was going to go. The Ravens wouldn’t just roll over and quit though, and on the first play of the last frame Mark Andrews would make yet another spectacular touchdown catch to add to his All-Pro highlight reel in 2021.

Andrews was doubled on the play, but he was able to split both defenders by cutting up field on the crossing route, causing them to collide with each other. It was truly a thing of beauty, legitimately a contender for his best route of the year. It’s a shame we’re seeing such a massive breakout from Andrews in a season that could be remembered for nothing but “what could’ve been” a few weeks from now, but nonetheless, he deserves to be recognized massively for the way he’s put the offense on his back through the hard times. He’s been the only true constant of this team from start to finish this season, and I think I can confidently speak for the Ravens Flock in saying “Thank you Mark, for everything this year (and many more to come).”

This was Johnson’s best pass of the day as well. He lofted up a pretty floater just over the heads of two Bengals defenders off his back foot, to a place where only Andrews could come down with it. Should Tyler Huntley not make it off the Covid-19 list in time for Sunday’s tilt with the Rams, at the very least the Ravens know they have a more than competent signal caller to help navigate what could be treacherous waters in the form of Aaron Donald and company.

Wrap-Up

All-in-all, a very forgettable day in the Jungle for the purple birds on the surface, but one that could provide the team with valuable tape as they prepare for what 2022 looks like. We’ve still got some ways to go before that though, and even some potential playoff discussions to be had over the next two weeks (maybe), so we’ll see what this week brings in a match-up with two perennial All-Pro defenders. Just enjoy the ride folks, however this thing shakes out. We’ll be back next week for another round of the five most important plays from the Ravens offense.

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