It was fitting that the champion 2012 squad was being honored today, because this 23-20 win over the Browns felt a little reminiscent of that squad.
There were splash plays by aging veterans on the defense. A few big plays on offense for an inconsistent unit, stellar special teams play and a win that left you standing up from your couch, shaking your head and muttering, “A win’s a win… I guess.”
Let’s look at this piece by piece and assign some grades.
They only scraped together 4.0 yards per play and a total of 255 yards, but dominated the time of possession and showed a return to brutality up front. Their All-Pro tight end also didn’t catch a single pass. He converted more first downs playing behind center (two) than he did as a receiver (one, when he drew a holding call in the third quarter). Gus Edwards did look pretty good, and there were some important plays made on that side of the ball, but there were too many stalled drives and inconsistencies with pass protection. This needs to get back on track. Bonus points because it was awesome seeing Edwards score a touchdown behind Ronnie Stanley, Pat Ricard and Nick Boyle.
Lamar Jackson was 9-16 for 120 yards, and he did add 59 yards on the ground — some of which came in absolutely critical moments of the game. His first throw of the game was a beautiful touch pass down the sideline to Devin Duvernay for 32 yards. There was also a big throw to Bateman on third-and-11, and he came close to hitting Josh Oliver for a third-quarter touchdown, but Oliver couldn’t bring in a tough catch. But it wasn’t a very inspiring performance in limited opportunities, as the Ravens ran the ball 44 times. No turnovers, which is big. Just not a game-changing performance.
Running Backs: C-
It was nice seeing Edwards out there again, and the two touchdowns even felt better. He looked strong, particularly early in the game, and toted the ball 16 times. Kenyan Drake looked faster than the Giants last week, but didn’t appear to have that same advantage in this game. Justice Hill looked really, really good in his return, both in terms of running the ball and blocking… until he absolutely didn’t. That fourth-quarter fumble was nearly a killer.
They didn’t necessarily play bad. It wasn’t like there were a ton of drops or guys not giving effort on interceptions. It just wasn’t a productive showing, including a shutout by their star tight end Mark Andrews. Rashod Bateman had a few nice catches on the day, but did have a drop in the fourth quarter. Duvernay made a great diving catch on Jackson’s first throw of the game, and had a nice catch-and-run in the fourth. Isaiah Likely had a great play to turn upfield for 16 yards in the second quarter. But that’s really it. There were limited opportunities, but there wasn’t a lot of production in those opportunities.
Offensive Line: C
They ran for 161 yards, and the line led a huge drive in the fourth quarter after the Browns closed to three, but that will largely be forgotten after the Hill fumble killed it. That 12-play drive chewed clock and helped a defense that was beginning to look gassed. But there were too many breakdowns in pass protection to get a great grade. Morgan Moses and Tyler Linderbaum both appeared to get beaten for sacks (I stick with “appeared,” because I’ve been wrong more times than I care to admit). Kevin Zeitler stood on a few blocks, as did Ronnie Stanley.
They gave up 336 yards and that drive by the Browns to close the score to 23-30 wasn’t great, but there was also a lot to like out there. Nick Chubb is a terrific player, and he put up a nice game, but I thought the defense played strangely well against him outside that aforementioned drive. The Ravens got five sacks, forced two turnovers and saw another big game from their young linebacker who appears to be developing in his third year.
Defensive Line: B-
Calais Campbell was very good, against both the run and the pass. His strip sack of Jacoby Brissett in the third quarter was huge. Justin Madubuike had maybe his quietest game of the year. Broderick Washington stood out again, almost registering a sack of Brissett late, but also making some nice run stops. Travis Jones flashed a few times against Chubb, which is good for anybody to do.
I thought this was perhaps the unit of the game. Patrick Queen continues to play well as of late, and his back-to-back run stops for a total of nine yards lost was as impressive as you’ll see from any linebacker. He also registered a sack amongst his 11 tackles. His fellow classmate Malik Harrison is also playing his best ball these past few games, and registered a blocked field goal and a tackle. Justin Houston returned and created general mayhem. He had two sacks, forced a fumble that Cleveland recovered and had another tackle for loss. Odafe Oweh recovered a fumble and had a nice pressure in the second quarter that could have very well drawn a flag.
Defensive Backs: C
Brissett looked good out there, and that’s not a great start. Marcus Peters had an up-and-down day, getting beat on a few plays and getting hit with a PI late in the second quarter. Marlon Humphrey seemed to be solid in coverage all day and he registered five tackles. He’s had a nice season. Chuck Clark was good in run support, and had nine tackles. Kyle Hamilton registered a sack, and Geno Stone was in on that, as well. Stone was good on the day, but did have a PI in the third quarter. He also had the world’s least-consequential turnover forced on the last play of the game when the clock had already expired.
Special Teams: A
I changed my mind. This was the best unit of the game. Justin Tucker made three field goals, including a clutch 56-yarder straight down the middle that proved to be the difference in the game. Jordan Stout averaged 60.3 yards on three punts and his 69-yarder in the second quarter was an absolute bomb. His late punt that resulted in a touchback was nearly downed at the 1. Harrison had that field-goal block. Kristian Welch made a terrific open-field tackle on a third-quarter punt. And, last but not least, Duvernay had a tremendous 50-yard punt return in the second quarter, with help from blocks by Harrison and Likely.
Mike Macdonald seems to be growing into this job, and this was a good example. After Cleveland had receivers running open through zones the first two drives of the game, the Ravens went into attack mode and generated pass rush in man coverage. They forced two three-and-outs after those two drives. I liked the Ravens’ first decision to go for it that resulted in Edwards’ first touchdown. They just needed badly to finish a drive. The one in the fourth quarter when up seven? Didn’t like it. Andrews took the snap and pitched it to Jackson who ran for a first and I pumped my fist. Loved the call. Didn’t like the decision. But it worked. I also did like how the Ravens stuck with the run this time and tried to salt it away late, before Hill’s fumble. Can’t blame the coaches for the fumble.