At this point, up and down performances are exactly what you expect from the Baltimore Ravens. Luckily for us, last night that was all it took to come out of Tampa Bay with a much-needed win. Throughout three and a half hours of some stressful football, ultimately the purple birds did what they’ve struggled to do all season: close out a ballgame.
We sit here today atop the AFC North, but with no room to budge or settle.
With that said, let’s break down the good, bad, and ugly from Thursday night in the Florida swamps.
YOUNG GUNS IN THE SECONDARY
Things didn’t start out quite like you’d hope for the Ravens defense on Thursday night, but after a pair of drives to open the game where they gave up 10 points, they finally settled in. From that moment on they wouldn’t allow another point until just over the 12 minute mark in the fourth quarter, and would only give up one more touchdown on the day (more on that later).
The young safeties in particular put on a big time display. Leading the way for the Ravens in tackles was Geno Stone, who also had a big time pass break up that would eventually lead to another Buccaneers punt.
Kyle Hamilton was in coverage for 31 snaps, on which he was targeted only four times and gave up a mere 15 yards in the process. PFF had him as the highest rated defender for the Ravens on Thursday night, a trend that we’d all love to see continue every week. Since the injury to Marcus Williams against Cincinnati, both of those aforementioned young guys have had to step up into the massive hole he left behind, and both have done a great job in doing just that.
The offense also came out stagnant early on Thursday night, only coming away with three points on seven drives in the first half, one of which started inside the Buccaneers red zone. Then, in typical Ravens fashion, that switch was flipped out of the halftime locker room and it was a scoring fest for the entire rest of the evening.
Most impressive in that stretch was the way the Ravens were able to keep the Buccaneers defense on skates the entire time, despite not having their best skill position players on the field due to injury. Even a casual watcher was able to see that they were completely off balance as the Ravens were pounding the rock (to the tune of 7 YPC and 231 YDS as a team), executing the play action off of it, and finding creative ways to get their most explosive players like Devin Duvernay and Isaiah Likely the ball. We all know that Lamar Jackson is at his best when the play action pass is humming, and the final stat line surely showed it as he completed 71% of his passes on the evening and finished with a 104.9 QB rating.
Once Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman both left the game with injuries (and later Gus Edwards as well), it felt like perhaps too many things were piling up against the Ravens, but to their credit it just made them fight even harder to secure a victory. Players like Demarcus Robinson, Likely, Duvernay and Kenyan Drake all stepped up big and did what they were asked to do. The second half of this game was another one of those moments that reminds you this team is still capable of being as effective as they were in 2019.
On the Buccaneers’ first offensive play of the game, Tom Brady threw an errant pass to tight end Cade Otton that went sailing over his head, right into the waiting hands of Marlon Humphrey. The only problem was, from there the ball would hit the turf. You can make the argument that the ball was behind him a hair, but even still it’s simply a play he has to make. Missing what should’ve been an easy catch allowed the Bucs to continue getting into a rhythm offensively, and moments later they’d be crossing the Ravens goal line for the first touchdown of the day.
Later in the game, deep in Ravens territory the Buccaneers were attempting to tie the game at 17 when Marcus Peters would drop a similarly gifted interception from Brady in the end zone. Luckily this miscue would only lead to three points. Finally, just a few plays prior to the Bucs’ final TD that made us all sweat out an onside kick, Chuck Clark had a pick clang off his fingers in the end zone, and while he was falling around trying to corral it, he rolled into Hamilton, causing the rookie to have a quick injury scare. That’s 17 points that the Ravens essentially handed the Bucs on the evening by simply not making easy plays. Not something that’s likely to still result in a successful effort when playing the Buffalos and Kansas Cities of the world. Peters and Humphrey make the 2nd and 4th most of any players on the team. With that type of money invested in your top two corners, they just have to make those plays.
GIVING THEM UP WHEN IT COUNTS
While the defense did put forth a tremendous effort for the entirety of the second and third quarters, the fourth quarter once again saw a bit of a collapse. Now to be fair, only allowing field goals on two of the Bucs’ three scoring drives in the final frame was big, as it allowed the Ravens to stay out ahead just enough to be able to make it a two-score game when it counted. Still though, Tampa Bay was moving down the field at will, and the Ravens would even make it easier for them in a few key junctures. First, in the form of a Brandon Stephens silly pass interference penalty that put Tampa deep into Ravens territory, and then on an offsides call that threw the entire defense off and allowed Julio Jones to all but walk into the end zone.
Football is rarely a perfect game, and each game is sure to have its ups and downs. For the Ravens though, it just seems as if when those downs do come, it’s always at the most important times. The Ravens have given up at least one 4th quarter touchdown in six of their eight games this year, all of which would either give their opponents a late lead or at the very least keep them within striking distance. Maybe it’s the lack of depth in some spots, maybe it’s the natural growing pains that come with a first time NFL defensive coordinator, but whatever the issue is it must be addressed.
THE MARGOT ROBBIE
IT WAS ALWAYS LIKELY
Isaiah Likely was undoubtedly the most impressive and talked about offensive player for the Ravens this preseason, and perhaps around the entire league as a whole. For two months now we’ve been waiting for him to have a chance to shine, and that opportunity finally came on Thursday night. Of course we’d prefer it didn’t have to come at the expense of Mark Andrews being injured, but now that we know it isn’t something serious, this could end up being a long term blessing for the Ravens offense.
Likely was electric from the second Andrews went out of the game, on his way to six grabs for 77 yards and a beautiful toe-tapper touchdown that gave the Ravens their first lead of the night. Even once Andrews gets back to full strength, there’s no reason Likely shouldn’t still receive a monster number of snaps. The whole reason he was brought in was to help take some of the workload off 89’s shoulders, and passing sets that have them both on the field should be a pure nightmare for opposing middle linebackers going forward. It’s clear that no major fix is coming overnight for the pass catchers as a whole, but Likely finally proving that his talent wasn’t just relegated to when the games didn’t count could be a major supplement to an area that most would call the Ravens’ biggest weakness.
And there we have it, yet another week in the books and the Ravens still sit atop the AFC North. Perhaps the trade deadline will provide an opportunity to improve in some area(s), but either way things are finally trending up as the Ravens finally have a win streak going. From here, it’s a much needed 10-day rest before heading down to New Orleans for a Monday night clash with the Saints, followed by a bye week.
Will the Ravens head into that bye at 6-3 with some much needed reinforcements on the way afterwards? We shall see.