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Easy in The Big Easy

Ravens win in The Big Easy
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Heading into Monday night, we weren’t quite sure which Baltimore Ravens team we were going to see. Despite winning their last two games leading up to it, we all knew that despite a mini-bye, despite the Saints (3-5) record that things wouldn’t be easy. The Ravens entered this game battered, bruised, and looking forward to the bye week perhaps as much as any team ever has. Truthfully, it would’ve been almost understandable had they gone on the road into a hostile environment like this and came up a bit short while looking forward to the week off. Don’t tell that to this team though, because last night, the Ravens came out guns blazing on both sides of the ball and put on a clinic in how to neutralize your opponent’s strengths against the Saints.

It was a masterful performance by Lamar Jackson and company, one that we were finally able to enjoy for four quarters without our blood pressure going through the roof. Enough small talk though, let’s dive into the good, and (minimal) bad from a successful trip down to the Big Easy.

THE GOOD

A PERFECT FIT

Coming into Monday night, expectations were appropriately low for the purple debut of newly acquired middle linebacker Roquan Smith. Up until just before game time when it was announced that Josh Bynes was a scratch, if anyone tells you that they projected him to play anything more than a few key situational moments, well, they probably just want to sound smart. The Ravens had other plans though, as Smith was out there for almost the entire game and not only played serviceably well, but more so like he was shot out of a cannon from jump street.

 

Most impressive was how Smith contributed to bottling up Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Not only did Smith stifle Kamara on two straight short yardage situations early in the game, but he also made a tremendous play just before half to sniff out a checkdown throw and take down the elusive back when there was nothing else but green turf ahead of him. Smith was flying all over the field the entire evening, and showed the Ravens exactly why they were so smart to give up a 2nd and 5th round pick for his services. If this marriage is going to be long-term, you couldn’t ask for a better first date.

MAKING CHICKEN SALAD OUT OF…

The Ravens offense was without their top two running backs, their All-Pro tight end, and #1 wide receiver on Monday night, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at them. Was it perfect? No. Was it more impressive than most of us thought they’d be heading into the game? You bet.

After a quick opening drive that ended with a punt, the Ravens quickly got into a groove and would go on to punch in two first half touchdowns on the Saints defense. With prime time Andy Dalton as their quarterback, it may as well have been that 96-0 high school game we all saw making the rounds last week. Most notably, the first score to rookie tight end Isaiah Likely was beautifully designed and proof that Greg Roman still has some unopened toys in “The Vault”. Not a bad throw by Lamar Jackson either, who managed to drop it right between two converging defenders in picture perfect fashion.

Most impressive, and most telling, was the Ravens’ third down success on the evening. They finished 9 of 15 overall, and they were nearly perfect in the first half en route to dominating ⅔ of the time of possession. It was classic Ravens football at its finest, and much needed on a night where so many familiar faces were in street clothes on the sideline.

 

By the way, how about Kenyan Drake huh? The man simply could not be stopped in the second half, seemingly picking up 6 yards per play at will en route to a 93 yard/2 touchdown performance. I’ll be the first to eat crow and say that I didn’t expect him to have any impact upon signing way back just before the season started. I was wrong, and I’m more than glad to be in this situation. With both J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards having so many questions heading into the crucial stretch of the season, this likely isn’t the last time the Ravens offense will be relying on Drake to make a major impact, and as we’re seeing now they can be much more confident in doing so.

THE BAD

IT WAS THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT

 

In the fourth quarter of this game, Lamar Jackson and Ronnie Stanley had more than one heated conversation both on the field and on the sidelines that appeared to be related to the snap of the ball. Getting the ball off on time has been an issue all year for the Ravens, and in a loud, hostile environment like New Orleans, hearing the snap count on every play is no easy feat. On this play in particular, it appeared that Tyler Linderbaum didn’t feel Kevin Zeitler’s tap signaling to snap the football. Jackson would spike the ball into the turf out of frustration, which triggered this heated discussion.

While we definitely don’t love seeing Jackson and his biggest bodyguard going at it, such is life in a game as fierce and competitive as professional football. Brothers fight, and brothers make up afterwards, which is exactly what happened in this case.

 

Going forward there’s no doubt that the snap efficiency and quarterback/offensive line communication in that regard has to improve. They’ve largely been able to get away with it so far this year, but when the rubber meets the road come January that likely won’t be the case. Thankfully, the Ravens now have two weeks to get those issues sorted out once and for all.

THE UGLY

PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE

 

So uh…what happened here? The Saints’ only touchdown on Monday night came late in the fourth quarter, and it’s one that still has us scratching our heads today. It’s obvious that Chuck Clark thought the play was over, as did Marcus Peters who didn’t even attempt to tackle Juwan Johnson afterwards as he scampered down the sideline. The only problem is, the whistle was never blown. From day one of pee-wee football you’re taught to always play through the whistle. This was a mental error by the Ravens secondary through and through.

It’s tough to nitpick on a night where they played so well overall, but plays like this absolutely have to be tightened up. New Orleans might not make you pay for it, but Buffalo and Kansas City sure as heck will. Overall, not a major concern given the full circumstances of the moment, but definitely as fitting of the “ugly” title as any play we’ve seen from the Ravens defense this year.

[Related Article: Great Team Win in NOLA]

THE MARGOT ROBBIE

THE WILY VETERAN

This one was obvious, but Justin Houston is this week’s player of the game and it wasn’t particularly close. Houston was a force right from the rip, on his way to 2.5 sacks and a game sealing interception in the fourth quarter.

 

Houston now has 6.5 sacks in the last three weeks and has been playing like a man possessed. For someone who was apparently considering retirement up until the start of training camp, you wouldn’t be able to tell for a second by looking at the passion and fire he brings on every snap. We kept wondering when such a heavy reliance on an older player like this, even one with as storied a career as Houston, would catch up to the Ravens pass rush. So far, it just hasn’t. The return of Tyus Bowser certainly helped matters, and things are only going to get even better when David Ojabo comes back off the bye. Houston is playing the best ball of his career at age 33, and defying everything we thought we knew about aging pass rushers in the process.

WRAP-UP

That’ll pretty much do it for a fun, mostly stress free night in New Orleans. Given the circumstances, the Ravens and the flock couldn’t have asked for a more impressive performance heading into the bye, and now it’s time for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. 6-3, sole possession of first place in the AFC North, and the easiest schedule in football down the stretch. It’s safe to say that things are shaping up for the Ravens to be a major contender down the stretch.

Enjoy the week off, and then let’s get ready to really make some noise.

Tyler Huntley at practice
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