That was well worth the wait. The Ravens channeled their anger and frustration from last year's postseason loss into an absolute throttling of the Cleveland Browns. Any time you can take a divisional opponent to the woodshed, it's a good day. When it's a team with a roster as talented as theirs and had given you some fits the previous year… even better. The Ravens wanted to send a message today and despite a few missteps, they still did exactly that.
I covered the game at from a general perspective immediately after the game here, but I've got plenty more to dish on the Ravens opening season win:
- The offense pretty much picked up exactly where they left off the last time we saw Lamar Jackson in the regular season. Which coincidentally, was Week 16 in Cleveland last year. In that game, the offense stalled to start off before him and Mark Andrews connected twice for touchdowns to take control of the game going into half. Yesterday they wasted no time, marching down the field on their first possession and capping off the drive with a ridiculous catch by Andrews.
The offense pretty much chugged along the rest of the day, chewing up clock with a balanced attack on the ground and through the air. It was really just a continuation of what we saw all year long last season. The 2019 Ravens offense scored on roughly 55% of their drives last year, which was the 5th best rate in the history of the entire league. Based on their drive log yesterday, I would say they haven't skipped a beat:
Fumble (in the red zone)
So dropping that last drive where RGIII took a knee, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens on 10 drives and scored on 60% of them, with 5 of them being touchdowns and 1 being a field goal. That's just elite stuff. More on that towards the end of the blog.
- Lamar Jackson himself was terrific in every way. 20 of 25 for 3 touchdowns and 274 yards. There was really only one questionable throw he made all game, and it was well downfield on 3rd down. He threw a lot of balls that were really really impressive in terms of ball placement. I loved this play he made where he climbed the pocket and fired a dart to Mark Andrews.
Everyone knows he's a great athlete and is quick on his feet, but pocket presence is a skill that you need to have to be great in this league. Lamar Jackson came into this league with really good feel for the pocket, and he's only gotten better year by year. It would be so easy for a QB with the natural ability on his feet to feel pressure and just take off, but time and time again Lamar shows that he truly is a great pocket passer.
- His passing chart really shows just how much he picked that defense apart.
The Ravens were clearly focused on airing it out vertically and moving the ball down the field a bit more quickly than they did last year. Their 5 touchdown drives were 4:38, 5:48, 0:35, 3:23, and 2:00. Not exactly the clock-chewing drives that we consistently saw last year. In fact, after posting the highest average time of possession in league history last year, the Ravens actually lost the TOP battle yesterday 30:02 to 29:58. There's nothing to really take away from this other than the Ravens are becoming even more multi-dimensional in the way they are scoring, and maybe that they got beat up on the ground a bit defensively.
- It was really good to see the way Lamar spread the ball out. The reports of Hollywood being a new man with a healthy left foot appear to be true. 5 grabs for 101 yesterday, including this beautiful pitch and catch on a deep ball
We saw Miles Boykin make a couple of plays in space and Willie Snead got himself a touchdown too. This offense tends to create a lot of open space and Lamar isn't shy about finding it. It's just so fun to watch.
- Statistically the run game wasn't quite as strong as it seemed. Lamar got his with the 7 carries for 45 yards, but overall the team had 30 carries for 107 yards. That's a 3.6 yard per carry clip, which is a far cry from their 5.5 yd avg from last season. Maybe that's a byproduct of having lost Marshal Yanda, but I see it more so as the Browns just picking the poison of losing to Lamar through the air. I think the Titans loss created an illusion that what they did in terms of stacking the box is something that will yield positive results on a regular basis. It won't. That game was just a perfect storm of a variety of bad breaks. Lamar will throw all over you if you dare him to. Teams will learn that (again) and the run game will open back up.
- The backfield split was about what we expected going in. Ingram was 10 carries for 29 yards, Dobbins was 7 carries for 22 yards (and two goal line punch-ins), and Gus Edwards got 4 carries for 17 yards, mostly in garbage time. As the season progresses I think we'll see that workload flip between Dobbins and Ingram. Dobbins is the real deal, even though we really didn't get to see much of it in non-goal line situations. We didn't get much of an opportunity to see him catch the ball out of the backfield either because the Browns were challenging Lamar to attack vertically. Those opportunities will come with time.
- Running game mediocrity aside, the offensive line did a commendable job yet again. Tyre Phillips did end up starting at Yanda's old right guard spot after a surprise check-in on the injury report Friday, and he played well there. Lamar was sacked twice and took a couple of licks when he was on the run too. Overall, not too bad. He consistently had a clean pocket to throw from and the results show that. What's concerning is that Ronnie Stanley left in the 3rd quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. The hope is that with the game in hand, they elected not to risk putting him back in the game. DJ Fluker took over at left tackle and didn't appear to miss a beat. I had foreseen Phillips being the swing guy for OL depth, but it turns out Fluker is actually that guy at the moment. Go figure.
- One questionable decision yesterday was leaving Lamar in for a drive with 8 minutes left and a 38-6 lead. The hay was in the barn and the league's best left tackle was on the bench. Why put Lamar back in there? I see the upside of getting reps in a season where there was no preseason, but the game was long over and this team has too much riding on the health of its quarterback. Shrinkwrap that man and send him to the shower. I love that Lamar is a gamer but Coach Harbs has gotta take away the keys there. Plus who doesn't love a little sideshow Bob at QB?
- Overall I would give the defense a solid B for yesterday's effort. The scoreboard shows a better story than what really happened. 306 yards and 20 first downs allowed will usually yield more than 6 points, but that's where the takeaways come in. You can't expect 3 takeaways in every game, but this defense forces the issue with the amount of blitzing Wink Martindale dials up. That and they're almost always playing with a lead.
- One of the biggest things to watch yesterday was the run defense with the new front 7. At times the Browns had their way with the Ravens on the ground. 27 carries for 138 yards makes for a 5.1 yard per carry average. I don't expect the Ravens to be behind in many football games but there's the potential for them to get squashed if that situation arises. It's pretty much exactly what cost the Ravens their season last year. They just couldn't get off the field. 5.1 ypc is not good, but it's also not a death sentence. Let's just call it a work in progress for now.
- Malik Harrison got the start alongside Patrick Queen at linebacker, and his performance was a mixed bag. I loved the way he played with his hair on fire, but there were also a couple occasions where he got lost in the wash setting the edge in the run game. This play in particular is an example where his inexperience was exposed and I'm sure teams will try to exploit down the road.
With that said he appeared to make adjustments throughout the game and the run defense as a whole was much stronger in the 2nd half. He looked more comfortable in pass coverage than I had expected too. Overall, not too shabby of a debut for him.
- By contrast, Patrick Queen was exactly as advertised and more. He turned 21 just last month and he played like a grizzled vet. He led the team in tackles with 8, picked up a sack, and forced a fumble in the 2nd half that effectively iced the game. He's supposed to be the leader of the defense for years to come, and he certainly looked the part in Week 1.
- Calais Campbell made an immediate impact, batting down 3 passes and causing an interception on the very first drive. I don't know that he was used in Jacksonville the same way he will be used in Baltimore. I think he spent most of his time getting upfield and trying to get to the quarterback, where as Wink is a bit more deceptive and will have him drop into short coverage from time to time. That way he can use his ridiculous size to block up short passing lanes and disguise blitzing backers and d-backs. Maybe he should've had that first bat as his own pick, but Marlon made a great play to ensure the interception.
- The secondary continues to be absolutely ridiculous. Marcus Peters brings such an attitude (in addition to elite play) to that position group. They were on the hunt and they were sure to let OBJ and the Browns know it. I am so here for D-Generation X suck it to be a thing all over again.
- I really liked the return from Tavon Young. I've always liked the physical brand of football he plays and it was good to see him back out there after missing all of last year and the previous year's playoffs. He's undersized and got caught up in a mismatch with Daniel Njoku at one point but other than that, he was in lockdown mode all game.
- Special teams was nearly perfect, as per usual. JT made all his kicks because that's what he does, and he made sure to let everyone know it too.
- Devin Duvernay looked really strong returning kickoffs. He turned what looked like a routine return into a very solid 38 yard return to give the Ravens great field position. On the other hand, James Proche let a punt return bounce and roll out to our own 1 on a ball that easily could have been returned. A fair catch would have worked just as well. I'm all for playing it on the safe side and not risking muffing a punt when you've got an offense as potent as this team's. Having said that, Lamar Jackson had no problem going 99 yards anyway so. This point is kind of moot. Just hoping Proche learns and adjusts next time.
- Sam Koch had to punt a couple of times. He probably thought that was weird.
- Lastly, and this ties into a larger take, the Browns tried a fake punt in their own territory early in the game when they were down 7-0 and it went poorly.
Of course this was a terrible decision and worse execution, but… I sort of understand where they were coming from? Hear me out. Going down two scores to this Ravens team is essentially a death sentence. Or at least, it has to feel that way mentally. If you punt the ball to Lamar Jackson down a score, statistics say more often than not, he's going to score and make that a two score game. Next thing you know you're trying to throw against the likes of Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and should I keep going? You get the idea, that sounds like a bad time. So while I'm not saying it was a smart decision by any means to run this fake punt, you can sort of understand the dilemma Kevin Stefanski was up against here. I appreciate coaches who are aggressive and try to make things happen and if the Ravens weren't as disciplined as they are, maybe they pull it off and he looks like a genius. Bottom line, the Baltimore Ravens are constructed in a way that's bad news for opposing head coaches.
Yesterday was a ton of fun. For the record, I still don't think the Browns are thaat bad. While they were soundly beat yesterday, the result was deserving of a lesser win margin than 32. The yards were 377 to 302, the first downs were 23 to 20… it could have been a bit closer than it was. Regardless, I'm doing my best to try to stay humble and not get too far ahead of ourselves here. I want a piece of the Chiefs now, but we've got to go through the Texans first. They're a talented football team too, and they want nothing to do with an 0-2 start. Beating the Browns means nothing if we go down to Houston and lay an egg. With only one spot in the AFC earning a bye this year, the margin for error is that much smaller. Stay focused and stay the course.
In Lamar We Truzz.