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Week 5 Ravens Recap: Finally A West Coast Win

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I can’t state enough how big a win that was yesterday. Sure, beating EJ Manuel doesn’t seem like a huge accomplishment at face value, but the Ravens have had massive struggles on the west coast in recent years. In fact, yesterday’s win was their first road win against a West division team (AFC or NFC) since the Mile High Miracle in Denver. That’s not quite as recent as we’d like to think.

The Ravens also looked down and out the past two weeks. They looked like a team that was going to succumb to the onslaught of injuries they’ve incurred, and it was starting to look like a lost season. With a Steelers’ loss yesterday and a big rebound for the Ravens, this win provides a lot of hope for the remainder of the season. They’ll continue have their offensive struggles without guys like Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, but the more time their replacements have to settle in on the OL, the better they’ll perform. We saw that in action yesterday. More thoughts on the Ravens win:

OFFENSE 

– Joe Flacco stepped up in a big way on Sunday, both literally and figuratively. 19/26 for 222 yards and most importantly, no interceptions. Very few times in the first few weeks did we see Flacco step up in the pocket and throw a bomb downfield, or even a dart down the middle of the field. We saw a lot of both yesterday, starting with that deep ball to Wallace to open the game. That had been planned Saturday night and it was executed to perfection. Beautiful ball from Joe and it set the tone for the rest of the day. The offense lacked so much confidence the first 4 weeks, and that play flipped the switch for Joe. He played a clean game and used some of his vertical weapons as effectively as ever. He even converted a prayer of a 3rd down on a drive that ultimately resulted in a touchdown. All in all a great game for Joe.

– Obviously a huge amount of credit goes out to the offensive line for their ability to give him a clean pocket. Flacco wasn’t sacked yesterday and was only pressured 4 times. A lot of NFL QB’s are going to be successful with that kind of performance from the OL. He had tons of time and space for his receivers to get downfield and effectively run their routes. Ronnie Stanley did a phenomenal job shutting down Khalil Mack and has really proven to be worth that 6th overall pick last year. Pretty cool that he’s making a monster donation to the victims in Las Vegas after going for 26 for 27 on not allowing a QB hurry yesterday.

– Mike Wallace was starting to get on my last nerves earlier this month when he started to gripe about not getting the football enough, and subsequently dropping a go route last week against Pittsburgh. Well he certainly redeemed himself by not just catching that first deep ball, but two more as the game went on. 3 receptions for 133 yards is such a Mike Wallace statline, and it’s exactly what he was brought to Baltimore to do. With the way we can run the football, having the ability to go deep is such a weapon, and hopefully we can utilize it more as the season goes on.

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– Speaking of running the football, more credit goes to the OL for winning the battle up front. There weren’t many running plays where our backs were stuffed for losses or no gains. With T-West getting hurt on the first drive, Alex Collins and Buck Allen both did a knock-up job when they got to the 2nd level, and were able to pick up a lot of first downs by pushing forward. I was really surprised at how well Allen was able to pick up extra yardage close to the 1st down sticks, and Collins proved yet again how well he can run the football downhill. Guy is just a freight train, and he showed how committed he is to protecting the football after some early fumble struggles. When the run game is strong, this offense is strong and it was truly a collaborative effort from the entire offense here.

DEFENSE

– The defense also rebounded in a big way after taking it on the chin the past two weeks. 17 points and 245 yards allowed isn’t complete dominance, but it will win you a ton of games in the NFL regardless of who’s under center. They are still struggling at times stopping the run without Brandon Williams out, allowing 4.3 yards per carry… but they played most of the game up by multiple scores. The Raiders weren’t able to really take advantage of the run game like they might’ve hoped because of that. I fully expect that whenever B-Will is back (which I hope is soon), the run defense will return to its usual dominant self. That’s where the defense fully starts to fire on all cylinders again.

– Obviously the fumble return for a TD was huge to start the game. A 14 point lead for this defense feels like a lot more, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a backup QB. Jimmy Smith didn’t play all that many snaps due to a nagging Achilles injury, but he definitely put his mark on this game with that TD. Some takeaways are forced and some are gifts. We hadn’t gotten a gift in a couple weeks. Sometimes it’s just good to get one.

– With Jimmy out, Marlon Humphrey took center stage at CB and did a damn good job. The Raiders tried to target him a bit in the 2nd half, and he held his own. He and Brandon Carr had the task of dealing with one of the best WR duos in the league and they kept them mostly in check. Carr lost track of Crabtree for the early TD, but more than made up for it by teaming up with Humphrey to keep Cooper at 1 catch for 8 yards. I like that Humphrey is easing into a bigger and bigger role every week and the future looks bright for him.

– The most impressive player defensively for me yesterday was Matt Judon. He may not be playing every snap, but he’s definitely taking advantage of Brent Urban’s season-ending injury at DE. He was a late round flier based on his ability to get to the QB at Division II Grand Valley State, but he’s brought a whole lot more to the table with some fantastic pass coverage skill. On multiple occasions he dropped into coverage and effectively blanketed Jared Cook, including once in the red zone. EJ Manuel read that as a potential mismatch and tried to throw the ball his way twice, and Judon was all over him. On a third occasion, the Ravens ran a double safety blitz on 3rd and long and dropped Judon into coverage yet again on Cook. Judon took away that checkdown and Manuel had nowhere to go with it and took a hard sack from the blindside that easily could’ve been a strip sack by Tony Jefferson. That play doesn’t happen without great coverage by Judon. Such a weapon to have a guy that versatile.

– Going hand in hand with that is some great playcalling by Dean Pees. He drew up some exotic blitz schemes and really got after the Raiders’ inexperienced QB. Pees can often times be blamed for being a bit vanilla, but he has more toys to play with this year. He dialed up a blitz on 41% of plays, and rarely got burnt by it. How much of that is attributed to the opponent vs. our personnel I’m not sure… but I certainly wouldn’t hate to see this continue down the road. There’s a heavy slate of young QB’s and backups on the slate the next few weeks, so this may just be the beginning…

SPECIAL TEAMS

– Not a lot to add with Special Teams this week… Justin Tucker made all his kicks, as expected. Campanaro was unspectacular in the return game, but didn’t really get a good opportunity to really break one. That’s fine, sometimes it’s important to just take what the opposition gives you and just play mistake-free football. I will pay a compliment to Giorgio Tavecchio though. That guy looks like the real deal and really boomed a couple of those kickoffs.

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There ya have it. 3-2 and tied for first place. The Bears are coming to town and the Steelers head to Kansas City. That sounds like a formula for a solo first place football team come next week. The Ravens are trending upwards after trending HARD downwards there for a couple weeks. We’re out of our funk. Plus Brandon Williams will be back before long and I completely forgot that Danny Woodhead will eventually be back until I was typing out this very sentence. Things are better than they were a few days ago. Let’s keep it rolling into next week.