Prelude: In this series, we’ll be taking a look at what went right, what went wrong, and what made us scratch our heads in games every week. Each category will focus on one thing, with exceptions being made when necessary. This is the inaugural piece, so strap in and enjoy.
Your Baltimore Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns
Week One is in the books for the Ravens, and I’m not sure that they could’ve asked for a better outcome.
Facing a Divisional opponent in Week One, the Ravens needed to walk out with a win, especially at home in front of Superfan Mo Gaba, who watched from the heavens.
Boy, did they get one. They slaughtered the upstart Cleveland Browns 38-6, in a game that wasn’t really as close as the score shows – and that’s saying something. They had their foot on the gas from the first offensive series (or defensive, if you’re into that sort of thing – I am) and didn’t touch the brakes at any point during the wild 60-minute ride.
Odell Beckham, Jr. proved he was literally a No. 2 receiver, Baker Mayfield posted a 33.4 Quarterback Rating, and Lamar Jackson started down the road to repeating as League MVP.
So let’s start by taking a look at what went right.
Lamar Jackson said more than once that he wanted to get better at deep passes in 2020.
We saw the videos and heard the reports from Ravens Media during training camp, but seeing it in live action is another thing entirely. Too many times, we’ve been led to believe that Player X would be a stud, or Player Y would have a larger role in the offense/defense, just to see our hopes and dreams crushed on gameday.
Not this time, Lamar said.
The reigning unanimous League MVP threw ten passes that traveled 10+ yards on Sunday. He completed nine of them, for 180 yards (per ESPN). Marquise Brown was the recipient of three such passes, all of which traveled over 15 yards in the air. Oh, and he provided a 158.3 passer rating to Lamar when he was targeted on these deep passes. (He had five catches for over 100 yards at the half, by the way.)
Why is this so important? Well, as I mentioned before, Lamar completed less than 50% of these passes in 2019, and to the eye, he wasn’t terrible in the deep game last season. He’s improved on a weakness, which should absolutely terrify opponents.
He’s showing that if the run game isn’t working, he has the ability to make you pay for focusing that aspect of the offense.
There was a glaring weakness in 2019. That weakness was on the defense.
More specifically, the run defense. Even more specific, the outside run defense.
The Ravens identified this weakness. In response, they went out and traded for PFF’s 2019 Run Defender of the Year, Calais Campbell. Then they signed run stuffer Derek Wolfe. Together, they allowed Brandon Williams to move back to his natural position of Nose Tackle.
Add all of these things up, and on paper, the run defense woes were fixed. We were led to believe that the Ravens had a defense that would match their offensive firepower.
Early on in the game, it became apparent that this was not the case. Both Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb gashed the outside run defense. Immediately, Ravens Twitter came alive with cries and groans.
While this weakness was somewhat hidden by the game getting out of hand, it’s something to watch going forward. If the Ravens give up chunk yards to the likes of David Johnson (HOU) and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (KC), then the woes of 2019 will come rushing (puns!) back.
Simply put, to win a championship, you need a championship defense. To win a championship, you typically need a championship running game. If the Ravens don’t have a good outside run defense, the championship run game wins that fight.
You all know what ‘WTF’ stands for typically. In this case, it stands for where the f…
As in where was the pass rush? Baker Mayfield was sacked twice and hit six times. Not terrible statistics, right?
Right. Until you remember that for the majority of the game, the Browns were forced to pass. Take the first half out of it, if you want. That leaves an entire 30 minutes of gameplay where the pass rush could pin their ears back and let loose.
You’d like to see more consistent production from a unit that is – again – supposedly much-improved. Tyus Bowser is in a contract year – earn it. Matthew Judon is in a contract year – earn it. Bowser’s sack was a coverage sack, which is a testament to the defensive backs. Oh, and Matthew Judon’s name got called once.
Want to guess what it was for? Yep. A boneheaded penalty.
The rest of the EDGE group combined for a whole two hits.
Needless to say, the Ravens will need more from Matthew Judon and Co. in the coming weeks, especially against Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes.