Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 24-9 win over the New York Jets – The Denver Post


The Ravens overcame a sluggish offensive start to beat the New York Jets in their season opener on Sunday. Their defense forced a pair of turnovers and kept the heat on Jets quarterback Joe Flacco all afternoon, giving Lamar Jackson time to dial in his downfield vision for a trio of touchdown strikes.

Here are five things we learned from their 24-9 victory:

If we’re expecting a big rebound from the Ravens, their opener offered mixed signals.

The final score told us the expected story; the Ravens hit the road for their season opener and never felt any real peril against the eternally bumbling New York Jets. They treated their former franchise quarterback, Joe Flacco, to a miserable reunion marked by bone-rattling hits and extreme stinginess on third down. Lamar Jackson threw three touchdown passes in his first game action since he hobbled off the field in Week 14 last season.

Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, yes and no.

The Ravens were back to their old defensive tricks under new coordinator Mike Macdonald, blanketing receivers and creating turnovers with their deep, versatile secondary and creating pressure without relying on all-out blitzes.

On offense, they spent the first half looking like they’d never played together, which was not far from the truth given the fresh faces at some spots and the injuries still hampering key players such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley and running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Their running game never did kick in, they lost Stanley’s backup, tackle Ja’Wuan James, to a torn Achilles tendon, and several playmakers they’re counting on suffered through uneven days.

“Yes, we’re just getting back in the swing of things,” Jackson acknowledged.

Against a sharper opponent, they could have gone to halftime down a touchdown instead of up by the same margin.

To be fair, we saw ragged play around the NFL on opening weekend; witness the exchange of special teams high jinks between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he did not know what to expect from his team after he used almost none of his starters in the preseason, and he could not have been surprised that the machine sputtered on its road to victory.

The point is that we don’t know a lot more about the Ravens than we did before the first snap Sunday. They have yet to outrun their 2021 injury woes, and the offense is very much a work in progress. They’ll take the win after they lost their last six of 2021, but it might be a while before we can claim to know this team.

All the things the Ravens didn’t do on defense in 2021, they did against the Jets.

The Ravens let running back Michael Carter get to the edge for 19 yards on the Jets’ first offensive play. But they quickly responded by locking up the Jets’ receivers on third down, allowing defensive tackle Calais Campbell to reach Flacco and force intentional grounding.

This set the tone for an afternoon controlled by Macdonald’s defense. The front seven, led by defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, nose tackle Michael Pierce and outside linebacker Justin Houston, played as well as it did at any point last season. The Ravens stayed in Flacco’s face from the first quarter to the fourth, and they did not need a big game from projected breakout star Odafe Oweh to do it. Macdonald blitzed, just not always when the Jets thought he might.

Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, reunited with his former position coach, Macdonald, played with the free mind and aggressive spirit that made him a first-round pick in 2020, finishing with eight tackles and three quarterback hits.

We saw several combinations in the secondary. Marlon Humphrey and Kyle Fuller started on the outside, but Macdonald also paired Brandon Stephens and Fuller (who suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter), with Humphrey in the slot. He used three-safety sets with Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams deep and Chuck Clark closer to the line of scrimmage.

Williams made a team-high 12 tackles and an interception in his Ravens debut. Stephens produced a pair of pass breakups. Clark forced a fumble. Humphrey made Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton take notice of his lockdown coverage on CBS Sports’ game coverage.

The Jets, playing without starting left tackle Duane Brown and relying on an immobile backup in Flacco, offered Macdonald’s defense an ideal Week 1 warmup. The Ravens will soon face sterner tests. But this was a reassuring effort for those who believed they would move past the struggles of 2021.

A tepid start left us with questions about where the Ravens’ offense is headed.

The Ravens averaged a paltry 3.7 yards per play in the first half and converted on just two of seven third downs, with few of their 2022 breakout candidates immune to this offensive lethargy.

Would-be No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman dropped the ball on a potential third-down conversion. Rookie tight end Isaiah Likely, the sensation of the preseason, could not haul in any of the four passes Jackson threw to him, with the second a catchable ball that could have kept a drive alive.

With J.K. Dobbins inactive, the Ravens started recent signee Kenyan Drake at running back, but they could not create room for him early in the game, largely due to missed blocks on the edges. They had 11 yards on the ground at halftime, their worst rushing half of the Jackson era.

Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams manhandled center Tyler Linderbaum and batted down Jackson’s third-down attempt on the Ravens’ first trip to the red zone. They settled for a Justin Tucker field goal, a poor payoff after Williams’ interception put them on the New York 13-yard line to start. When they struggled in the second half last year, Harbaugh talked about how they did not finish enough drives in the end zone. So he had to feel vexed by this squandered opportunity.

The Ravens ultimately did enough to beat the Jets convincingly, with Jackson showing off his downfield vision on a pair of touchdown strikes to Devin Duvernay and a bomb to Bateman in the third quarter. Duvernay has long said he would take advantage of downfield targets if given the chance, and he showed terrific fight on the first touchdown catch. Perhaps he really can be a productive starter opposite Bateman, showcasing the vertical speed and reliable hands that had the Ravens so excited when they drafted him in the third round out of Texas.

“What a game,” Harbaugh said of Duvernay. “He came up with plays when we needed plays made, and he made them.”

He was also pleased with Jackson’s performance after the wider football world had spent the last few days talking about the extension the Ravens and their quarterback did not reach. “He played a patient, veteran quarterback game,” Harbaugh said. “He was in control of everything, he did a great job with the line, he handled the clock really well.”

Regardless, the Ravens won’t get away with such a sloppy start in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins, the very team that sent them into an offensive tailspin last season with unrelenting blitzes.

A season-ending injury to Ja’Wuan James put the Ravens back in a quandary with their tackle depth.

The Ravens never found a satisfactory solution last year after they learned Stanley would be unable to give them a healthy season protecting Jackson’s blind side. They’re still waiting on Stanley, who started practicing last week, but James, an above-average starting tackle before injuries derailed his career, was supposed to be their insurance policy.

He pass blocked fairly well in the early going against the Jets, until the rotten luck that had kept him from being a full-time player since 2018 struck again. James did not get up after planting his left foot the wrong way in the second quarter, and he was carted off, never to return. The Ravens knew they could not count on James’ health when they signed him at a bargain price before last season, but he had done everything they asked of him this year, switching to the unfamiliar left side to cover for Stanley’s continued absence. This was a cruel twist, to say the least.

Patrick Mekari, the Ravens’ super-utility lineman, stepped in capably, and he’s a good enough pass blocker to hold the fort until Stanley plays. But they’re back to having no wiggle room at tackle, with rookie Daniel Faalele, who was inactive Sunday, serving as their chief reserve.

We said all offseason that the Ravens could not unlock the best version of their offense without Stanley protecting Jackson on the left side. Fans are understandably skeptical given that Stanley has missed 29 of the team’s last 30 games. Though he appears in good shape, we won’t know until he’s out there against legitimate NFL pass rushers. With James sidelined, the Ravens cannot stand to wait much longer.

Patrick Queen and Justin Madubuike looked like classic post-hype breakout candidates.

We spent so much of summer 2021 hearing how the game had slowed down for Queen, how Madubuike flashed the quickness of a fearsome interior playmaker. All that appetite wetting for sophomore breakout seasons, and then it never quite happened for either player. So we stopped talking about them so much. We followed the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately rules of the hype cycle.

One game against the Jets does not wipe away the uneven track records of these 2020 draft picks, but they sure played pretty well, didn’t they?

Madubuike crashed into the backfield on each of the Jets’ first two possessions, chased down a screen and finished with five tackles. Campbell said he could be an All-Pro if he strings together games like this.

Queen, meanwhile, returned to being the disruptive blitzer he was in the best moments of his rookie season. Macdonald trusted him to stay in on third downs, and he produced. He might never fit the classic image of a stout middle linebacker, but such players aren’t as essential now as they were in previous eras. If he can be the wide-ranging playmaker he was against the Jets, the Ravens will take it.

Week 2


Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM



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