The Ravens pulled out a tense 37-26 road win over the New England Patriots thanks to another sublime performance from quarterback Lamar Jackson, the resurrection of their running game and clutch turnovers created by linebacker Josh Bynes, cornerback Marlon Humphrey and rookie safety Kyle Hamilton. Even in such a “meaningful” victory, however, their defense struggled to prevent double-digit gains, and they faced a new collection of injury worries.
Here are five things we learned:
They won a battle but suffered more painful blows to their war effort.
Let us never become so spoiled that we turn up our noses at a double-digit road win against a Bill Belichick-coached team. The Ravens impressed in plenty of ways as they bounced back from a horrific collapse in their home opener against the Miami Dolphins.
When they seemed in danger of coughing up another lead, Humphrey ended one Patriots drive with an interception, and Hamilton ended the next with a world-class recovery and punch out.
Jackson added another chapter to his Most Valuable Player narrative, using precise passes and timely scampers to make sure the Ravens finished drives in the end zone.
Their running game, dormant in Week 1 and bottled up save for Jackson in Week 2, roared back to life with J.K. Dobbins finally in the lineup.
The Ravens scored 30 points once in the last nine games of 2021. They have averaged 33 through the first three weeks of this season. If we want to spin their loss to the Dolphins another way, we could say they’ve been the better team for 11 of the 12 quarters they have played in 2022.
But, and you knew this was coming, they cannot seem to play a week of football without watching a key performer — or three — limp off the field.
In this week’s installment of injury-hell bingo, they had to play their No. 4 left tackle, rookie Daniel Faalele, because Patrick Mekari, who was already filling the breach left by Ronnie Stanley and Ja’Wuan James, sprained his ankle. Faalele found his bearings, but for a few possessions there, Jackson appeared in danger of suffering serious bodily harm from Patriots defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens lost two of their front-seven stalwarts, nose tackle Michael Pierce and outside linebacker Justin Houston. Coach John Harbaugh did not sound terribly concerned about Houston’s strained groin, but the Ravens were already stretched to a breaking point on the edges. Pierce’s arm injury could be more serious, and though the Ravens have depth on the interior with rookie Travis Jones back in action, they were counting on No. 58 to be a powerful anchor.
Even when a game goes well for this team — Harbaugh rightly called this a “very meaningful win” — the attrition narrative lives on. They suffered the worst injury luck of any NFL team in 20 years last season, and they have yet to go through a week of this new season untroubled by health woes.
What fun it would be to watch the Ravens at full strength hosting the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills in a Week 4 slugfest. But are the Ravens ever at full strength?
The running game improved with more dynamic backs.
Dobbins did not light it up (seven carries for 23 yards) in his first game action since the end of the 2020 season, but we saw some of his old sizzle on a spin move late in the first half that turned a potential no-gain into 3 yards. Such dynamism was absent with Mike Davis and Kenyan Drake carrying the load in the first two games. More importantly, the Ravens’ running game functioned better overall, with Jackson playing off Dobbins and Justice Hill to pick up chunks of yardage on mesh-point keepers.
Hill again made the most of limited opportunities with 60 yards on six carries. He put the Ravens in position for their third touchdown when he veered outside for a 34-yard gain in the third quarter, taking advantage of an annihilating block from fullback Patrick Ricard on former Raven Matthew Judon.
Jackson is the key to Greg Roman’s ground attack no matter who’s beside him in the backfield, and his runs — a 38-yard jolt up the middle to set up a short touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay and a 20-yarder to set up his own 9-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter — put the game away. We know he scrambles like no one else, but he has destroyed opponents with designed runs — particularly those up-the-middle carries when he tricks the defense into flowing outside — the last two weeks.
“Lamar did a good job on keeping some of those, not keeping those, the option choices that he made,” Belichick said.
It’s funny to think we wondered if the extra 20 pounds Jackson packed on in the offseason would diminish this part of his game.
The Ravens finished with 188 yards on 26 carries against a smart, experienced defense, and for the first time this season, they resembled the bash-and-dash operation that overpowered so many opponents in 2019 and 2020.
Give Faalele props, but trouble brews again at tackle.
On Faalele’s first series, Wise dipped quickly around the rookie’s outside shoulder to sack Jackson with the Ravens in the red zone. Wise did it again on the Ravens’ next possession, with Dobbins doing Faalele no favors as he failed to shade over to impede Wise’s path to Jackson.
The negative ripples went beyond sacks as Jackson seemed to lose confidence for a few drives in the second quarter as he sensed Wise bearing down on him again and again.
It was easy to rip Faalele in that moment, but he was thrown into a terrible position. We knew he was a developmental prospect without the ideal foot quickness to protect a quarterback’s blind side. No one who watched him in training camp envisioned him playing meaningful snaps at left tackle this soon.
To his credit, he settled down after his initial woes and helped keep Jackson clean in the second half while throwing some nice run blocks. “Faalele started dominating like he did in college,” Jackson noted encouragingly.
The Ravens could not turn to anyone else, because injuries wiped out their insurance tackle, James, and their super-utility lineman, Mekari, within the first nine quarters of the new season. The very situation general manager Eric DeCosta had said he would do everything to avoid was smacking the Ravens in the face.
This conversation comes back to Stanley, of course. The Ravens are paying him more than $12 million this year to be one of their cornerstone players. Harbaugh says he’s in terrific shape, and we’ve watched him move well in practice drills. But Stanley has yet to feel confident enough to play on his surgically repaired ankle. “When he feels like he’s ready to go out there and be Ronnie Stanley at his best, then he’ll be out there,” Harbaugh said Friday.
It’s rarely smart or fair for us as outsiders to tell a high-level athlete how to manage his health. We can’t know what Stanley is feeling or thinking. But the Ravens have never needed him more, and the scrutiny on his deliberate ramp-up is only going to intensify.
Takeaways saved them but there’s still plenty to be alarmed about on defense.
They did what they could not do against the Dolphins a week earlier, making huge plays instead of allowing them in the fourth quarter. Humphrey did not let a poor decision by Patriots quarterback Mac Jones go unpunished, pulling in an over-the-shoulder interception in the corner of the end zone to deny New England an easy chance to cut the Ravens’ lead to two. On the Patriots’ next possession, Hamilton made the clutch play of the game, running down Nelson Agholor and knocking the ball loose after a catch that could have set New England up for a go-ahead touchdown.
The Ravens rarely swung games by creating turnovers in 2021, so it’s a big deal that they’ve taken the ball away multiple times each week of this season.
Those opportunistic plays masked another shaky performance, however, as the Ravens allowed seven catches of 20 yards or more, five of them by DeVante Parker. Their No. 1 run defense from last season allowed 5.2 yards per carry, including several scrambles by the heavy-footed Jones. Opponents have generally shied away from challenging the Ravens on the ground, but if they continue surrendering 5 yards per attempt, as they have through three weeks, that will change.
Jones started the game with a 31-yard completion to Parker, who beat rookie cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis on a slant and kept going. On the Patriots’ next drive, Parker, who had just one catch coming in, beat Armour-Davis for a 41-yard gain off play action.
These weren’t the nobody-knows-who’s-picking-up-the-deep-man shenanigans from a week earlier. Parker, an eight-year veteran, simply outmaneuvered Armour-Davis, who’s enduring a rough introduction to the NFL.
The Ravens let the Patriots drive 43 yards in just 30 seconds to pick up three points before halftime as they went with curiously soft coverage to prevent a home-run play.
On New England’s first drive of the second half, Parker beat cornerback Brandon Stephens twice — these were excellent catches against reasonable coverage, to be fair — for a total of 61 yards, and linebacker Patrick Queen dropped a potential pick-six at the goal line.
Later in the third quarter, Parker found soft space between cornerback Marcus Peters and safety Chuck Clark for a 24-yard catch, putting the Patriots in position to add another touchdown.
New England finished with 447 total yards, averaged 7.1 yards per play and picked up 22 first downs, besting the Ravens in each category. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald won’t be satisfied with those numbers, even if he liked the end result.
Duvernay has emerged as an essential playmaker.
Duvernay made All-Pro as a returner last season to build on his excellent work there in his rookie season. If anything, he has upped his return game in 2022. He ran back the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown in Week 2 against Miami and danced along the sideline for a 43-yard return to jump-start a touchdown drive against the Patriots. Most teams would kill for one such play in the course of a season. Duvernay and Justin Tucker are the main reasons why the Ravens soar above the rest of the league on special teams.
So he would be a valuable player even if he never caught a pass. Here’s the thing though: Duvernay has hauled in all eight balls thrown his way through the first three games. Against the Patriots, he caught a 21-yarder over the middle and leaped in the corner of the end zone to catch a 4-yard lob from Jackson, tapping his toes inbounds to complete the play.
At times in Duvernay’s first two years, the Ravens seemed more interested in using him as a jet-sweep threat than a downfield target. He always said he would take advantage if given a greater opportunity. Now, he’s doing just that.
You take the best returner and make him a sturdy, sure-handed target over the middle and in the red zone; you have quite a player. That’s 2022 Devin Duvernay.
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