All of the Baltimore Ravens fans in the country suffered the same heartbreak during Sunday’s loss to the Cleveland Browns. A .500 record through the first four games in retrospect is not bad, but the real heartbreak was seeing the defense perform at the level it did.
Yes, the Kansas City loss was expected but the Ravens remained competitive throughout that entire game up until really the final drive. Although the score Sunday at halftime was 10-7 in the Browns favor, the second half was an absolute disaster. The defense gave up a whopping 40 points in a matter of 30 minutes of football. To say the least, this team is lost on the defensive side of the ball. CBS showed a statistic during the game that was disturbing - Baltimore is 0-16 (now 0-17) in their last 16 games when trailing at halftime. That is a pure reflection on the coaching staff. This team thrives and is made to take the lead and game plan around keeping it (see Week 2).
The Ravens offense, on the other hand, is still the No. 1 ranked offense in the league. A lot of these yards and points have been picked up in garbage time the over last two weeks, but don’t discredit this team where a little bit of credit is due. Lamar Jackson is playing really good, quality football and is leading this offense in the right direction. There will be several players to watch during this game, primarily on the defense, but let’s look at five that may even be playing for their future.
The Baltimore Ravens had a ridiculous one sack against a injury riddled and below average Browns offensive line. That one sack and one lone quarterback hit came from Tyus Bowser, who played in only 17 (25%) of the defensive snaps. He struggled to set the edge and severely overplayed a few running plays, but the Ravens more importantly need people to hit the quarterback. Tim Williams, Bowser’s former draft mate, was cut on Tuesday after playing seven defensive snaps on Sunday. Williams time was up in Baltimore because of lack of production. Eric DeCosta doesn’t have the patience that Ozzie Newsome had with draft picks. If you aren’t going to play up to his standards, someone will. Bowser, and frankly several of his defensive counterparts, are playing for their future with this organization.
Bowser has shown flashes of being a capable outside linebacker, but he needs to get it together and get it together fast. This will more than likely be his last season to prove his worth. Look for Bowser’s snap count to increase against the Steelers on Sunday, simply on the fact that he gave the team a stat that they are struggling with and lack of depth at an already weak position.
There are quite a few people that are disgruntled with the way Tony Jefferson has played during his tenure as a Raven, and I also happen to be one of them. Fans are so displeased that TJ blocked all comments on an Instagram post. Jefferson was supposed to be a huge acquisition when he signed his four-year, $34 million contract in March of 2017. He has continually been a liability in pass coverage and has failed to be a playmaker. Whether Baltimore was expecting a true playmaker or not, Jefferson has always been a sure tackler. Sunday against the Browns, Tony couldn’t make an impactful tackle or pursue the right angle to a ball carrier. Tony Jefferson was also given the mic against the Browns to organize the defense. Well, miscommunication problems were still a major issue as RIcky Seals-Jones and Jarvis Landry absolutely torched Baltimore’s defense.
My problem with Jefferson having the mic is simple. Sunday was one of the worst defensive performances that fans have seen in the Harbaugh era, not only defending the pass but more significantly running the ball. I certainly understand that the Ravens were without Brandon Williams, their main run-stuffer, but how can Harbaugh say that defense was communicated better? Maybe people just aren’t doing their jobs, but Jefferson needs to worry about trying to keep his job just as much as other players. Jefferson is slated to have the mic again on Sunday, but remember this when the defense isn’t doing what they are supposed to. Every time the green dot is put on number 23’s helmet, he will be partially responsible for mistakes made.
Earl Thomas III:
Again, many fans are highly displeased with Earl Thomas’ plays thus far this season and I do not happen to be one of those critics. Calling out Brandon WIlliams and pulling up chasing Nick Chubb on an 88-yard touchdown run isn’t going to please anyone, but Thomas is playing quality football. No, Earl Thomas isn’t grabbing picks left and right but there is a reason for that.
Teams are NOT throwing the football in his direction whatsoever. They are completely avoiding throwing the ball anywhere near the free safety. It’s hard for a player to generate turnovers when the team around his playing subpar. Keep this in mind when you criticize Thomas, he’s only been in this “complex” defense for four games. It seems as if the players around him that have been in this defense for a few years still don’t know their assignments, so cut the guy a bit of a break before you judge him losing a step.
I would look for Don “Wink” Martindale to make significant changes on how he actually uses Earl Thomas moving forward, or at least until he gets a better concept of how his assignments work. In the coming weeks, look for Earl Thomas to play a similar role that he did in Seattle, being a true ranging free safety. There is absolutely no reason that Tony Jefferson should be playing in deep coverage when you have a player like Earl Thomas. Earl will do his damndest to get this defense back on track, starting Sunday in Pittsburgh.
There could be a new Josh Norman-Odell Beckham Jr. type rivalry within the AFC North after what we saw Sunday. Marlon Humphrey absolutely shut down OBJ and of course, Beckham threw his usual temper tantrum. Humphrey is about the only bright spot on this Ravens’ defense right now, and for good reason. Beckham was held to two catches for 20 yards. After his lockdown type performance, Humphrey apologized to OBJ for the scuffles that happened throughout the game. Ravens fans should be proud to have a player of Humphrey’s caliber and morals. When do you ever see that type of behavior in today’s NFL? Most players would have discussed the altercations during the postgame interviews, trashing the opposing player. This is obviously the model player and citizen.
Marlon Humphrey is solidifying himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the game and we are able to witness first-hand, week after week. Look for Humphrey to shut down his next challenger, JuJu Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh in front of all those cute little “towels.”
The Ravens gave up their first turnover of the season when Mark Ingram coughed up the football when the offense was driving down the field. Ingram was absolutely pissed at himself for giving the football to the Browns, even though it wasn’t entirely his fault. The Browns made a good tackle to force the ball out his hands and onto the ground for them to recover. As I’ve stated earlier, the Ravens offense is playing above average and is still ranked as the No. 1 scoring offense in the league. Greg Roman has had some interesting playcalling decisions at times, but overall this is a successful offense behind Lamar Jackson’s arm (and legs). Ingram is having a career year running the football in Baltimore and look for him to rebound this week against Pittsburgh.
Mark is very proud to “Play Like A Raven” and wear the purple and black. This is his first taste of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry and he wants to get the team moving in the right direction. Look for Ingram to have a heavy dose of touches against the Steelers this Sunday. Number 21 will be looking for someone to bulldoze and maybe create his own ‘Immaculate Extension.’