After an electric 32-point victory in Week 1, the Ravens traveled to Houston this week and once again took care of business. Baltimore rode their dominant rushing attack and opportunistic defense to another double-digit victory, defeating the Texans 33-16 to improve to 2-0 on the season.
Here are some of noteworthy takeaways from Sunday’s action.
1) Time to put respect on L.J. Fort’s name
Since signing with the Ravens just before the halfway point of the 2019 season, LB L.J. Fort has quietly been a consistent playmaker. His performance last year saw him earn a two-year contract extension — one that’s proving to be well-deserved and quite possibly a bargain.
Sharing linebacker snaps with rookie Malik Harrison, Fort has been rock solid through two weeks. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, which was once again the case in Week 2.
After CB Marlon Humphrey forced the ball loose from the arms of Keke Coutee, Fort promptly scooped up the fumble and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown. Fort’s impressive effort and ability to outstretch the ball across the pylon extended the Ravens’ lead to 20-7 following Justin Tucker’s converted extra point attempt.
Against the Browns in the season opener, Fort sniffed out Cleveland’s fake punt attempt in the first quarter and made a fantastic open-field tackle. In addition to these specific moments, Fort consistently does little things that don’t always show up in the box score but are valuable nonetheless.
2) Too soon to worry about the offensive line?
One of the biggest storylines entering the season was how the Ravens’ new-look offensive line would fare without Marshal Yanda manning the right guard position. So far, the results have been a mixed bag, to say the least.
The Ravens’ five-man starting unit in 2019 was one of the league’s best in terms of pass protection, but that hasn’t been the case thus far through two weeks. Baltimore only allowed two sacks in Week 1, but the Browns appeared to get fairly consistent pressure and many of Lamar Jackson’s throws came under a decent amount of duress.
It was more tough sledding against the Texans today, particularly in the first half. Houston racked up four sacks, two of which came from DE J.J. Watt, and five quarterback hits. At least a couple of these, though, can likely be somewhat or mostly attributed to Jackson holding the ball for too long. The play of the line picked up in the second half as the Ravens began to wear down Houston’s front-seven on the ground, too.
Still, it’s evident that the Ravens’ offensive line is not performing at the same level that we saw last season. This was to be expected without Yanda in the fold, and the Ravens are still attempting to fit a recently-recovered Matt Skura and rookie Tyre Phillips into the mix. LT Ronnie Stanley has also been nicked up a bit, too.
However, the performance of the offensive line is certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward. The Ravens have a number of plug-and-play options on the depth chart if they did eventually seek to make a change of some sort.
3) Another difficult break for Tavon Young
In 2019, CB Tavon Young spent the entirety of the season rehabbing and recovering from a neck/back injury he suffered in the preseason — which ended his year before it even began. It was the second time in his career that Young has missed all 16 games due to injury, the first being in 2017 and resulting from a torn ACL.
Young had successfuly worked his way back to full health this year and re-cemented his place in the starting lineup at nickel cornerback. Although Week 1 was a small sample size, Young looked spry and aggressive in his first game back.
Unfortunately, Young once again came up on the short end of the injury stick against the Texans. On Houston’s second drive of the game, Young landed awkwardly on his leg after playing blanket coverage on Randall Cobb and making a play on the ball.
Young limped off the field and did not return, and is now set to miss the remainder of the season with again a torn ACL. It’s an incredibly unfortunate break for Young and the Ravens defense, who will now have to pick up the pieces without their starting slot corner for the second year in a row.
In Young’s absence, Humphrey saw more playing time in the nickel spot and Anthony Averett was given extended snaps. This was the case in 2019, too, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens opt to deploy alternative strategies moving forward or seek help on the free agent or trade market.
4) Baltimore’s backfield is a tough case to crack
With a healthy stable of talented players in the backfield, most envisioned a comittee approach at running back for the Ravens this season. Through two weeks, that notion has held up quite well — and it may be even more complicated than anticipated.
Against the Browns, rookie J.K. Dobbins led all running backs with 23 snaps and tied Mark Ingram for the team-lead with seven carries. It was Dobbins, though, who scored twice in the red zone. Gus Edwards rushed four times for 17 yards.
In Week 2, though, the script looked quite different. Dobbins saw just two carries and caught his lone target for 13 yards, while Ingram rushed 10 times and Edwards led the team in carries with 13. Edwards ripped off 73 yards on the ground and Ingram gained 53, scoring a 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Dobbins flashed promise in Week 1 but was largely a non-factor in the gameplan on Sunday, while Edwards and Ingram were featured heavily as the Ravens attempted to grind out a victory in the second half. It’s hard to say game flow was a factor in this as the Ravens were leading for the entirety of the game in both games.
Adding to the confusion, per say, is that Lamar Jackson actually leads all players in rushing attempts through two weeks with 20. Furthermore, RB Justice Hill has yet to suit up as he nurses an injury.
The good news is that the Ravens ran for a total of 233 yards and averaged 6.9 YPC against Houston, and they’re in incredibly good shape in the backfield overall. How the workload is divided amongst the runners, though, seems like it may fluctuate week-to-week.
5) Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, certified playmakers
While the improvements along the front-seven have been noticable through two weeks, the foundation of this Ravens’ defense remains the secondary. More specifically the cornerback position, where Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters continue to demonstrate why they’re one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.
In Week 1, Humphrey and Peters took turns playing lockdown coverage on WR Odell Beckham Jr. Against the Texans, both players once flashed their playmaking chops in a big way.
Humphrey’s now-pattened right club forced a fumble out of WR Keke Coutee’s hands on the Texans’ second drive of the second quarter. It was L.J. Fort who returned the scooped ball for a touchdown, but Humphrey the play with a tremendous play on the ball. Humphrey clearly has a knack for forcing fumbles and a nose for the ball.
The sequence expanded the Ravens’ lead to two possessions when it looked like the Texans might be capable of tightening the gap. He made a handful of similar plays throughout the course of last season and he’s picked up right where he left off in 2020, now posting an interception and forced fumble already this season.
On the next drive, Marcus Peters got in on the action as well. Peters leaped and made a diving interception on a pass attempt from Deshuan Watson, again showcasing his high-level instincts and ball skills.
It’s simple — Humphrey and Peters are certified playmakers.