The Ravens are first in the AFC North, and have already won more divisional games this season than they had last year. They continuously feel they’re trending up and down on a given week. And, they are. Check the SB Nation Reacts poll...
So, following their Week 7 victory, here are my thoughts:
- That Was Not a Convincing Win
The last word means the most. The Ravens left with a win. But, mercy they try to give these games away. Running back Justice Hill coughed up the football when the clock was being bled. To his credit, Hill made a valiant effort turning a negative play into a sizable gain until fumbling. But, it’s those things that are just killers. Those things that they’ve tried to escape and they keep coming up each week.
No, I’m not alone or the first to state Sunday’s victory means there should be no more worries about the Ravens closing out games. But, it’s not a ‘convincing’ one when you have Tom Brady as your next opponent on a short week. Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look pitiful, but Ravens fans know Brady relishes defeating the Ravens and he’d love to add another fourth quarter comeback to his resume if they were to be down on the scoreboard in the final period.
2. Special Teams Means So Much More
The Ravens tend to win a game or two due to their special teams unit. Most times, it’s Justin Tucker knocking through a 50+ yard field goal. He did so on Sunday.
Over the past four years under Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton, the Ravens continue to thrive and lead the NFL in areas other teams dream of. Accurate kicking, field-flipping punts and rock-solid coverage from their protection and pursuit units. On Sunday, they demonstrated why special teams is of such importance to the team as rookie punter Jordan Stout, who had been struggling up earlier this season, sent a 69-yard punt to pin the Browns inside their own 10-yard line. Then, after the defense forced a three-and-out, All-Pro returner Devin Duvernay read his blocks and glided across the field for a 46-yard punt return.
Returning a punt or kick can be as back-breaking as an interception. In terms of field position, the Browns punted the ball away at their eight yard line. Duvernay had returned it to the 21. It’s as if cornerback Marcus Peters snared a deep shot to wide receiver Amari Cooper and brought it back to the red zone.
The Ravens’ special teams is good enough to gain them an extra win or two per season, and it makes sense why there is such an emphasis about special teamers when each year we see them give the offense or defense a boost.
3. Patrick Queen Flashes First-Round Play
When Queen is on, he can be among the games’ elite linebackers. When he’s off, it’s another story. On Sunday, Queen was on. When I asked him about his back-to-back tackles for loss, he gave credit to Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to “let me freak.”
I think Queen is one of the most misunderstood Ravens on the roster. He’s never been as bad as fans hold him to. It was unfair to ever place expectations of his play toward Ray Lewis, the best linebacker in NFL history. I also don’t believe it was fair to put aspirations of him on par with C.J. Mosley.
That said, he also needs to clean up the mistakes. He’ll tell you first that he knows. That he cares and it’s apparent all he wants to be is great and be the linebacker Baltimore is proud of. His development has been askew from dealing with COVID-19 protocols, shuffling of coaches and coordinators.
Veteran linebacker Justin Houston made a great point after Sunday’s game, saying the Ravens were going through ‘growing pains’ and that he prefers to go through them at the beginning of the season rather than the end. Queen’s PFF grades would argue in favor of Houston citing growing pains.
Over the first four weeks, Queen’s overall defensive grade averaged into a 52.7. The past three weeks he’s averaging a 79.9.
Now, part of Queen’s tribulations has been consistency. It’s a challenge for any player to be consistent. But, if it finally ‘clicked’ for Queen and he’s feeling comfortable and confident, the Ravens may have the young leader take the mantle he’s fought so hard for.