There’s been so much talk this season about what the Ravens, now 6-3 and heading into their bye week atop the AFC North, don’t have. They lack a No. 1 wide receiver and a healthy game-breaking running back. They lack an in-his-prime defensive player who can take over the game in crunch time. But Monday night, albeit against a Saints team with plenty of its own issues, the Ravens offered a reminder of what they do have: one of the league’s deepest rosters.
DeCosta has been the subject of much criticism in recent months, particularly for his approach at receiver after trading Marquise Brown. It’s a fair critique and it’s still hard to imagine the Ravens making a deep playoff run with their current group of wide receivers. In victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Saints, the Ravens struggled at times in the passing game and took over in the second half by embracing a run-heavy approach. Will they be diverse and dynamic enough offensively against the Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Tennessee Titans and Miami Dolphins to win in January?
That remains to be seen. But what can’t be argued is that DeCosta has found ways to augment the team’s roster with cheap, under-the-radar moves. Picking up Drake late in the summer qualifies. Drake went from a healthy scratch early in the season to an extremely productive stand-in with both Dobbins and Edwards hurt.
But returning to a defense with growing confidence and improving depth at outside linebacker, a healthy Houston is wreaking havoc like the younger version of himself who made four straight Pro Bowls for Kansas City from 2012-15. The veteran edge defender has collected 6 1/2 sacks in just 73 snaps over the last three games with Next Gen Stats ranking him as the NFL’s most efficient pass rusher by pressure rate and sack rate through Week 9. It’s a reflection of a growing rotation that should help veterans like Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul and even younger options remain productive and fresh over a long season.
With his 2 1/2 sacks and interception in Monday’s 27-13 win at New Orleans, Houston became the first player in Ravens history to register multiple sacks in three straight games, which is quite an accomplishment playing for a franchise built on a tradition of defensive dominance. Baltimore is certainly happy Houston didn’t retire this summer.
“He just has a knack, but also, he’s still talented,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s still explosive. He’s still strong. He works really hard to keep himself in great shape and all that. He said it to the team [that it’s] not just him. All those other guys are setting [it] up.”
Roquan Smith wasted no time showing the predatory dimension he will bring to Baltimore.
Smith started his Ravens career with a pair of thunder claps, stepping into gaps on consecutive plays to drop Kamara short of a first down on the Saints’ second drive of the game. Macdonald’s defense lacked a hunt-and-stick player of Smith’s caliber — there aren’t many in all of football — and he wasted no time showing what general manager Eric DeCosta bought with second- and fifth-round picks.
Smith added a terrific open-field tackle to prevent a big gain as the Saints moved downfield in the two-minute drill before halftime. He finished with five stops while playing less — 75.5% of the team’s defensive snaps — than he probably will after he has taken the next two weeks to nail down the particulars of the Macdonald’s defense.
“I’m going to get accustomed, and it’s going to be scary after I get it all down pat, so I’m excited,” he said afterward. “I love the way Mike calls the game, so I think there’s going to be so many great things in store for us.”
“We needed a guy like that, and I am so happy we were able to get him,” Houston said. “I think that was crazy for them [Chicago] to let him go. I think he is one of the best linebackers in the game and to add him to this defense, that’s scary.”
Week 10 NFL Power Rankings: A New No. 1 at Midseason - Austin Gayle
Deep Postseason Contenders
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-3 | last week: 4)
Don’t sleep on Lamar Jackson as an MVP candidate. After securing a win over the Saints on Monday Night Football, the Ravens are tied with the Chiefs and Bills in the AFC with six wins going into their Week 10 bye. Despite injuries at running back, wide receiver, and along the offensive line, Jackson is leading a Baltimore offense that ranks eighth in EPA per drive, in large part because he is the league’s most efficient rusher by a substantial margin, ranking first among all ballcarriers with at least 80 attempts in EPA per rush and yards per carry (7.4).
The First Read, Week 10: Patrick Mahomes’ night a reminder QB position is key; Bears unlocking Fields - Jeffri Chadiha
Has Lamar Jackson helped or hurt his contract situation through first half of season?
AFC GENERAL MANAGER: ”I honestly don’t think we’ll have clarity on that one until we see how far he takes them into the playoffs. It’s a difficult situation but I understand the thinking on both sides and why nothing got done. I don’t think the team wants to be dishing out huge money for a top-level quarterback and possibly be landing in the bottom tier of their division (see Arizona and Denver right now). They already offered him more per year than Kyler Murray, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes before talks shut off so the team is on record as far as trying to pay Lamar at that level. It feels like they’re letting it play out to see if he can justify getting paid like he wants, which is significantly better than what Allen and Mahomes received. Deshaun Watson’s deal is already widely being cast as an anomaly, which is appropriate. Unfortunately, Lamar’s camp may be using that deal as a barometer instead of an outlier. I’m sure they feel like he can keep getting tagged at the high number — like (Kirk) Cousins did in Washington — and make that amount while keeping that leverage for an even bigger deal. But to get what he’s looking for, he’s going to need another MVP-caliber season and a legit Super Bowl appearance, or at least an AFC Championship Game. And he’s got to stay healthy.”