The Baltimore Ravens beat the Tennessee Titans 24-16 across the pond in London, England on Sunday to improve to 4-2, moving back into first place in the AFC North division standings. There were several encouraging performances by players in all three phases in a game where they were the healthiest they’ve been since start of the regular season.
Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 6 victory that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
It’s too early to call recent red zone struggles on offense a concern
Through the first four weeks of the 2023 regular season, the Ravens fielded the league’s best red zone offense, converting 80 percent of their drives that made it inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line for touchdowns. Over the past two weeks, they’ve been among the worst and dropped ninth with a 58.3 percent conversion rate after only scoring two touchdowns on eight opportunities in that area of the field.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 5 loss, the main culprit for their struggles in all areas of the field but especially down in the red zone was a slew of uncharacteristic drops by the Ravens’ pass catchers. The plays were there to be made and they literally let the ball go through or bounce off their hands.
In their Week 6 victory over the Titans, they were a woeful 1-of-5 on their red zone drives on a day where not a single pass was dropped according to Pro Football Focus. This time around they were going up against one of the best red zone defenses in the league that was ranked fourth coming in, but moved into the third spot after putting the clamps on the Ravens inside their 20 and forcing five Justin Tucker field goals under 40 yards.
The Ravens and first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken tried just about everything short of a trick play to try to get the ball in the end zone on Sunday but the Titans stood tall and only yielded a Zay Flowers 10-yard touchdown where he was being covered by a pass rusher. They ran the ball six times with running backs, once with tight end Mark Andrews for no gain on a wildcat quarterback sneak, seven times with Jackson between scrambles and designed runs, and threw the ball just twice on their five red zone trips.
Two games are still too small of a sample size to make any sweeping judgments or start slamming the panic button about their struggles in the red zone but what some often fail to realize is that making it inside the 20-yard line condenses the field and gives the defense far less ground to cover. There are no deep safeties, throwing windows are much tighter, and boxes near the line of scrimmage often become heavier, especially when a team is facing a dual-threat quarterback such as Jackson.
Moving forward, the Ravens won’t struggle as mightily as they did in the red zone on Sunday against the Titans. Monken will find answers and the players will make more plays than they are now. There’s also the fact that they have a dominant defense that is only allowing an average of 15.2 points per game through six weeks. They don’t have to be as aggressive going for it on fourth down inside the red zone because if they take the points more often than rolling the dice and risk coming up empty, their defense is the second-best unit at preventing opposing teams from converting in the red zone.
Lamar Jackson had another game greater than stats suggest
During his unanimous MVP-winning season, the Ravens star quarterback lit the league on fire and stuffed the stat sheet with gaudy stats almost every week. Through the first six weeks of the 2023 season, Jackson has only accounted for three or more touchdowns once, has yet to throw for over 250 passing yards in a single game, and has just one game of 100-plus rushing yards. Yet, he is having arguably his most impressive season to date and that continued on Sunday.
Jackson started the game on a hot streak of seven straight completions to five different targets and didn’t throw his first incompletion until the third-and-goal on the Ravens second offensive possession of the game. He finished 21-of-30 for 223 passing yards and one touchdown to one interception that looked like a miscommunication. While those numbers seem pedestrian on paper, the awe-inspiring story they fail to tell is how impressive several of the throws he made to get those yards were to behold.
Phenomenal job by Lamar Jackson to throw OBJ hot here.— Cole Jackson (@ColeJacksonFB) October 16, 2023
Overload takes advantage of the 5 man protection. Ronnie takes the inside man like he's supposed to.
Unblocked edge is read by Lamar and he hits OBJ in stride, throwing into the blitz (space vactated by LB).
*Chefs kiss pic.twitter.com/2uZtAz1wMp
The two-time Pro Bowler continues to look much-improved and deadly accurate as a passer from inside and outside the pocket. The way he utilizes his legs to consistently extend passing plays rather than convert them into scrambles when he tucks and runs further shows his growth, maturation, and dedication to playing the modern quarterback position at an even more elite level than he’s reached before.
Nevertheless, Jackson still made some of his best plays on scrambles where he ran as a last resort or was judicious when to take off after seeing nothing open and not having the time to let something else develop. He finished with a team-leading 62 yards on 13 attempts with his most impressive run being a three-yard rush where he worked his vintage ‘Lamarvelous’ magic.
Marcus Williams should go on the shelf until he’s fully healthy
The Ravens and the seven-year veteran dodged a huge bullet when it was revealed that the pectoral injury he suffered in the season opener wouldn’t require season-ending surgery. He wound up missing the next three games and has started the last two although he didn’t finish Sunday’s game due to a hamstring injury.
As great as it is that he’s not done for the year, Williams hasn’t quite looked like himself since returning to the lineup. At times, it looks like he is playing with just one arm while keeping the arm that his injury pec is attached to out of harm’s way at all times. He has still managed to make some huge clutch plays against the Titans including a pass breakup that led to a sack on third-and-long and making the shoestring tackle that prevented three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick from scoring on his game-long and season-long 63-yard run.
While having Williams between 70 and 90 percent would still be preferable to most starting safeties in the league, the Ravens would be better off letting him fully heal from the hamstring strain he suffered in Week 6 and take even more time to recover from his pectoral injury. The only reason they can afford to do so is because of the emergence of fourth-year pro Geno Stone who started seven games in place of Williams last year when he suffered a dislocated wrist and has taken his game to another level during what is a surprising break out season.
The 2020 seventh-rounder out of Iowa is fourth on the team in total tackles with 26, has three pass breakups, and is tied for the league lead in interceptions with three. On the play that Williams was injured in Week 6, Stone had just come up with a clutch interception of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the third quarter with the Ravens holding just a five-point lead.
The crucial turnover gave the Ravens the momentum back, sparked an eventual scoring drive, and just further reinforced the fact that the defense will still have a ball-hawking playmaker in the secondary if Williams needs to rest for a little while. He finished with three total tackles including a solo, and a pass breakup, and was the highest-graded Raven on either side of the ball by PFF with an overall of 90.1.
Head Coach John Harbaugh told reporters on Monday that Williams’ availability for the team’s Week 7 nonconference matchup with the Detroit Lions at home is “iffy” already so Stone could be in line to make his fourth start of the season and 12th of his career this upcoming Sunday.
An aspect of the defense that Williams’ absence would certainly negatively impact is the ability of Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald to deploy the best multiple safety looks in the league. With veteran Daryl Worley on injured reserve for another few weeks and seasoned veteran Duron Harmon having been signed off the practice squad, the only other viable third safety option on the roster currently are veteran special teams ace DeAndre Houston-Carson who is on the practice squad or moving stud outside cornerback Brandon Stephens back to safety where he played exclusively as a rookie.
The ripple effect of him not being in the lineup would likely mean far fewer snaps for second-year pro Kyle Hamilton as the hybrid nickel defender and more snaps for Arthur Maulet in the slot which is actually not bad considering how well he’s played overall.
Pass rush has gone from offseason concern to overwhelming strength
For months leading up to the start of the regular season, the two biggest question marks and concerns that analyst, pundits, and beat reporters alike associated with the 2023 Ravens were the cornerback and outside linebacker position. They waited until the fourth round of the 2023 NFL draft to take an edge defender and the fifth to take a corner. However, the first post-draft move that General Manager Eric DeCosta made was signing experienced fifth-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
Many speculated that the team would eventually reunite with four-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Justin Houston, who spent the past two years with the team and was their leader in sacks in 2022 with 9.5. In early August, the 34-year-old opted to sign with the Carolina Panthers who are currently the only winless team in the league and he has just half a sack in six starts.
The Ravens pivoted to signing three-time Pro Bowler Jadeveon Clowney shortly thereafter and couldn’t be happier with how it has turned out. Macdonald’s unit is tied with the Buffalo Bills for the most sacks in the league through six games with 24 and the former No. 1 overall pick is tied for second in the team in sacks with 3.5 and according to PFF, his 29 total pressures through six games has already tied his total from the entire 2022 season.
Against the Titans in Week 6, he was disruptive all game long but really came on strong late when the Ravens needed to close out the game and secure the win. Clowney finished with two solo tackles for loss, two sacks, and four quarterback hits and per PFF, he led the team with nine pressures and a pressure percentage of 45 percent and earned a pass-rushing grade of 85.9.
Jadeveon Clowney wrecked shop in London using a wide variety of different tools.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) October 17, 2023
Here's a look at a bunch of his 9 pressures against the Titans. pic.twitter.com/rPIlKxC4uC
Fellow veteran Kyle Van Noy who has only been on the team for less than a month was also very disruptive on the edge. He recorded his first sack as Ravens and would’ve had two if his initial first hadn’t been negated by penalty. He finished with a solo tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, and a batted pass and according to PFF, he totaled six pressures on 21 pass-rushing snaps in his most extensive playing time of the season thus far.
The most consistently dominant pass rusher for the Ravens on Sunday and through the first six games of the season has been fourth-year defensive lineman Justin Madubuike. Against the Titans, he lined up inside as well as on the edge and is now the team’s leader in sacks on the year with 4.5 after recording a pair on Sunday. He finished with the third-most tackles on the team with five total including four solos and two for a loss, and four quarterback hits. Per PFF, he recorded six pressures on 25 pass rush snaps and had a pass rush win rate of 20 percent.
Justin Madubuike can line up anywhere and do damage.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) October 17, 2023
"I love the edge. Anywhere on the defensive line – nose tackle or end – I enjoy it. I just love playing defensive line." pic.twitter.com/H8CokH5hFq
The Ravens have 11 different players with a sack and four with three or more. Heading into the season, they were banking on 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh and 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo breaking out as their starting edge tandem. Both players are currently battling injuries but thankfully, DeCosta’s low-cost veteran signings are already yielding high rewards.
Passing attack is on the precipice of exploding
While the unit has struggled to finish drives in the end zone as of late, they have also shown several explosive flashes through the air during that span that should inspire a lot of confidence in what they can be moving forward. They have several wide receivers that do a lot of damage after the catch and their two veterans showed as much during the Ravens potent first half when they outgained the Titans 242 yards to 66 yards of total offense with most of it coming via the passing game.
On the first offensive possession of the game, ninth-year veteran and former first-rounder Nelson Agholor nearly took a quick receiver screen to the house for what would’ve been a 67-yard touchdown had he not been tripped up by shoe string tackle. He was still able to move the ball into Titans territory and record his second-longest reception of the season for 21 yards.
Three-time Pro Bowl wideout Odell Beckham Jr. almost had a house call as well on his longest reception of the game and season thus far on the Ravens’ second offensive possession of the game. After Jackson audibled the play to counter incoming pressure off his blindside he delivered a quick strike to the 10-year veteran who caught the ball in stride and ripped off 32 yards before he was brought down. Beckham would’ve likely taken it the distance had Agholor been able to get a block on Titans safety Kevin Byard or if he would’ve made him miss in open space.
The longest play of the game for the Ravens through air and ground was a 38-yard dart that Jackson delivered to three-time Pro Bowl tight Mark Andrews in the fourth quarter. The clutch connection moved the offense from inside their own 20-yard line past midfield and into Titans territory. Andrews finished as the team’s leader in receiving yards with 69 and according to PFF, his seven catches of 15 or more yards lead all players at his position through six weeks.
Putting together two explosive halves has been a struggle for the Ravens to start the season in games where they get off to a sizzling start and their failure to do so has been different in almost every instance. One week it was bad drops, another week it was untimely turnovers, and sometimes it appears as if they took their foot off the gas a bit because of either game flow or injuries at key positions began to mount as they did in the season opener and in the second half of their Week 4 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Either way, the Ravens have shown that they are more than capable of being consistently explosive through the air and it’s only a matter of time before those 20 and 30-plus yard gains start becoming 40 and 50-plus yard touchdowns.