The Baltimore Ravens didn’t play their best game in Week 8 but were still able to come away with a 31-24 win over the Arizona on Sunday to improve to 6-2, staying in first place in the AFC North division standings. There were several encouraging performances by players in all three phases of the interconference matchup where the final score wasn’t indicative of how convincingly they won.
Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 8 win that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
Ravens are the best team in the AFC
Even though they weren’t able to replicate last week’s dominant performance against the lowly yet feisty Cardinals, the Ravens found a way to win nonetheless. Even though they briefly trailed in the first quarter, they were never out of control and it just seemed like a matter of if and not when they would eventually pull away. The defense sparked the offense with turnovers that resulted in short fields and they went a perfect 4-of-4 in the red zone.
“You have to find a way to win those games,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I think the best teams over time prove that they’ll win games even when they’re not at their best. They’ll find a way to win games late. They’ll find a way to win a game when they can’t run it, when they can’t throw it, or when they can’t stop something. They’ll still find a way to win the game. Really, that’s players. That’s character. That’s also talent, ability [and] confident guys who can make plays. I felt like our guys did a good job of that today.”
At 6-2 through the first eight weeks of the season, the Ravens are tied with the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Miami Dolphins for the best record in the conference and have a strong case to stake a claim as being the best of the bunch.
“We’re tied for the lead, I guess, but it’s a long season,” Harbaugh said. “As we always say, ‘Nobody’s crowned after eight games.’ There’s a lot of football to be played. The season is long for a reason, and it does weed out the best. If we want to be the best or considered the best, we’re going to have to do it over the long haul. [I’m] very confident in our guys. I think our guys have what it takes – character, toughness [and] resilience.”
The Ravens will have a chance to prove they are better than the Jaguars and Dolphins over a three-week span in December. They travel down to Duval County in Week 15 for a Sunday night primetime matchup with Jacksonville and in Week 17, they will host Miami for a Sunday afternoon game that could get flexed into primetime.
“This team is special, and I think anybody that watches our games can see that,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “The caliber of players at every position that we have is special, and that includes the coaching staff. So, we’re never satisfied, this is just the beginning. The last three weeks, we’ve been turning that leaf over and getting better and better. So, for us, just continuing to work, focusing on ourselves, tune out all the outside noise. That doesn’t matter to us, we’re just worried about ourselves and getting better.”
Ravens don’t need to add another running back
The team has been linked in several trade rumors involving notable playmakers on both sides of the ball who are believed to be available ahead of Tuesday’s midseason deadline. By far, the most popular projection as of late has been the acquisition of three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry from the Tennessee Titans.
While the two-time league rushing champion is one of the most feared, respected, and renowned power backs in the league, the Ravens already have a nice stable of players at the position led by arguably the most underrated power back in the league.
Against the Cardinals in Week 8, sixth-year veteran Gus Edwards had a career day with his first three-touchdown game. Not only would he not be denied near the goal line, he helped the offense pick up several drive-extending first downs and burn a lot of time off the clock in the second half after they built a two-score lead.
They also have fifth-year veteran Justice Hill who rushed for just 15 yards but was able to do a lot of damage as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He finished tied with Andrews for the most receiving yards on the team with 40 on four catches with a long of 24 yards. Undrafted rookie sparkplug Keaton Mitchell missed this game with a hamstring injury but when he’s healthy, he’ll be yet another explosive playmaker.
“We’re confident in Gus. We’re confident in Justice. Obviously, we want to get our guy Keaton back and get healthy with that,” Harbaugh said. “And Melvin Gordon – he’s sitting there on our practice squad, and we think the world of him, too. We’re going to try and find a way to get him involved. Yes, we like our running backs a lot.”
Ravens should extend Geno Stone before his price gets any higher
There are several players on both sides of the ball who are stepping up and having career years for the 2023 Ravens. No player on the team has raised their game and played well above expectation more than the fourth-year free safety. Stone has recorded an interception in each of the last three games and now leads the league with a career-high five. The next closest defender to matching his total is Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland with four but no one else has more than three.
His clutch late third-quarter takeaway didn’t just give the offense another short field to work with, it made franchise history. The only other Ravens player to have five interceptions through the first eight games of the regular season was none other than Hall of Fame inductee Ed Reed in 2007.
Most interceptions by a Ravens player in the team's first 8 games of a season:— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) October 30, 2023
5 - Ed Reed, 2007
5 - Geno Stone, 2023
In many ways, Stone is having the kind of dominant season that many believed the high-priced veteran player he has been filling in for—Marcus Williams—would be having this year had it not been for his continued struggles with injuries. The fact that his absence has hardly been noticeable from a stability and playmaking standpoint is a testament to Stone’s ability. General Manager Eric DeCosta should attempt to work out a long-term deal to keep him around before the season ends if he keeps this torrid pace up or even if he doesn’t because now he has proven that he is capable of doing it.
Stone’s fellow 2020 draft classmate, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, is also having a tremendously productive breakout season with a team-leading and career-high 6.5 sacks in eight games. However, a young interior pass rusher on pace for double-digit sacks is way more likely to price himself out of town than a defensive back at a devalued position even if they have incredible ball skills.
Rashod Bateman deserves to be more involved on offense
The Ravens have put more of an emphasis on getting the ball to standout rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers and three-time Pro Bowler Odell Beckham Jr, but getting the ball in the hands of the third-year pro needs to be a priority as well. He recorded just two receptions for the third week in a row, finishing with 34 receiving yards, and added 18 yards on a jet sweep carry. Bateman was able to flash the explosive playmaking ability he possesses yet again. Two of his three touches went for over 15 yards and resulted in a new set of downs on eventual touchdown drives, one in each half.
“It’s so big. [Rashod Bateman had] two big plays,” Harbaugh said. “The early catch, to keep the drive alive, to go get the ball and take it away from the defender, was just … You’re not going to see a better play than that.
Bateman’s talent has been undeniably impressive through his first two years in the league but injuries have prevented him from staying on the field and realizing his full potential. Now that his latest health setback appears to be in the rearview, the team believes he will come on much stronger down the stretch.
“[It’s] the fact that he’s been able to stack practices now and get a feel in the offense and catch balls and run routes and compete for balls,” Harbaugh said. “I would say it’s just starting to kind of come together for him that way. I’m hoping … I think the second half of the season for Rashod is going to be big [and] is going to be very successful.”
Jordan Stout continues to have an elite All-Pro season
The second-year punter has been a field-flipping weapon for the Ravens this season with a quiet breakout campaign that is becoming too obvious to ignore. He continued his consistently stellar play on Sunday against the Cardinals when he pinned their offense at or inside their own 10-yard line on four of his five attempts.
“We played a very good special teams game yesterday,” Harbaugh said. “We had 4 punts inside the 10[-yard line]. Our net punt was [a 46.2 average]. It’s pretty unbelievably good.”
It is difficult for teams to find one elite specialist, let alone two, but that is exactly what the Ravens have with Stout and future Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker. Having a punter that can consistently pin the opposing team back is key to putting away lesser teams and winning the battle of field position against higher-level opponents, especially come playoff time. While Stout has a ways to go to reach legendary status, he is already an elite player at his often-overlooked position.