The Baltimore Ravens faced off with the Los Angeles Chargers in their second straight primetime game in Week 12. They’ll be heading into their bye week on a high note after notching a 20-10 victory on Sunday Night Football. In an AFC clash that they were favored to win, the Ravens didn’t make it easy on themselves or the blood pressure of their collective fan base.
Their defense did its job and then some. They dominated and put everything to put the Ravens in position to win, aside from finding the end zone themselves. Meanwhile, after a very hot and promising start to the game, the offense struggled to stay on the field nearly caused the team’s downfall before coming through late.
Below are some of the top takeaways from the Ravens’ triumph in Week 12.
Ravens continue to exorcise second half demons
Through the first 11 weeks of the season, the Ravens began the fourth quarter with a lead. However, they failed to hold onto their advantage three times, resulting in a 9-3 record —which many believe should be an undefeated record. Sunday night made in 12 games in a row, as the Ravens led the Chargers 13-3. There were eerily familiar signs and omens that the Ravens might give away another late lead, but they were able to find a way to finish.
“I thought the fourth quarter was a statement,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “We put an exclamation point in the fourth quarter. Defense getting the stops and offense finishing.”
The defense dominated for all but the opening drive of the game and one in the fourth quarter, which cut their lead from double figures to a field goal with 8:36 left remaining. However, time and time again, they stepped up when the team needed a big play, whether it be a clutch stop or timely turnover.
After exciting signs of innovation on their first three drives, the offense fell into a bit of a lull after they turned the ball over on downs in the second quarter. They failed to capitalize on a pair of fumbles that the defense forced and only came away with three points. Then, they scored the only points of the third quarter with another field goal.
However, when it came time to snatch the momentum following a Chargers touchdown and missed field goal by Justin Tucker, they delivered. The Ravens put together a swift four-play drive that covered 44 yards in 18 seconds, capped off by Zay Flowers’ second touchdown of the game. They drove a spear through the heart of the narrative that they’re a team who struggles to close out games.
"We got the one tonight and I'm proud of the guys for that." pic.twitter.com/ekIWx8OQLs— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 27, 2023
Defense is definitely championship caliber
Mike Macdonald’s unit continued to prove that it’s arguably the best in the league with an outstanding two halves of play. They produced a takeaway or turnover on downs six times including three forced fumbles, an interception, and on downs twice in the fourth quarter. The Ravens yielded just 279 yards of total offense, held Pro Bowl quarterback Justin Herbert to 217 passing yards on 44 attempts while sacking him three times, and held the Chargers to just 86 rushing yards on the night — 35 of which came on one late scramble.
Taking our guys over anybody pic.twitter.com/FOHygATB7p— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 27, 2023
After the game, Harbaugh sang the praises of Macdonald and even went as far as to say that “you can’t call a better game than he did tonight“ — which is hard to refute.
“Mike was aggressive and he mixed it up,” Harbaugh said. “There were times where I wanted pressure in my mind and he played coverage and it worked out. And there were times where I wanted coverage and he wanted pressure.”
Several defenders had sensational individual performances. Second-year defensive back Kyle Hamilton continued to bolster his already ironclad case to be a First-Team All-Pro. He was all over the field shining in coverage, as an open-field tackler, and behind the line of scrimmage as a screen killer. He finished with six total tackles including two for a loss and a pass deflection.
Fellow breakout star, fourth-year defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, became the first Ravens player to reach double-digit sacks since Terrell Suggs in 2017 with a half-a-sack. He also recorded a tackle and a team-leading three quarterback hits before exiting late in concussion protocol.
Both starting inside linebackers forced a fumble, recorded seven or more total tackles, and broke up a pass. Roquan Smith led the team with eight total takedowns while Patrick Queen had the only tackle for loss of the two, which resulted in a loss of four yards on a blown-up screen.
Three-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney was a consistently disruptive force off the edge as a pass rusher and edge setter. He tied for the second-most quarterback hits on the team with two, recorded three total tackles, and came up with a crucial strip sack and fumble recovery early in the fourth quarter. It killed a nearly nine-minute drive that spanned 19 plays and covered 61 yards.
Questionable coaching decisions nearly cost Ravens dearly
Even though the Ravens were in firm control for most of this game, they were never up big on the scoreboard. There were several head-scratching choices made or not made by Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken throughout the game that prevented them from putting it away sooner.
The officials had an extremely poor night with spotting the ball. On a couple notable instances where a Ravens’ ball carrier had clearly crossed the line to gain, they were ruled to be short. The first was a third-down scramble by quarterback Lamar Jackson in the second quarter, where he escaped to his left and stretched the ball across the first-down marker. The second was on a 21-yard reception by wide receiver Nelson Agholor in the third quarter on 2nd & 22. It actually went for 23 yards because he hit the ground in bounds beyond the first-down marker.
Instead of throwing the challenge flag on what would’ve been easily overturned, Harbaugh allowed the offense to hastily get back to the line and try to run a play quickly. Monken’s play calls on the ensuing plays were even more mind-boggling. He dialed up a direct snap to running back Gus Edwards that got blown up on fourth-and-inches and then a quick screen to Flowers that was nearly intercepted.
After the game, Harbaugh admitted they thought that they had the first down on the third-quarter catch by Agholor and it wasn’t until after they called the next play that realized he had been called short. The result was a fourth down and eventually a punt.
Monken appeared to be calling a great game until the Edwards direct snap play instead of having Jackson just give him the ball on a traditional handoff. After that, there were several more instances where he tried to get too cute or too pass-happy with his play selection. The Ravens were averaging nearly five yards per carry before Flowers’ 37-yard jet sweep touchdown to ice the game. He had Justice Hill in at running back during some goal line and short-yardage situations instead of Edwards. Edwards has proven he is far more likely to convert in those down-and-distance instances.
The Ravens had a chance to potentially put the game away in the fourth quarter following Clowney’s strip-sack but went three and out without even taking a minute off the clock. They picked up five yards on an Edwards first-down rush then proceeded to call two straight passes that resulted in incompletions and led to a punt. Thankfully, none of these decisions ultimately cost the team a win but they are prime examples of areas that need to be addressed moving forward.
Offensive line struggled mightily in pass protection
While the Ravens were able to rush for nearly 200 yards on 35 carries, their starting blocking unit had a much more inconsistent performance. They struggled to provide Jackson with clean pockets and keep him upright. They gave up a pair of sacks, a trio of quarterback hits, and several pressures throughout the game that led to incompletions on throw aways or overthrown passes.
Jackson’s ability to pass from a clean pocket compared to a collapsing one was night and day in this game. According to NextGenStats, the two-time Pro Bowler was 16-for-20 for 159 passing yards and a touchdown when facing no pressure and just 2-for-12 for 18 passing yards when facing pressure. On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, Jackson wasn’t able to deliver an accurate pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who had gotten behind Chargers slot corner Alohi Gilman. The pressure in his face forced an inaccurate overthrow.
There wasn’t just one main culprit in this game when it came to the lapses in pass protection. Both tackles struggled at times and even second-year Pro Bowl-bound center Tyler Linderbaum allowed a key pressure that forced Jackson to get rid of the ball. This was left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s first game back after missing Week 11 with a knee injury. Both he and right tackle Morgan Moses — who has missed time with a shoulder injury — had their hands full with seven-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Khalil Mack. Mack recorded both of the Chargers’ sacks.
Bye week comes at perfect time for players and coaches
After a grueling 12 weeks to open the season, the Ravens will finally have a break from action in Week 13. It couldn’t have come at a better juncture in the season. Several players are banged up and could benefit from the rest and extra time to get treatment. This will allow players like Stanley to get healthier and three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey more time to heal and get right for the final stretch. Humphrey missed the past two games with a calf injury.
Beckham is another player who is dealing with minor injuries and will definitely benefit from not having to put his body through as much stress. He is battling a shoulder injury that is causing him pain. Those who play in the trenches both sides could use a nice break from all the significant collisions that they endure each game.
As far as the coaches go, this will be an excellent time for them to reflect and self-scout on what has worked thus far, what hasn’t, and what needs to be improved upon moving forward. Adjustments to personnel, play calls, and in-game management on offense will likely be a main focus, as well as the continued innovation of a defensive scheme that is already elite.
This could also be a time that General Manager Eric DeCosta and the front office look to put the finishing touches on an already championship-caliber roster. One area where they might be looking to add is another depth piece is the interior defensive line. There are still a handful of quality options available on the open market.