Singular performances and limited sample sizes aren’t always the most accurate indicators of future success, but they do make coming up with bold statements and lofty predictions more fun.
The Baltimore Ravens beat the two-time defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals 27-24 on Sunday to improve to 2-0 while dropping their rivals to 0-2 in the process. There were several impressive outings by players on both sides of the ball despite facing adversity on the injury front coming in that could garner some overreactions.
Here are a few noteworthy showings from the team’s Week 2 victory that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
Injured starters were hardly missed
The Ravens were without five key starters on Sunday but their primary backups and other depth players showed they can do a lot more than just hold down the fort against the Bengals. Many of them shined bright and made clutch game-changing and game-winning plays on both sides of the ball.
With All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and 2022 first-round center Tyler Linderbaum out, veteran do-it-all lineman Patrick Mekari and backup center Sam Mustipher performed exceptionally well. They helped the Ravens’ offensive line not surrender a single sack, only one quarterback hit, and pave the way for the ground game to rack up 178 rushing yards.
After losing starting running back J.K. Dobbins for the season in Week 1 to a torn Achilles, the backfield tandem of veterans Justice Hill and Gus Edwards combined to rush for 103 rushing yards and a touchdown in 21 carries for an average of nearly 5 yards per carry. Hill added another 12 yards as a receiver out of the backfield and Edwards picked the first down to seal the victory on the last possession of the game.
Despite being without All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey for the second week in a row and veteran ball-hawking safety Marcus Williams who suffered a pectoral injury in Week 1, the Ravens secondary played lights out for most of the game and came up with several clutch plays. Third-year pros Brandon Stephens and Ar’Darius Washington masterfully used the boundary and aggressive press-man coverage to prevent Bengals pass catchers from keeping their feet in bounds for complete conversions and even touchdowns.
Veteran Rock Ya-Sin showed exactly why the Ravens made him their first post-draft addition and why he deserves more playing time when he ripped a touchdown catch away from two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase on third-and-goal to force a short field goal.
The biggest play of the day that was made by a backup was the clutch third-quarter interception by fourth-year safety Geno Stone. He jumped what initially looked like it would’ve been a touchdown pass to Tee Higgins over the middle and proceeded to return it 36 yards and set up the offense for what would be their second touchdown drive of the game.
Lamar Jackson could emerge as the MVP front runner again
Before missing the final stretch of regular season games the past two seasons, the 2019 unanimous league MVP was among the top contenders to receive the prestigious honor for the second time in his career. Unfortunately, the injury bug eroded the skill position and offensive line talent around him before eventually claiming him as a victim as well with an ankle sprain in 2021 and a knee sprain in 2022.
Against the Bengals, Jackson shook off the rust that he showed in Week 1 as a result having not played in the preseason, and was phenomenal. The two-time Pro Bowler led a a well-balanced offensive attack to a successful outing where outgained (415-282), outscored (27-17), and flat-out outexecuted their rivals. He went 24-of-33 for 237 passing yards, two touchdowns with no interceptions, and a passer rating of 112.8.
Jackson’s most clutch plays came when his team needed them most in the fourth quarter as the Bengals tried to claw their way back. He dropped an absolute dime into the arms of veteran wide receiver Nelson Agholor for a 17-yard touchdown to go back up by 10 points early in the final frame.
His next most pivotal play came on the Ravens’ final possession of the game where he kept the offense from going three-and-out for a second straight drive by picking up 12 yards and a crucial first down to extend the victory-sealing four-minute drive. He finished second on the team in rushing with 54 yards on 12 carries and would’ve had the lead and nearly 100 yards on the ground had a few holding penalties not negated some of his longest runs.
If Jackson continues to improve, make strides, and become more comfortable in new Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s system, he will certainly enter the conversion for league MVP again and could very well emerge as the front runner for the third year in a row.
Gus Edwards deserves a heavier workload
The sixth-year veteran was out snapped by Hill 43-32 yet he was by far the more productive and potent ball carrier. While Hill still brings more to the table as a third-down back who excels at catching passes and pass protection, Edwards’ ability as a physical tone-setter and bruising runner should be utilized more often even if the snap distribution still results in Hill having a slight edge.
Edwards averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 10 carries, finished as the team’s leading rusher with 62 yards, and scored the first points of the game when he plowed across the goal line from 1 yard out.
“You want the ball in your hands. You want to make plays and contribute to the team,” Edwards said Sunday. “I’m grateful for the opportunity, and I just have to keep making the best of it.”
Jadeveon Clowney might wind up being best free agent signing
As impactful as veteran wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. already has been and will continue to be, his fellow three-time Pro Bowler and 2014 first-rounder could have an even greater impact on this year’s team in the end. While the Ravens are currently well-stocked with high-quality healthy depth at wide receiver, the same can’t be said for their outside linebacker depth chart.
With veteran Tyus Bowser and undrafted rookie Malik Hamm out until at least Week 5 on the Non-Football Injury list and Injured Reserve, respectfully, the Ravens have just four healthy edge defenders on the active 53-man roster and five including Malik Harrison who is listed at inside linebacker but moonlights on the outside at the SAM spot.
Clowney is already the veteran leader of the group of natural outside linebackers which also consists of 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh, 2022 second-rounder David Ojabo, and 2023 fourth-round rookie Tavius Robinson. He got the start at SAM against the Bengals on Sunday and for the second week in a row, was a consistently disruptive force as run defender and pass rusher.
The former No. 1 overall pick was a handful for Joe Burrow’s pass protection unit and managed to pressure him on several occasions. He finished with 4 total tackles including 3 solos, a tackle for loss, 2 quarterback hits, and the Ravens’ only sack of the game.
Given that Clowney has only been on the team for about a month after being signed near the end of the preseason, he could just scratch the surface of what he can become and how he can impact the game. Once he is in even better shape and more familiar with Mike Macdonald’s scheme, his ceiling as a potential difference-maker could raise even higher.