In Week 2 of the 2023 regular season, the Baltimore Ravens returned to the scene where their 2022 postseason ended and avenged that heart-breaking loss with a vindicating 27-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
In a game that they were widely expected to lose by national media pundits and despite missing several starters to injury, the team was able to take care of business thanks in no small part to some of their less-heralded players on both sides of the ball.
This article highlights the players whose performances flew under the radar but were still clutch, the unsung heroes.
OL Patrick Mekari and Sam Mustipher
As much as the entire offensive line deserves credit for Sunday’s sensational blocking performance in which Lamar Jackson wasn’t sacked once, was hit just one time, and the team racked up 178 yards on the ground, these two veterans deserve special recognition. Mekari started at left tackle in place of All-Pro Ronnie Stanley who was out with a knee sprain and Mustipher did the same for 2022 first-round center Tyler Linderbaum who missed the first game of his career with an ankle sprain.
Ravens OL Pass Block Grades (Per PFF)— Kyle Phoenix Barber (@KylePBarber) September 18, 2023
C Sam Mustipher - 83.3
OT Morgan Moses - 69.9
OT Patrick Mekari - 69.5
RG Kevin Zeitler - 62.9
LG John Simpson - 47.4
Mustipher was going up against one of the best nose tackles in the league in veteran DJ Reader who recorded just two tackles, none of which were for a loss. What made Mekari’s performance in pass protection especially notable was the fact that he spent most of the game going up against two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson who had recorded 4 sacks in his previous four games against the Ravens since joining the Bengals in 2021.
Bengals star DE Trey Hendrickson, lining up primarily over Patrick Mekari, didn't have a single QB pressure today, per @NextGenStats.— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) September 17, 2023
Overall, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson was hit just once and sacked zero times.
CB Rock Ya-Sin
Even though he was outsnapped by ninth-year veteran Ronald Darby 35-25, the fifth-year veteran made a much more profound impact on the game and should earn even more playing time moving forward. With the Bengals threatening to potentially take the lead late in the second quarter and deep into Ravens’ territory facing a third-and-5 from their own 9-yard line, Ya-Sin ripped what initially looked like a go-ahead touchdown from the grasp of two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
The clutch play forced fourth down and made the Bengals settle for a short field goal to tie the game at 10-10 instead of giving them their first lead of the game. On the ensuing possession, the Ravens offense would march 68 yards in 15 plays to break the tie and head into halftime leading 13-10, a margin that they’d ultimately win by in the end.
CB Brandon Stephens
In his second game filling in for three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey as the Ravens’ No. 1 cornerback, the third-year pro played 100 percent of the defensive snaps again and performed more than admirably. He helped the joint effort that held Chase to just 5 catches and less than 40 receiving yards for the second week in a row to start the season by playing impressive and aggressive press-man coverage as was their plan heading into this matchup.
Brandon Stephens: "Going into this week, I wanted to press. The game plan was, we’re going to press every snap and make it tough on the receivers."— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) September 17, 2023
One of Stephens’ most impressive plays down in the red zone where he used the boundary to prevent Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins from getting both feet down in bounds for a touchdown. He finished with 4 total tackles including a pair of solos and showed that he still deserves to see the field early and often even after Humphrey returns.
CB Ar’Darius Washington
The third-year pro continued to prove that he is well-deserving of the expanded role he earned during training camp and the preseason against the Bengals. While Washington did give up a 3-yard touchdown to Higgins that cut the Ravens’ double-digit lead in the third quarter to just a field goal, the 5-foot-8 nickel cornerback shouldn’t have been put in that disadvantageous in 1-on-1 coverage with a 6-foot-4 receiver on a high leverage down.
Outside of that, he was played exceptionally well again and finished with the third-most total tackles on the team with 5 and 1 of their 5 quarterback hits. Washington also logged a pass deflection where he pushed Bengals tight end Irv Smith out of bounds before his second foot could come down in bounds to force the first three-and-out of the game.