In the divisional round of the 2023 playoffs, the Baltimore Ravens faced the red-hot Houston Texans and sent them riding off into the offseason with a dominant 34-10. It marked the top-seeded Ravens’ first time advancing past the second round of the postseason since their last Super Bowl run in 2012 and means that Charm City will host its first conference title game since 1971 when the Baltimore Colts were the resident NFL franchise.
In a game where they were heavily favored to come out on top, the Ravens won in overwhelming fashion, in the end, thanks to some underrated yet impactful performances from a handful of well-known starters and several of their less-heralded players making plays on both sides of the ball.
This article highlights the players whose performances flew under the radar but were still clutch — the unsung heroes.
CB Arthur Maulet
The seventh-year veteran only rushed the passer three times but based on the results of each instance, was arguably their most impactful pass rusher of the game. Maulet was sent on a nickel blitz all three times and was unblocked every time, resulting in throwaways and drive-ending pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished with the third-most pressures on the team including a quarterback hit and two hurries. He was also tight in coverage and displayed excellent open-field tackling, finishing with the third most total tackles on the team with four including three solos.
Arthur Maulet rushed the quarterback three times on Saturday and produced three unblocked pressures. This one is the fourth-and-5 to end the game, where the Ravens end up only rushing three and Maulet still goes untouched on his way to C.J. Stroud pic.twitter.com/uJSYpEKCHq— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 21, 2024
RB Justice Hill
The fifth-year veteran continued to be arguably the most consistently unsung hero on the entire team with his performance against the Texans. In his sixth start of the season, he played his largest share of total offensive snaps (57%) since Week 15 and made the most of the opportunity. Hill finished first on the team in carries with 13, second in rushing with 66 yards—first among running backs, averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and caught both of his targets for 11 receiving yards. He ran hard between the tackles, fought for extra yards, displayed excellent contact balance, and the combination of footwork, vision, and burst to make something out of nothing by changing directions or bouncing a run outside to dart upfield.
DT Justin Madubuike
The fourth-year breakout star didn’t record a sack but was incredibly disruptive as a pass rusher all the same. He led the team with seven pressures according to PFF, including the most hurries with five and the most quarterback hits with two. Madubuike finished with the second-best pass rush grade on the team with 81.7 and had the eighth-highest overall grade with 78.0.
Justin Madubuike was so disruptive yesterday vs Texans OGs... Really taken the next step with his game this season.— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) January 21, 2024
The NFL has a rich pool of problematic iDL these days. pic.twitter.com/1ZfuE8aEEO
The 2023 Pro Bowler and Second-Team All-Pro selection made impactful plays as a run defender as well, finishing with three total tackles and two solos, one of which was for a loss after he shed a block and proceeded to suplex a ball carrier a yard behind the line of scrimmage.
CB Ronald Darby
The ninth-year veteran stepped up in a major way in the place of three-time Pro Bowler Marlon Humphrey, who was inactive with a calf injury that has lingered since Week 17. Darby was the Ravens’ most consistent corner in coverage and was vital to limiting Texans’ breakout third-year wide receiver Nico Collins to a modest five receptions for 68 receiving yards on 10 targets. He finished with three solo tackles, two pass breakups on Collins, and only allowed two receptions for 28 yards according to PFF.
Ronald Darby vs. the Texans:— PFF BAL Ravens (@PFF_Ravens) January 21, 2024
2 receptions allowed, 28 yards
2 forced incompletions
After an up-and-down first half where most of the Ravens’ offense came on Lamar Jackson scrambles while their starting blocking unit struggled to hold up against heavy pressure, the big boys in the trenches bounced back and took over the game in the second half. While the biggest adjustment was to have their MVP quarterback get the ball out quicker, there were still some instances where they picked up pressure and gave him ample time to throw. They paved the way for 229 rushing yards and helped their quarterback make NFL history by becoming the first player to throw and rush for 100 yards, have a passer rating of over 100, and record two rushing and two passing touchdowns in the same game.
The most noticeable and not-worthy performance was that of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who played inspired and was especially dominant in the second half as a run blocker. Stanley also excelled in pass protection, where he earned the highest pass-blocking grade per PFF with 88.0.
Ronnie Stanley putting dudes back in the dirt again pic.twitter.com/k8A0XgmF87— Yuri (@Yuri_Ravens) January 21, 2024
Later on that same drive, the Ravens faced a fourth-and-one near midfield from the Houston 49-yard line and when they opted to go for it, Stanley was the lineman they had Jackson run behind to pick up the first down and then some on a 14-yard designed run.
Stanley finished with an overall PFF grade of 80.5 and was one of four Ravens offensive linemen that earned a mark over 80 with the other three being Patrick Mekari (81.2) who rotates with him on the blindside, right tackle Morgan Moses (81.0), and right guard Kevin Zeitler (82.6).
DT Michael Pierce
The eighth-year veteran didn’t stuff the stat sheet and was only credited with one assisted tackle but was able to have a profound impact on the game nonetheless according to his tape and PFF grades. Pierce helped lead the charge for the Ravens’ dominant run defense that yielded just 38 yards—the second-lowest total of the season—and joined Madubuike in wreaking havoc as an interior pass rusher. He generated two pressures by hurrying Stroud and finished with PFF’s highest pass-rush grade (81.9) and their highest overall grade (89.2) of any Ravens player on either side of the ball.
WR/RS Devin Duvernay
The fourth-year pro and two-time Pro Bowl return specialist was back in action for the first time after missing the final four games of the regular season while on injured reserve with a back injury. Although he didn’t see a single snap of action on offense, Duvernay made his presence felt and the biggest impact on special teams when his 37-yard kick return on his second opportunity set the Ravens re-focused offense up with favorable field position to open the second half. It sparked the drive that would eventually break the 10-10 stalemate and put the home team up for good.
OLB Kyle Van Noy
The 10th-year pro was also disruptive both against the run and as a pass rusher, finishing with the second most pressures on the team with four hurries according to PFF. As impressive as the relentless pressure he helped put Stroud under was, Van Noy’s most impressive play resulted in his lone tackle of the game when shot the gap between the left tackle and left guard to stop Texans running back Devin Singletary for no gain. What made it so significant was that it occurred on third and short on the Houston side of the field and forced them to punt the ball away in the second quarter when the game was still close.
WR Rashod Bateman
The third-year pro hauled in all three of his targets for just 39 receiving yards, the second highest total on the team. What was more impactful than the total themselves was when they came. His first reception was for nine yards and set the Ravens up in field goal range on their first scoring drive of the game. The second was also for nine yards and resulted in a first down in the red zone that extended the eventual touchdown drive to open the second half. Bateman’s third catch came on the same play that Stanley was highlighted in above for being dominant in pass protection. After not initially being open, he kept working until he gained separation downfield and hooked up with Jackson for a 21-yard gain on the following drive that also finished in the end zone and was the offense’s longest of the day.
DT Travis Jones
The second-year pro was another interior defensive lineman who was highly disruptive in this game and made several impactful plays in just 28 defensive snaps. Jones flushed Stroud of the pocket numerous times and was credited with two hurries according to PFF and finished with a solo tackle, a quarterback hit, and a pass deflection that should’ve been an interception by All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton in the first half and would’ve ended what wound up being the Texans’ only scoring drive of the game.