Ravens 10-pack on finding big-play formula, an emerging secondary star, and more

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
The Ravens found a big-play formula with eight gaining 20 yards or more. More in the Monday 10-pack.

Welcome to the Ravens 10-Pack, where reporter Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts following the team's 34-27 win Monday night at the New Orleans Saints. Read ahead for notes on the Ravens finding a big-play formula, a potential star in the secondary, and more

1. Credit a lot of things for the Ravens' win Monday, but a big factor has to be how fresh they looked after the bye. The week off allowed a lot of introspection for a lot of people, even if the quarterback passed on that, and it showed on the offense. Unlike other expected shootouts on the road, the Ravens didn’t embrace the run. They didn’t get too fancy in the passing game — just quick drops and accurate throws. And it led to an impressive eight plays over 20 yards on offense. That’s a formula that the Ravens have searched for all year. Hopefully they can stick to it.

2. It took safety Will Hill a little while to get into the game — he backed off on the game-opening reverse that brought the Saints inside the five-yard line and was slow to react on tight end Jimmy Graham’s first touchdown, but once he started matching up one-on-one with Graham, Hill responded. His interception for a touchdown swung the game the Ravens’ favor, and he defended four passes, all against Graham. Forget the ball hawk skills the Ravens expected — with such issues at cornerback, the Ravens could end up matching Hill up against bigger targets going forward.

3. Otherwise, those who showed restraint before crowning this edition of the Ravens’ secondary after one game were rewarded for their patience. Brees was 35 of 45 with two passes thrown away, meaning the Ravens forced just eight incompletions all night. Four of those were with Hill in coverage on Graham. Another three were with cornerback Anthony Levine in coverage, according to PFF. But Levine still allowed six catches for 75 yards, Danny Gorrer allowed seven in seven tries for 103 yards and Lardarius Webb, despite his touchdown-saving tackles, looked slow and immobile in coverage yet again. The Ravens will have an advantage being at home, but Philip Rivers probably will like what he sees of the Ravens’ secondary on film.

4. Playing what amounted to a worse version of their own secondary, it’s no wonder Torrey Smith and Steve Smith combined to catch nine of 12 balls thrown their way for 187 yards and a touchdown. Steve Smith owned the first half, while Torrey Smith owned the second. Against minimal resistance, Joe Flacco’s two favorite targets ate up yards and kept the chains moving. It was another in what has been a season-saving stretch for Torrey Smith, who is becoming a big part of the offense in the apparent absence of any underneath passing threats.

5. Tight end Owen Daniels has filled in admirably with Dennis Pitta out, but he and rookie Crockett Gillmore weren’t much of a receiving threat against the Saints. Both did more blocking than route-running in the face of heavy blitzes from New Orleans, leaving both Smiths to run crossing routes instead of the tight ends. The Ravens never really got near the goal-line, where Daniels is at his most valuable, but at least one of them needs to be a viable pass catcher for this offense to have the variety it needs going forward.

6. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee isn’t tasked every week with getting after the quarterback, but when he is — and he was last night against New Orleans — he’s a handful. According to Pro Football Focus, McPhee hit quarterback Drew Brees three times and hurried him another four, bringing his season totals in those categories to 14 and 26, with three sacks. Pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil tend to get all the credit, but McPhee for being just as disruptive and altering the Saints’ timing in the passing game.

7. Justin Forsett’s career year is easily the most important thing that’s happened to the Ravens, and the run game added a new element last night as Forsett found frequent success outside the tackles. He’s scored and had success on the outside before, but most of the Ravens’ production comes up the middle. Forsett ran 10 times for 106 yards and a touchdown outside the tackles, raising his season rate to 6.7 yards per carry on runs to the outside. The Ravens have one of the most complete rushing attacks in the league when the line is clicking.

8. The gnashing of teeth when it comes to young safeties came together in one blessedly sad moment Monday when Matt Elam was beaten over the top by Marques Colston in coverage while rookie Terrence Brooks could have made a play on the ball as a deep safety, but didn’t. Elam getting beaten in coverage is one thing, but Brooks has constantly shown he’s able to get to the ball as a safety and will learn to make those plays. He already did with his big hit against the Titans. So while it’s easy to lump the two young safeties together, don’t. Brooks seems to have way more hope.

9. I didn’t want to lead with it again, but how are you supposed to tell if the AFC North is actually good when they just beat bad teams outside the division (most of the time) and lose to good teams and each other? Last night brought the division’s record to 10-1-1 against the NFC South, and brought every team in the AFC North three games over .500 for the first time ever. Each team has plenty of conference games left, including the Ravens, and those are the ones that will ultimately count as playoff spots are decided. So I’ll reserve my judgment on how good the division is until we see who gets into the playoffs.

10. Outside of omitting Forsett after another stellar performance, I feel pretty good in the “Three-star accountability corner” this week. Brees threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns, though his interception was costly. Steve Smith had the Ravens’ only touchdown catch and 89 yards on the game, and Graham scored twice on six catches. He’d probably be the one omitted for Forsett, but I’ll take two out of three.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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