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Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 31-17 win over the Washington Football Team

Ravens John Harbaugh on the offensive line play of D.J. Fluker and Orlando Brown Jr., with the absence of starter Ronnie Stanley.

From their reliance on big plays to their renewed dominance on special teams, here are five things we learned from the Ravens' 31-17 win over the Washington Football Team.

The Ravens have yet to hit their offensive stride, but they’re connecting on enough big plays to compensate.

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Quarterback Lamar Jackson made a pair of sensational plays to finish off drives. With the Ravens up 7-0 in the second quarter, he faked a handoff on third down and sprinted through a gap in the defense for the longest touchdown of his career — a product of his astute read as much as his pure running talent. On the team’s next drive, he scrambled to his left and found tight end Mark Andrews with a perfect pass in the end zone.

Those strikes alone were enough to put Washington at an unrecoverable disadvantage.

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Which was good, because the Ravens are still searching for the offensive continuity they achieved so often last season. They finished the day with six drives of three plays or fewer (to be fair, they scored on two of those) and surrendered six more first downs than they converted.

Aside from Jackson’s 50-yard sprint up the middle, the Ravens gained just 30 yards on 11 carries in the first half, continuing a pattern we’ve seen for much of the year. This is not the historic rushing attack that trampled opponents in 2019. For all the chatter about how the Ravens would distribute carries among their three talented running backs, not one of the monsters has feasted through the first four games.

Jackson was not sharp throughout the game either. He overshot Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin on downfield attempts in the first half and threw an interception in the two-minute drill when, in his own words, he held the ball too long before targeting Boykin along the sideline.

The Ravens know they’re not quite where they want to be on offense. Jackson said as much to cornerback Marlon Humphrey when the two young stars chatted on the sideline late in the game.

“We’re close,” said Andrews, who bounced back from a poor game against the Kansas City Chiefs with two touchdown catches. “It’s just little things here and there that need to be tightened up.”

There are plenty of possible explanations. Opponents have spent the last nine months studying Greg Roman’s offense after the Ravens ran over the league in 2019. As Andrews, said, they carry a weekly bull’s-eye. They’re also adjusting to changes along the offensive line, from the retirement of Marshal Yanda to the upper-body injury that kept All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley off the field Sunday. They did not have a full preseason to sharpen the precise techniques that are essential to an attack built on variety and deception.

In the pre-Jackson era, the Ravens often struggled to connect on enough quick strikes to compensate for inconsistency. Now, they’re too much for most opponents, even when not at their best.

“Really, if you look at most NFL games, that’s what it boils down to,” coach John Harbaugh said when asked about his team’s reliance on big plays. “It’s always four, five, six, seven or eight plays.”

The Ravens rely on big-play defense as much as big-play offense.

The Ravens had possessed the ball just once and punted it away when Humphrey ripped the ball out of Washington running back J.D. McKissic’s arms to set up an easy, two-play touchdown drive.

“I’m not going to say we started slow, but it seemed like they were having some success, and they were stopping our offense a little bit,” the All-Pro cornerback said. “So, we were not playing great at the beginning, and I was able to get a turnover early on there and was able to catch us a little momentum.”

In the fourth quarter, outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson sacked Dwayne Haskins for an 18-yard loss on first-and-goal, essentially killing Washington’s last chance to get back in the game.

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These defensive momentum changers were as important as Jackson’s offensive fireworks and illustrated how the Ravens pressure opponents on both sides of the ball. We also saw it in their Week 2 win over the Houston Texans, when Humphrey’s strip to set up an L.J. Fort touchdown gave them a comfortable working margin.

The 2020 defense doesn’t match up statistically with the best defenses from the Ray Lewis-Ed Reed era. But players such as Humphrey and Marcus Peters share the mentality of those groups; they expect to turn the tide every time the ball comes their way.

Humphrey has taken his game to another level over the last two seasons by hunting turnovers. It’s a big reason why the Ravens were wise to invest $98 million to keep him around through 2026.

Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense played a sound overall game against Washington, limiting downfield looks for Haskins and plugging running lanes. But the Ravens really outplayed a good Washington defense by striking at a few opportune moments.

Orlando Brown Jr. and D.J. Fluker held up well in Ronnie Stanley’s absence.

Any list of the five most essential Ravens would have to include Stanley, the best pass blocker in football.

If Washington was going to pull an upset, Brown, playing out of position at left tackle, and Fluker, who hasn’t been a starting tackle since 2014, were likely to be targets.

The Ravens' lack of obvious depth at tackle was a concern coming into the season. They had long relied on James Hurst as their primary fill-in but moved on from him after last year.

So it had to be a relief to coaches that Stanley’s absence was not apparent on most of Jackson’s dropbacks against Washington. He took just one sack and three hits and regularly had time to look downfield.

“I thought those two guys did just a tremendous job,” Harbaugh said. “Orlando switched to left tackle. D.J. went to right tackle, which he’d been practicing quite a bit at left tackle all week. [They] adapted on the fly and it speaks volumes for the type of football players they are.”

Washington played without its best edge rusher, rookie Chase Young, but the Ravens will be content with the performances of Brown and Fluker and look forward to Stanley’s return, which sounds imminent, per Harbaugh’s postgame update.

The Ravens have reasserted their dominance on special teams.

After an up-and-down 2019, Chris Horton’s units have come through with standout plays in every game this season.

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It’s become a running point of humor within the team, but Sam Koch threw another beautiful ball on a fake punt to breathe life into an eventual touchdown drive in the second quarter. The most efficient passer in Ravens history is now 7-for-7 in his career, and he looks cool as can be each time he’s asked to toss another spiral.

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That was the flashbulb moment. But Koch also placed all three of his punts inside Washington’s 20-yard line. Washington never started past the 25-yard line on a kickoff return and ended up with negative yardage on punt returns. Justin Tucker remained perfect for the season. Rookie James Proche II averaged a solid 9.3 yards on three punt returns.

The Ravens entered the week No. 1 in special teams DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, with positive marks in every area. It’s the one phase in which they’re truly clicking.

The Ravens' schedule lines up nicely as they work to recover from the Chiefs loss.

The tone of national conversations around the Ravens changed drastically after Kansas City blew them out on Monday night. Doubts resurfaced about Jackson’s ability to win big games with his arm. Reporters in other AFC North cities stopped treating Baltimore as an obvious favorite to conquer the division. Plenty of it was merited; the Ravens really did not look like Super Bowl aspirants when stacked against the defending champs.

But as usual, opinions swung too far based on a bad night in September. For all the fine-tuning the Ravens need, they’re still more talented and better coached than most of their opponents. And they’ve entered a stretch of their schedule that will help them get well.

It began in Washington, where they were never significantly threatened. Next up are the Cincinnati Bengals, friskier than last season but still trying to find themselves behind rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. After that, the Ravens will visit the drain-circling Philadelphia Eagles. Then they’ll get a bye week to prepare for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It’s an ideal period in which to tinker with roster combinations and develop greater efficiency through repetition while banking the wins needed to stay on Kansas City’s heels in the race for playoff seeding. Such talk would surely provoke a death stare from Harbaugh, who spends every waking hour guarding against let-ups.

But the Ravens will be heavily favored to reach 5-1, and if they take care of business, they’ll be set up for the road beyond, with the Chiefs loss in their rear view.

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