From the one-of-a-kind talents of Lamar Jackson to the high-risk excitement brought by Marcus Peters, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ 30-16 road win Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks.
There is no one else like Lamar Jackson, and that makes the Ravens dangerous.
It was third-and-15 on a vital drive near the end of the third quarter, and the Ravens called a designed run for Jackson, who cut and twisted his way within 2 yards of the first down.
Justin Tucker ran out to kick a go-ahead field goal. But after a timeout, Ravens coach John Harbaugh put the ball in Jackson’s hands, asking him to carry out of an empty backfield and pick his way through a minefield of Seattle defenders. Jackson not only gained the first down, he scored.
No other quarterback in the NFL, perhaps no other quarterback in league history, would have been called on to make those specific plays under the same circumstances. The Ravens won, and stand 5-2, because Jackson has made magic where none seemed available to him.
He went head-to-head with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a Most Valuable Player favorite after six weeks, and proved to be the most essential player on the field.
Ravens coaches talked confidently of an offensive revolution before the season, and we all imagined they meant a schematic uprising. But the revolution is Jackson, or more accurately, the team’s decision to build around their second-year quarterback’s running sorcery.
“He’s 1 of 1,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner told Seattle reporters after the game in describing Jackson’s unprecedented gifts.
Plenty of factors stacked against him in Seattle, from unrelenting rain to a bellowing crowd to a series of drops by Ravens receivers (including Jackson’s most reliable target, tight end Mark Andrews). But the Jackson-led offense is never truly bottled up, because he feints and spins and accelerates his way to open ground on even the most dire third downs.
He did it again in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens were backed up to their 12-yard line, facing third-and-8 as they protected a one-score lead. Jackson scrambled for 30 yards to extend a drive that would ultimately eat nine minutes of clock and put the Ravens up 10.
You don’t expect an NFL team to beat a 5-1 opponent on the road when its quarterback throws for 143 yards on 9-for-20 passing. But you also don’t expect said quarterback to finish with 116 yards on 14 carries and put himself on pace to run for 1,317 yards over 16 games.
We saw a few promising moments from Jackson the passer. Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he’d like to see his quarterback take downfield shots after throwing the defense off balance with his scrambling. Jackson wasted no time doing so against the Seahawks, hitting Miles Boykin for a 50-yard completion as he rolled to his right off play-action on the Ravens’ first drive.
But the Ravens, again playing without wide receiver Marquise Brown, mostly stopped throwing downfield after halftime. As Harbaugh has said, they need Jackson’s legs to win right now.
There’s no use nitpicking Jackson for what he can’t do. The things he can do give the Ravens a unique formula for competing with the best teams in the league. Regardless of where they end up this season, he’s giving us a fascinating show.
Marcus Peters brings big-play flair the Ravens have lacked on defense.
The Ravens were on their heels, falling behind and steadily surrendering yardage, when their new cornerback stepped in front of Seahawks receiver Jaron Brown to snare a pass from Russell Wilson in the second quarter.
Sixty-seven yards later, Peters danced into the end zone, and the Ravens held the lead.
Several generations of Baltimore fans grew up on Ed Reed and the belief that a defense was just as capable of scoring as an offense. But as well as the Ravens have played on defense in recent seasons, they lost some of that sudden, game-flipping element.
Last year, for example, they led the league in total defense and held opposing quarterbacks to just 5.4 yards per completion but ranked 18th in interceptions.
Peters, the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback they traded for on Tuesday, could change this dynamic. And that, as much as the fortification he offers to an injury-ravaged secondary, was why general manager Eric DeCosta had to make the move.
On his debut interception, Peters seemed to fake Wilson out by shuttling a few steps back before he broke hard on the ball. It was the kind of high-risk, high-reward play Peters has made since he was drafted in the first round out of Washington in 2015. He came to Baltimore with 24 interceptions in 67 career games, a playmaking record unmatched by any NFL cornerback over the past five years.
Peters might inspire groans later in the season when one of his risks leaves an opposing receiver running free. But we got an immediate glimpse of the rewards that come with his style.
The Ravens’ in-season defensive surgery continued to pay off.
Peters’ interception was the game-changer, but don’t let it overshadow the remarkable second-half effort the Ravens turned in against Wilson.
He came in playing the most efficient football of his likely Hall of Fame career, and that seemed to present a scary scenario for a tattered Baltimore defense that had given up more than 500 yards to both the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.
The outlook grew worse when veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee left the game with an arm injury. That left the Ravens relying on three linebackers — Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and Jaylon Ferguson — who played no role for them in Week 1.
They responded by shutting down a top-five offense for the entire second half. They made seven tackles for loss and held Seattle’s hard-running Chris Carson to 65 yards on 21 carries. Wilson, the would-be MVP, absorbed eight hits and averaged just 5.9 yards on 41 pass attempts.
After two weeks of Bynes receiving well-deserved attention for solidifying the middle linebacker position, Fort delivered his breakout game with two tackles for loss and a sensational open-field stop on Wilson. He demonstrated a terrific nose for the ball and has been surprisingly effective as a blitzer in coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s aggressive schemes.
Meanwhile, Ferguson played the best game of his young career, making three tackles, including a stop in the backfield after he did a terrific job holding the edge. He’s cut from the same power-rushing mold as McPhee.
Among the more familiar faces, defensive tackle Brandon Williams played his best game of the season. Give safety Earl Thomas III credit as well. He didn’t make any showy plays in his return to Seattle, but he’s settled in over the past month and always seemed to be in the right place against his former team. He received the game ball from Harbaugh.
The Ravens will presumably get stronger after their bye week, with cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor expected to return from knee and ankle injuries, respectively.
But if they repeat as AFC North champions, it will be worth remembering that they fixed their defense on the fly over a few weeks in October.
The NFL has lost its way in officiating the passing game.
On Seattle’s first drive of the second quarter, Fort gave Wilson a modest pop after the Seahawks quarterback threw incomplete against excellent coverage. Wilson hit the ground and a yellow flag for roughing the passer followed, giving the Seahawks a 15-yard jumpstart on an eventual scoring drive.
In the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks driving in hopes of tying the score, Bynes fell as he was rushing and draped his arms around Wilson’s calves. Under the so-called “Brady rule,” the officials interpreted this as an attempt to take out the quarterback’s legs. Another excellent defensive snap, featuring a surging blitz and tight coverage, was wiped out in favor of handing the offense an unearned first down.
These “roughing” plays, neither featuring a vicious or dangerous hit, illustrated the absurd degree to which officiating favors passing offenses in the modern NFL.
We cannot go back to the old days of open season on quarterbacks. They’re the most precious talents in the sport and should be protected from shots intended to knock them from the game. But we’ve swung too far the other way, to the point where a player such as Wilson might as well wear a red pinny.
Common sense should prevail. In the absence of egregious hits, officials should do everything to avoid handing out vital chunks of yardage. And lest anyone think this is a blind pro-Ravens argument, they benefited from a similarly questionable roughing call on Jackson in their Week 5 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The stench from this trend floats in all directions.
Harbaugh generally remains rational about such calls, saying the Ravens must understand the practical realities of NFL officiating and play accordingly.
But these penalties choke the flow of a game, corrupt the spirit of fair competition and leave fans frustrated Sunday after Sunday.
The Ravens accomplished exactly what they needed to over their first seven games.
Since Week 1, we’ve talked about how the Ravens needed to build an early-season cushion before entering the difficult middle of their schedule.
At 5-2 going into their bye week, they’ve done it. That record looks good on its own and far better when you consider that no other team in the AFC North has more than two wins.
The Ravens’ next game, Sunday night Nov. 3 against the mighty New England Patriots, now feels like a no-downside scenario. Pull the upset and they’re rolling ahead as legit AFC contenders. Lose and they’re still in firm position atop the division.
Questions remain, about the Ravens’ health on defense and their chances of reigniting a passing offense. But they flew out of Seattle with a signature win, upbeat feelings about their direction and a rock-solid foundation for the postseason push to come.