Welcome to Ravens Reality Check, where we run a fan blowing directly at the national hot takes about the Baltimore Ravens so they don’t overheat and fritz out.
Followers of Reality Check might feel the ebb and sway of talking heads who react to whatever just happened with all the nuance of Stavros Halkias’ Ronnie the Ravens Fan character. Guess what: After a win over the Bengals, Baltimore is riding high again.
1. The Ravens are going to the Super Bowl!
And we’re back: Just like two weeks ago, the Ravens are going to the Super Bowl, according to the folks with the biggest platforms.
Julian Edelman on Fox Sports called the shot Sunday: “The Baltimore Ravens are going to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl the way they’re playing right now,” pointing out various flattering metrics for the Ravens. Skip Bayless also mentioned “Super Bowl” and “Ravens” in the same sentence.
Honestly, not that much has changed. The Ravens have some of the most impressive wins of the season — frankly, beating a Bengals team without Joe Burrow probably isn’t even their fourth-best performance this year. But Lamar Jackson played much better than he did against Cleveland, quieting (for now) many of the questions about him. There just aren’t a lot of teams that have been as consistently good as Baltimore this year (as I’ve maintained all along), and the ones that have been good (Kansas City, Philadelphia) played in the Super Bowl last season.
The biggest overall question for the Ravens, aside from the fourth-quarter letdowns that especially plagued them against the Browns, regards injuries. Even before losing Mark Andrews, who may be done for the season, the Ravens were without Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Stanley on Thursday night. Odell Beckham Jr. left the game early, Lamar Jackson had a wrap around his ankle, Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith looked less than their usual selves. Morgan Moses and Kyle Van Noy were banged up coming into the game. The Ravens are fortunate to have a long week before the Chargers, followed by their bye to help heal.
Jonas Shaffer has a breakdown in film study on how the Ravens might get by without Andrews, but it’s certainly a big, open question, leading to our next point.
2. Odell Beckham Jr. is back!
Welcome back to the century club, OBJ. Beckham, 31, notched more than 100 receiving yards for the first time since the NFC championship game in January 2022, a great milestone on his way back from injury.
Michael Irvin on “Undisputed” had a long point about how Beckham could be the replacement as Jackson’s security blanket. If you look at the production in recent weeks, there are encouraging signs. Beckham scored touchdowns against the Seahawks and the Browns, then had his biggest game as a Raven against the Bengals.
“Early on in the season, I was hurt and I just couldn’t be myself,” Beckham said. “I didn’t have the explosion; I couldn’t move the way that I wanted to. I don’t think people really knew what I was dealing with, and it just was hard for me to come out and speak on it.”
According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Beckham got just 2.68 yards of average separation (the league average is about 3 yards). But he has been getting open more often, showing burst off the line of scrimmage and coming up with explosive plays. There were a few times this season when Jackson simply seemed to be throwing go-get-’em balls to Beckham (the fatal interception against Pittsburgh leaps to mind), but now it seems there’s more of a connection between the two. It would probably be wrong to expect weekly superstar performances from Beckham, but his being a real threat in this offense is a big deal without Andrews.
The one word of caution: While John Harbaugh and Beckham downplayed the seriousness of his shoulder injury after the game, Beckham was wincing during his postgame news conference and dressed very slowly. He told Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, “I gotta find a way to dig deep.” Even if it’s not serious, it may be quite painful. Again, the Ravens must feel good about their time off coming up.
3. Hip-drop tackles!
Rather than focusing on one specific take here, I want to point out how the discourse about hip-drop tackles morphed in an odd way.
It’s an issue of nuance, captured well in Giana Han’s story after Andrews’ injury. The “NFL on CBS” crew did a good demonstration of the technique. The hip-drop technique has a risk of the tackler rolling up on the tackled player’s legs, which happened when Logan Wilson took down Andrews, so offensive players are unsurprisingly against it. But defensive players who have seen various kinds of high-risk hits taken out of the game over the last few decades, including Queen mere hours after Andrews got hurt, are decidedly against banning hip drops.
All of this is to say that hip drops are controversial precisely because there’s no consensus on them. Some NFL officials have suggested they’re as dangerous as horse-collar tackles; the NFLPA has strongly urged not to ban them. The divergence of opinion on this tackle was illustrated on ESPN when Bart Scott said it should be banned while Ryan Clark hid his face in his hands in apparent disbelief.
It’s a little disappointing to see a chyron on “Undisputed” ask if Wilson’s tackle was “clean or dirty” when the technique is, technically, legal. It remains to be seen exactly what Andrews’ injury is (Harbaugh said it was a high ankle injury but more serious than a sprain), but it’s a little presumptuous to suggest Wilson was out to injure Andrews. Bayless using the word “cripple” talking about this tackle was probably over the top (even though these injuries can be serious).
On the other hand, Bengals coach Zac Taylor might have been a little defensive about Wilson, who was involved on three tackles on which Ravens players were injured, including a few that Harbaugh said he would send to the league. Taylor called the narrative “reckless.”
“Frustrating and a little bit maddening when you see the narrative about him,” Taylor said. “That’s not the case at all. He’s a guy just trying to help the team win.”
Well, yeah, undoubtedly. But when one guy is in on the play during three injuries, people are going to talk about him. Take it from someone who combs the national media for this column every week. That’s the nature of the game.