Tyreek Hill may indeed be the best receiver in the NFL.
But, after Sunday’s game, you’d have to go down a long, long list before you got to one of the Miami speedster’s highlights.
There was the Odell Beckham Jr. classic, a sideline grab 32 yards downfield that Next Gen Stats registered as the unlikeliest (13.3%) catch of Lamar Jackson’s career. There was the Isaiah Likely one-handed grab on fourth-and-7 for 35 yards and a touchdown. Zay Flowers broke two tackles on his 75-yard-score.
Pat Ricard got in on the action for his first touchdown catch of the year, using one massive paw to bat the ball down into his chest. Justice Hill had a reception taken away by an iffy interference call; later on the same drive, the Ravens called the same play for their first points of the game.
“I just said, ‘Hey, let’s dial it up again,’” Hill said. “The second time worked just as good as the first time.”
Tyreek Hill, on the other hand, had six receptions for 76 yards but no touchdowns. The one time Tua Tagovailoa found the Cheetah in the end zone, he caught it … then bobbled it out of bounds.
Think about that. Who would have predicted, after a high-scoring game between Miami and Baltimore, the Ravens would have come out with the most spectacular skill position plays?
It seems to happen to teams when they play the Ravens. A 56-19 butt-kicking of the Dolphins highlighted a skill position group that isn’t highly lauded but has almost always delivered in the big games. It marked the second straight week that Baltimore’s opponent boasted a feared assortment of offensive weapons, yet the Ravens’ unheralded group outshined the competition.
Christian McCaffrey and De’Von Achane may have put up yards on the ground and even scored these past two games, but the Ravens are doing just fine with Gus Edwards (68 yards, 1 where on Sunday) and Justice Hill (213 all-purpose yards, 1 TD). Tyreek Hill, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk have been elite playmakers this season – just not when matched up with the Ravens, being eclipsed by Flowers (106 yards, 1 TD) and Likely (42 yards, 2 TDs).
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken got so comfortable spreading the ball around to whoever and wherever that he was down on the field before the game ended, dancing in celebration with the players who have made his job a little easier.
It is, in one sense, a reflection of Lamar Jackson’s brilliance. He was 18-for-21 and delivered throws on the money on Sunday. But, given the injuries Baltimore’s skill positions have taken — especially losing J.K. Dobbins early and Mark Andrews midseason — the gutsy performances by these supporting cast members are worth appreciating all the more.
Within the Ravens locker room, they’ve long been respected. Now the rest of the football world is getting a chance to see what they can do.
“I knew our skill position groups were second to none,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. “The depth that we have, the different types of players we have, that do different things, guys are just balling this year. Every single skill position has hands, they can catch and make plays. I have trust in all those guys to answer the bell in those critical moments.”
No one is confusing these guys with superstars (though wait a few years and Flowers might end up one). But the Ravens, as a group, simply deliver. It was evident early from Justice Hill as he converted third-and-16 on the opening drive, in a play eerily reminiscent of the famous “Hey Diddle Diddle” (Ray Rice, naturally, was in attendance). Hill hasn’t found much luck cracking big yardage on the ground, but through the air he was a reliable and elusive target, helping compensate for the loss of Keaton Mitchell two weeks ago.
Arguably no one has stepped up more than Likely, who has 19 receptions for 291 yards and four touchdowns in the five games since Andrews got hurt. The second-year tight end says he’s gaining confidence week by week, practice by practice and, with luck, the Ravens will have both Likely and Andrews back in the lineup in the playoffs — how frightening would that be for opponents?
The depth extends further than you might expect. On Sunday, even Charlie Kolar and Melvin Gordon III got in the end zone during the Ravens’ scoring bonanza. Tyler Huntley, by virtue of his single passing attempt that resulted in a touchdown, joined Jackson with a perfect quarterback rating.
Jackson may be the MVP, but he’s gotten a big lift from his teammates, he acknowledged. “I believe [general manager] Eric DeCosta does a great job going after guys who [are] going to have that Raven in them already.”
The other side of the Ravens’ skill players looking so good is that opponents simply haven’t. Without Raheem Mostert and Jaylen Waddle, Tagovailoa looked a little shaky, and especially in the middle of the game had trouble getting the ball to Tyreek Hill and Achane consistently. Two picks and three sacks didn’t help.
Hill was held in check (six catches on 12 targets) by a secondary missing its top two cornerbacks for most of the game. Rock Ya-Sin and Ronald Darby played outsize roles against the top passing offense in the NFL and held their own. Others, such as Patrick Queen and Arthur Maulet, played through obvious pain. As good as the Ravens’ top performers have been this year, Sunday’s win was a nod to their depth.
“Everybody busts their butt,” Maulet said. “That’s testament to those guys that’s not playing all the time, man. They bust their butt practicing against the [first-stringers] on offense, and they’re not taking it lightly.”
Nor should these Ravens be taken lightly. They’ve showed enough in recent weeks to think that no team is playing better than they are, that no team is more dominant against tough competition than they are.
It’s time to give them their due. But, even if they don’t get respect after this, they’re willing to earn it themselves and remove all doubt. As great as Jackson is, he’s not the only gamer in this group.
“We don’t want to be just one guy out there making all the plays,” Ricard said. “For Lamar, it gives him more options. He doesn’t have to be Superman out there. I’m just proud of all the guys that week after week just keep making plays. Just ignore the noise and stay locked in.”