Welcome to Ravens Reality Check, where we throw the Monday morning hot takes about the Ravens into a cup with a few ice cubes (because it’s always cold brew season). Here’s a look at what’s being said about Ravens-Browns, and our attempt to decode the spin:
If you watched any of the national sports shows today on ESPN or FS1, you would not have seen much, if any chatter about the Ravens dismantling the Browns. Why not, though?
Yes, the last-second scratch of Deshaun Watson was a huge blow for Cleveland. Sure, rookie quarterbacks rarely ever succeed against John Harbaugh’s teams (he has a 28-9 record against rookie QBs). But even if the Browns offense vs. the Ravens defense was not a scintillating battle from the start — the Ravens gave up just 2.6 yards per play — that was never supposed to be the headlining event.
Are we just going to ignore one of Lamar Jackson’s most brilliant passing days against an elite defense? Are we disregarding that without two of his top receivers, the former MVP looked again like … an MVP?
Sunday’s win was surprisingly the first time Jackson has thrown two touchdown passes and run for two touchdowns in the same game, but that stat underplays just how impressive he was: looking down the field as he was scrambling for a long hit to Zay Flowers; high-pointing a pass to Mark Andrews in the back of the end zone; and dropping a dime along the sideline to Melvin Gordon III. Jackson answered some of the critics who came rising up again after a less-than-stellar Week 3 performance. It might have been some of his best quarterbacking ever.
Again, the Ravens were doing this without (deep breath): Ronnie Stanley, J.K. Dobbins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashod Bateman, then Morgan Moses was injured during the game. Andrews looked a lot closer to his healthy self, breaking tackles and finding separation. The running game averaged 4 yards per play against one of the NFL’s stingiest run units. While the broadcast wondered if the Browns defense was getting tired from being on the field so much, the Ravens actually possessed the ball (29:50) for less than half the game.
Jackson’s own take on the offense might have actually been the hottest: “I feel like we left points on the board.” Against a Browns team that had allowed only one offensive touchdown before Sunday, scoring four touchdowns was quite a feat for the Ravens offense. It seems strange that the rest of the football world would shrug that off because the Browns were missing Watson.
2. ‘Wait until the secondary plays someone real.’
Admittedly, the Ravens haven’t played a lot of elite quarterbacks to date (the way Joe Burrow is playing, he might not count, either). Upcoming games against Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill might not appear terribly threatening. But we ought to acknowledge just how good the Ravens’ secondary has been in spite of myriad injuries.
Four weeks in, they’re No. 1 in net yards-per-passing attempt (3.7), better than the No. 2 Browns (4.2). They’ve allowed just three passing touchdowns, tied for second-best in the league. They’ve had this success despite a lower-than-average amount of pressure on quarterbacks (16.5% quarterback pressures per dropback).
Last week in a recap of the Ravens’ loss to Indianapolis, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell called out the Colts’ long completions to Michael Pittman against Brandon Stephens. Wrote Barnwell: “Stephens is a useful utility player, but Baltimore wasn’t hoping to use him at cornerback this season. Right now, it has no choice.”
That’s probably not fair at this point, considering that Stephens has arguably been the Ravens’ best cover corner with Marlon Humphrey out. His Week 4 performance added to his case: Not only did he secure an impressive tip interception that he ran back for a huge return, but he was key in helping hold Amari Cooper to just one catch for 16 yards. Cooper lined up for nearly half his snaps against Stephens, but wasn’t targeted once when Stephens was in coverage against him, according to the NFL’s Next Gen stats.
While Stephens was definitely at the forefront thanks to his interception, it’s a great sign for a DB to not be mentioned at all otherwise. The Ravens are hoping for some of their injured backs to heal soon, but in the meantime, he’s been a great option, and the Ravens have more than held their own.
Well let’s hold on here.
It was indeed a terrible week for the Browns, Bengals and Steelers. None of them have looked consistently like playoff teams, and the Ravens have the best point differential of them all. With a road game in Pittsburgh next week, it’s easy to see the chance for the Ravens to start 3-0 against the division, especially if Kenny Pickett misses any additional time with his knee injury.
But the Bengals and the Browns, probably the chief challengers to the Ravens in the division, have some time to get right. The Browns are heading into a bye, so they’ll have some time to see if Watson’s shoulder injury is serious. The Bengals have games against the Cardinals and Seahawks after getting mauled by the Titans.
The Ravens still have a ton of injuries, are still seeing week-to-week fluctuations in the offense, and have a back-loaded schedule including the Lions, Dolphins and 49ers down the road. There’s a lot of season left, and the last time the division was wholly uncontested was 2019 when the Ravens were a mile ahead. That’s rarely ever the case in the AFC North, especially with how good the defenses in the division continue to be.
Jonas Shaffer contributed reporting to this story.