Over his seven-plus seasons in Baltimore, Ronnie Stanley has played on a lot of good Ravens teams and the occasional great one. He has four playoff appearances and two AFC North titles. He was an All-Pro left tackle on Baltimore’s 14-win juggernaut in 2019, so overwhelming a team that the Ravens, having clinched the AFC’s top seed, didn’t even need him active for their regular-season finale. (They still won that one, convincingly.)
And yet: “I said this in [training] camp. I think this is the most talented team I’ve been a part of, the team with the most potential since I’ve been here,” the stoic Stanley said Sunday, without a hint of hyperbole, after a jaw-dropping performance that made the case for the Ravens being atop a lot of lists. “I still believe that to this day, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”
If the Ravens’ 37-3 demolition of the Seattle Seahawks didn’t send a shudder through the rest of the NFL, those last three words might. Because the Ravens on Sunday again looked like the NFL’s best team. What might they turn into with two-plus months of further improvement?
It’s an impossible question, of course. The Ravens have started fast and faded late before. Injuries get in the way; weather gets in the way; variance gets in the way. That record-breaking 2019 team lost as a double-digit favorite in its playoff opener, its path to a Super Bowl cut off by Derrick Henry’s stiff arm and a bullying Tennessee Titans defense.
But the more the Ravens win, the more comparisons to greatness they’ll invite. The timing of Sunday’s blowout was conspicuous. Four years ago, in Week 9, the Ravens knocked off an undefeated New England Patriots team in Baltimore, 37-20. Only two of their final eight regular-season games were decided by single digits.
“I just think, at every position group, we don’t really have any weaknesses, plus we have depth at all positions.”— Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley
On Sunday, in another Week 9 showdown at M&T Bank Stadium, they made the NFC West’s top team look like a practice squad. The Ravens outscored Seattle 30-3 with their starters in, then, just for good measure, outscored Seattle 7-0 with their backup quarterback in.
“I just think, at every position group, we don’t really have any weaknesses, plus we have depth at all positions,” Stanley said. “Even in 2019, we were really good, but a lot of the guys that are still on the team now were a little bit younger.”
Sunday’s box score looked straight out of 2019 — on offense, anyway. Quarterback Lamar Jackson went 21-for-26 for 187 yards, but the real force was the Ravens’ ground game. Against a Seahawks run defense that had the NFL’s best success rate through Week 8, then traded for standout defensive lineman Leonard Williams on Monday, the Ravens rushed for a season-high 298 rushing yards (7.3 per carry). The 2019 team that set the NFL’s single-season rushing record never topped 285 yards.
It was the kind of performance that can make Derrick Henry trade rumors even more of an afterthought in Baltimore. Rookie running back Keaton Mitchell had nine carries for 138 yards, including a 40-yard score that extended the Ravens’ third-quarter lead to 30-3. Gus Edwards had five rushes for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Justice Hill added 13 carries for 40 yards.
“Start with the offensive line — made great blocks,” said Jackson, who rushed for 60 yards himself and didn’t have to play a snap in the fourth quarter. “But the running backs were doing what they do, making explosive [plays]. Gus running for two touchdowns, Justice doing his thing on the ground, and then Keaton is just flying past everyone. Great job by those guys and the offensive line.”
Maybe no offense in the NFL is afforded a greater margin of error than this one, though. In 2019, the Ravens finished the regular season with the NFL’s most efficient attack, according to Football Outsiders, but their defense was only a meager fourth.
This defense has played like the NFL’s best unit, like it’s coming for the 2000 Ravens’ best-ever perch. Over the past three weeks, in blowout wins against the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions and Seahawks, two top-10 offenses as measured by DVOA, the Ravens have allowed one touchdown and 4.1 yards per play. (The New York Giants entered Week 9 with the NFL’s worst yards-per-play average — also 4.1 yards.)
Quarterback Geno Smith went 13-for-28 for 157 yards and an interception Sunday, picked off, conveniently enough, by safety Geno Stone, his NFL-leading sixth. Hounded all day by the Ravens’ pass rush (four sacks), Smith finished with a QBR of 14.4, by far the worst of his short but impressive Seahawks career. Seattle, playing with an offense as healthy as it’s been since perhaps its season opener, managed just 28 yards on 15 carries.
“We’re a team that … shoot, you give up 10 yards on us, we’re going to be upset, no matter what it is,” Stone said after the Ravens outgained Seattle 515-151. “Big play, we’re going to be upset. We’re probably going to have plays that we look [at] on film, and we’re like, ‘We can be way better.’ It’s great. You want a defense like that because you never want to be satisfied.”
Said inside linebacker Patrick Queen: “It’s just a standard that we uphold here, and we were really upset that we didn’t uphold that [last week],” referring to their 31-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals, in which the Ravens allowed 310 yards. “So we just knew, coming into our house this week, that we had to put a statement out there.”
The Ravens’ schedule will allow for plenty more, if they’re so willing. Four years ago, the Ravens cruised through the second half of a schedule that was light on challengers. After New England, just three opponents finished the season in the upper half of the NFL’s efficiency rankings. Only one finished in the top 10.
This Ravens team still has to face the resurgent Cincinnati Bengals (No. 13 in FTN’s DVOA rankings), the high-scoring Miami Dolphins (No. 5) and the even-more-loaded San Francisco 49ers (No. 2). Only two of their remaining opponents entered Week 9 ranked in the bottom half of DVOA, and one of them, the Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 20), seems to have the Ravens’ number.
But, for as high as the Ravens have soared through these first two months, they believe, as Jackson has long said, “the sky is the limit.” They played Sunday without star safety Marcus Williams and stalwart right tackle Morgan Moses. There were more ball security problems. And it all mattered very little.
“If we’re playing like that, we don’t even need to hit [a] peak or stride,” said Jackson, who won 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player honors on the strength of his remarkable second half. “Just keep staying locked in how we are and just playing every opponent the same way: physicality, being smart and defending what’s ours.”
It’s a good process. The Ravens entered Sunday night with the NFL’s best point differential: plus-115 — still light-years away from the plus-249 the 2019 team recorded, but a worthy testament to their excellence nonetheless.
“As a coach, it’s fulfilling because all the things you work on, and all the things that guys work on, you see it transferred onto the field in a game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what you’re excited about, because they have success. The guys have success doing the things that you want, but you also understand that it’s one win.”
One big win, in a season quickly swelling with them.
Jackson, who came up limping slightly after a fourth-down conversion in the third quarter, and Mitchell, who worked out on a bicycle on the sideline in the second half, both said they were fine after the game.
Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who led Ravens receivers with five catches for 56 yards, had his first touchdown catch since Super Bowl LVI, catching a 6-yard pass from backup Tyler Huntley in the fourth quarter. And he did it on his 31st birthday.
“It just feels good,” Beckham said. “When the Super Bowl [injury] happened, and I went down, there were contemplations on whether I wanted to come back and do this all over again, and I just said to myself for any other kid out there who is watching and was once inspired, ‘What message would I send to give up?’ Even if I came out here and had one catch in the NFL, I said I would be happy. I know I was probably lying [to] myself. I have a lot of high expectations.
“It feels good to finally to get that one [touchdown] off you. We’ve been playing great ball, but just like we talked about earlier from a personal standpoint, God has a sense of humor, and for it to come on [my] birthday, it couldn’t be a better gift.”
The Ravens pressured Smith on 54.5% of his drop-backs, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. On 13 pressured attempts, he went 5-for-13 for 29 yards and an interception. Outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney, Kyle Van Noy and Odafe Oweh combined for 15 pressures and three sacks.
“I think they did a really good job,” Smith said. “I think we made it easy on them, especially with the mistakes that we made. Obviously, they capitalized on those. ... It’s a really tough game, and you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to play disciplined football in order to win. Today, we didn’t do it.”