That wasn’t even close.
The Baltimore Ravens put together four quarters of solid football and suffocated the Saints at home. They enter their bye week with a three-game win streak, the toughest stretch of the schedule behind them, and the division lead. Ravens fans: we can finally breathe.
The defense seems to have found its rhythm. The success is due in large part to the immediate contributions of Roquan Smith. Smith came up with a pair of short-yardage stops on the Saints’ second drive of the game. He was flying sideline to sideline all game and is a major reason why Alvin Kamara was held to only 62 all-purpose yards. His presence makes Baltimore’s defense so much faster and elevates the play of other players around him. Roquan’s effect on Patrick Queen is particularly exciting as it frees him up to be the absolute missile he was intended to be. The sudden surplus of speed at linebacker allows Mike Macdonald to get creative with some of the blitzes he can dial for the duo of backers who run in the 4.5s. But Mcdonald doesn’t need to blitz as long as Justin Houston keeps playing the way he is. The 33-year-old pass rusher is experiencing a career resurgence, averaging 1.7 sacks a game. He’s second in the league in sacks and has nearly doubled his total from a season ago. Surely he can’t maintain this pace for the rest of the season, but he’s already vastly outperformed his 3.5 million dollar contract that ranks 68th among edge rushers.
Baltimore’s whole D-line has played better as of late. Calais Campbell continues to simply not age, I’d suggest he’s made a deal with the Devil but the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the year doesn’t strike me as the type. I love how GM Eric Decosta has blended the experience of the trench players. At just about every position on the D-line there’s a veteran or two to show the young players behind them the ropes. On the back end, everything seems to be in order. Marcus Peters didn’t have his strongest performance ever, but the rest of the secondary was lock-down from the first whistle to the last. It was a dominating defensive performance on all three levels of the field and if it’s a sign of what’s to come, watch out.
Baltimore Bully Ball
If you’re a defender trying to shoot a gap against this Ravens’ rushing attack, you’re gonna want to watch out as well. The Saints’ defense looked overwhelmed trying to disrupt the Ravens’ grinding run-game. Lamar Jackson looks a little bit faster to me than at the start of the season, which is very encouraging. If he continues to shed some weight throughout the year, he should be in a sweet spot come playoff time. He made his O-line look good a few times, but I suspect John Harbaugh could have run for at least 20 yards and a touchdown behind the Ravens’ big uglies. Kenyan Drake took advantage of the holes opened up for him, punching the ball into the endzone twice on the goal line. Drake did his part, but if the Ravens had a truly healthy J.K. Dobbins right now, this offense would be ridiculous. Lamar has seen the field better lately, having now strung together consecutive weeks without a turnover, but his throwing isn’t where he’d like it to be. He left a few yards and points on the field Monday night, with multiple poorly placed passes. As long as this team wins there’s no need to sound the alarm, but the way the passing game looks right now, it would be tough to beat a premier team relying on it.
Don’t Look Now
Baltimore doesn’t have a single team above .500 on its schedule the rest of the season. Thirteen wins seems attainable looking down the stretch, a crazy thought given the trajectory of the season just three weeks ago. Every division game will be hard fought, and the Browns’ having Deshaun Watson in the second matchup will be a new dynamic, but there’s no reason Baltimore shouldn’t have the division wrapped up entering their week 18 matchup in Cincinnati. Now, this team has shown they can blow a game with the worst of them, so nothing is a lock, but don’t be surprised if the Ravens host their third home playoff game in five years with Lamar Jackson. Here’s to hoping we finally win one. Enjoy the Bye Week and go Ravens.
Final Grade: A-