Another week of football, and another gritty, hard fought win for the Baltimore Ravens, who improved to 3-0 with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Ravens have found ways to win each week so far, something they were not able to do in 2015.
Buffalo, Cleveland, and Jacksonville combine for a 1-8 record this year, leading analysts to wonder whether this Baltimore team is a contender or not.
Baltimore has played dominant defense in all but one quarter of football this year, and the offense has made enough plays to win games each week. Winning games early in the season can carry momentum over into the more difficult second half of the schedule, and make the Ravens a team to watch in the playoff race.
Joe Flacco spread the ball out yet again (nine different targets) en route to a franchise record 21-straight completions, and the defense sealed the victory with another late interception. Here are my main points from Week Three.
What I Liked
- Winning Ugly. This is the type of football Baltimore has been used to playing during the John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era. The Ravens love winning ugly because it means they hashed out a hard fought victory. This team is tough, resilient, and plays 60 minutes of football every week.
- Young Players On Defense. This is the Timmy Jernigan and C.J. Mosley the Ravens knew they were getting when they spent two early draft picks on the pair. Mosley has stepped into the lead linebacker role this year with a bang as he recorded his second interception of the year in as many weeks. Jernigan has a sack in three straight games to start the season, and he looks like a playmaker from the defensive end position. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce make a solid wall up front, helping limit the Jaguars to 48 yards rushing. Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith are hungry for their first sacks of the season, and are consistently finding themselves in the backfield. Tavon Young and Zachary Orr each contributed their first career interceptions in the fourth quarter Sunday. This defense is young and hungry.
- Special Teams. There is no debate that Justin Tucker is worth the rich contract he signed this offseason. Tucker converted all five field goal and extra point tries against the Jaguars, and is kicking 100% this year. For the second straight week the special teams unit has blocked a kick, with both blocks having major implications on the final outcome of each game. Devin Hester did muff a punt in the fourth quarter, but that hasn’t been a consistent problem for him throughout his record setting career.
- Steve Smith Sr. Each week a different receiver has lead the offense in receiving yards, and this week was Smith Sr.’s turn. Smith hasn’t enjoyed the flashy start to the season that he did last year, but he is contributing important plays each week, like his five-yard reception on 4th-and-2 on the Raven’s final possession.
- Taking The Division Lead. With Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland all taking a loss this week, the Ravens have taken the division lead for the first time in over a year. The Ravens have a chance to build on that lead with two upcoming home games in the next two weeks.
What I Didn’t Like
- The Running Game. This is becoming a recurring problem. The running game has been nonexistent for three games now. The offensive line is not opening holes and the running backs are not making plays. The hope is this will change when 4th-round rookie Kenneth Dixon returns to the field. Baltimore needs to find a solution sooner rather than later because the key to AFC North football late in the season is a sound running game in the colder months of the year.
- Realizing Ronnie Stanley Is Human. For the first two games Stanley was solid in both pass protection and run blocking. This week he let the fact that he’s a rookie show, giving up his first sack and committing a penalty. I don’t see this as a recurring problem, but it was the first time he showed any rookie mistakes.
- Lack Of Touchdowns. Scoring enough points to win the game hasn’t been the problem for the Ravens, but scoring touchdowns has. Flacco ran a touchdown early, but was not able to find the endzone again against a defense that had given up 65 points in its previous two games. Baltimore has scored only four touchdowns compared to nine field goals in three games.
- Giveaways Late In The Game. Flacco threw two interceptions and Hester fumbled a punt all in the fourth quarter. Turnovers like that lose games, and the Ravens are lucky the defense picked off two of its own to bail out the offense and special teams late on the road. Giveaways like that won’t fly later in the year, and Flacco is well aware of that.
- This is the type of win the Ravens needed. They’ve won three different games now in three different ways. Week One was defensive domination, Week Two was a come from behind victory, and Week Three was a thrilling back and forth contest won on the road. The Ravens have matched their road wins from 2015 (two) only three games into the season. The defense has five interceptions in three games, a stark contrast from last year’s six total in 16 games. The Ravens are proving they’ve fixed their past mistakes.
Preview of Week Four
- The Ravens come back home for a rematch of last year’s 37-33 loss in Oakland with the hopes of starting the year 4-0 for the first time in the Harbaugh/Flacco era. Oakland’s defense was suspect in Weeks One and Two, but tightened up against the Tennessee Titans this week. This figures to be a lower scoring affair than last year as both teams improved their defenses in the offseason, and the Ravens hope to capitalize at home against an up-and-coming Raiders squad.