The Baltimore Ravens came alive in the second half after starting slow out of the gate of an eventual 28-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The win over the Browns strengthens a hold on the lead of the AFC North division, for now. The defense dominated the entire game, allowing 144 yards and causing the Browns to bench rookie QB Cody Kessler for veteran Josh McCown.
Joe Flacco’s offense woke up after halftime to the tune of 22 unanswered points coming from three passing touchdowns. Could this be a sign of better things to come for the offense?
Here are my main points from last Thursday’s win.
What I Liked
- Scoring In The Redzone. Aside from a lackluster first half in which they scored just two Justin Tucker field goals Joe Flacco threw two redzone touchdowns in the 3rd quarter. Baltimore has had trouble getting into the endzone this year (14 offensive touchdowns), so seeing Flacco throw two in the redzone Thursday was encouraging. The Browns defense is ranked last in the league this season, although they do typically play tough against the AFC North. Flacco must repeat his second half performance against tougher opponents to prove Thursday was not an anomaly.
- Defensive Domination. Baltimore’s defense is now ranked No. 1 in the league after their second matchup against Cleveland. Two weeks in a row now they have played stellar against two divisional opponents ranked 11th (Pittsburgh) and 16th (Cleveland) in total offense. This defense has great chemistry from top to bottom. The secondary is playing better than it has for years in Baltimore. The addition of Eric Weddle has turned what was a weakness into a strong suit quickly. Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young complement each other’s strengths and makeup a great cornerback duo. C.J. Mosley, Brandon Williams, and Timmy Jernigan have turned this front seven into a run-stopping force. Terrell Suggs’ strip sack of McCown was a thing of beauty.
- Getting Young Players Involved. Two of Flacco’s three touchdowns went to second-year players receiving the first touchdowns of their careers. Tight End Darren Waller, who is second on the depth chart with Crockett Gillmore’s injury, brought in the first touchdown of the night for the Ravens. Waller, a 6th round selection in 2015, was immediately viewed as a redzone target of the future for Flacco when he was drafted. All four of his receptions have come in the past two games, and he is putting it upon himself to produce with Gillmore injured. Breshad Perriman’s long awaited endzone debut arrived late in the game Thursday, and put the game out of reach with six minutes left. Fans have been waiting for Perriman to become a solid contributor on this offense for over a year now. Perriman’s next goal: score a touchdown under pressure. Rookie Running Back Kenneth Dixon had his biggest game of the season, as well (more on that below).
- Getting Kessler Benched. Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson hand-picked Kessler in the 2016 Draft as his potential quarterback of the future. After committing to him full time just before the game in Baltimore he pulled the rookie QB after one half of work. Kessler’s veteran replacement, who has beaten the Ravens twice in the past four years, fared no better for Cleveland this time around. McCown threw two picks and could not put any points on the board in his half of work.
- Getting Dixon Involved. Dixon showed reason to get him more involved in the offense Thursday with his most productive game of the season. Terrance West still owns this backfield, but Dixon could be a nice change-of-pace back to keep West fresh. Dixon only touched the ball 11 times throughout the contest, but made the most of his opportunities. On only six carries he gained 38 yards, while gaining 42 on his five receptions. Once Dixon finds the endzone for the first time, things will come more naturally for the talented rookie.
What I Didn’t Like
- Two Minute Offense. Baltimore got the ball with 1:39 left on the clock in the 2nd quarter with all three of its timeouts and down 7-3. Against the worst defense in the league, the offense played for a field goal. They repeatedly threw short slant routes early in the drive, causing them to burn their timeouts before advancing deep down the field. The longest gain of the drive was a 14-yard play that helped get into field goal position, but there were no attempts to push the ball deep downfield. Why did the offense play so conservative on a drive that could have ended so well? Flacco knows the Browns, he was playing at home, yet the offense seemed content only coming away with three points. Flacco has been vocal about being too conservative in the past, and knows the offense needs to step up if they want to make a post season run.
- Starting Games Slow. Baltimore has become known as a second half team in the past few years. The team consistently starts slow on offense, especially when playing against inferior opponents. And it seems that when the offense does start hot out of the gate, they fizzle later. Starting slow against teams like the Browns is forgivable given that Baltimore finds ways to beat them. But if Baltimore can only put up 6 points against the Steelers, Bengals, and Patriots later in the season, they might need more than just the second half to come back. The Ravens are hoping that their second half against Cleveland will give the offense some momentum going forward.
- I like this team. Just when fans start calling for John Harbaugh to be fired, he pulls his team back together. Baltimore fans are passionate, and four game losing streaks are rare, but there is plenty of football ahead. The Ravens improved to 3-0 in the division, which is crucial for a North title. The AFC North is down, and the Ravens are taking advantage. After cheering for a Dallas win over Pittsburgh yesterday, which put Baltimore in sole possession of the division lead, Baltimore must get ready for its toughest opponent of the season so far.
Week Eleven Preview
- The Ravens travel to Dallas to play two of the most electrifying rookies in recent NFL history. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are playing like seasoned veterans behind the best offensive line in football. This game will be a major test for Baltimore’s No. 1 ranked defense. If Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce can slow down Elliott the slightest bit and our pass rush can rattle Prescott, than the Ravens have a chance. The offense is capable of scoring on Dallas’ overachieving defense. The offensive line is banged up yet again for Baltimore, so Flacco will need his A game next Sunday to end the longest current winning streak in the NFL.