PHILADELPHIA — For three quarters, the Ravens appeared to be in complete command. Then it nearly all unraveled, but Matthew Judon and L.J. Fort stuffed a two-point conversion try and the Ravens held on for a 30-28 win at Lincoln Financial Field Oct. 18.
The win sends the Ravens to their bye week at 5-1, but head coach John Harbaugh and players spoke afterward like a team that still has a lot to prove.
“We’ve got to execute better, both sides,” Harbaugh said, noting that the Ravens “gave up too many big plays on defense” in the second half. “Just way too many big plays. … We’ve got to figure that out. We can’t give up big plays.”
“Offensively, we didn’t move the ball well enough consistently,” he added.
“Big picture, we’re 5-1,” said safety DeShon Elliott, who had three tackles and forced two fumbles. “Yes, a lot of teams in the league would be excited if they were 5-1 going into the bye week, but we’re not. We expect excellence. We expect greatness, and right now, we’re not being great.”
The Ravens dominated the first half an route to a 17-0 lead, and despite another uneven offensive performance, they led 24-6 after Lamar Jackson’s 37-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
The Eagles (1-4-1) countered with three fourth-quarter touchdowns against a reeling Ravens defense that earlier in the second-half had allowed an 81-yard touchdown play. And when Carson Wentz scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 1:55 left, the Ravens lead was whittled to 30-28. On the ensuing two-point conversion try, Wentz kept the ball and linebackers Matthew Judon and L.J. Fort stuffed him to preserve the Ravens’ lead.
“They really have a big playbook in the two-point plays, and we were ready for everything,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “You really have to tip your hat off to Judon and L.J. Fort. They were right where they were supposed to be.”
Here are five other quick impressions of the win, the Ravens’ league-best ninth in a row on the road dating to last season:
1. This passing game has regressed …
Lamar Jackson said that the big Eagles defenders were getting hands up in passing lanes, forcing a lot of sidearm throws, but once again he struggled to connect consistently with receivers. Jackson finished 16-for-27 for 186 yards, with one touchdown and a passer rating of 92.5, although to his credit, he again led his team to a road win.
But after torching Cleveland and Houston in the first two weeks this year (38-for-49, 77.6 pct), Jackson has completed 56.7 percent of his passes during the past four games (64-for-113). The downfield game has been nearly nonexistent, with the longest pass play today covering 32 yards on a catch-and-run by Willie Snead. Jackson and Miles Boykin have struggled to gain any chemistry, and again were not on the same page when Jackson threw an out route to the sideline as Boykin streaked upfield.
Whether it’s a pass rush disrupting the pocket, or receivers not getting separation, or Jackson forcing a sidearm throw that misses its mark, the Ravens’ passing game has taken a step back during the past month.
They will want to use this bye week to try to take a long look at why that has happened.
2. … But when all else fails, Lamar Jackson’s legs remain this team’s best weapon.
Whether Jackson is completing passes or smacking the ground in frustration after missing on a throw, he still changes the game with his legs and did so again today. After a long Eagles touchdown run cut the Ravens lead to 17-6, the Ravens faced third-and-3 from the Eagles’ 37-yard line in what suddenly appeared to be a critical possession.
Jackson kept on a read option, burst through a hole created by guard Tyre Phillips and tackle Ronnie Stanley, and raced untouched for a touchdown, showing no signs of knee soreness that limited his practice time two weeks ago.
Later, after the Ravens recovered an onside kick and needed one first down to salt the game away, he kept and carried around the left and for 21 yards to secure the win.
It wasn’t always easy going for him, and the Ravens surely didn’t like seeing him get upended in the second quarter, but that 10-yard gain on third-and-10 kept the chains moving and again showed the multiple ways he generates offense.
Jackson finished with nine carries for 108 yards, including two victory-formation kneel-downs, and even when the passing game is out of rhythm, he again showed he is capable of instant offense on every snap.
3. Calais Campbell set the tone.
The Ravens’ defensive game plan took a hit Oct. 17 as starting nose tackle Brandon Williams was placed on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list. With defensive end Derek Wolfe also sidelined by a concussion and neck injury, concern mounted about how the Ravens’ defensive front would compensate.
But facing an Eagles offensive line that was missing several starters, the Ravens asserted their dominance immediately, and veteran Calais Campbell was at the heart of it. On the Eagles’ first offensive play, Campbell sacked quarterback Carson Wentz for a 7-yard loss. On the second play, he dragged down running back Miles Sanders for a 6-yard loss.
Campbell and the Ravens made life miserable for the Eagles’ patchwork offensive line, holding the Eagles without a first down on their first six possessions. Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles’ offense had netted minus-12 yards.
Later in the half, Campbell stuffed Wentz on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-1 from the Ravens 20-yard line as the Ravens preserved their first-half shutout.
Campbell finished with five tackles, three sacks and four quarterback hits, and although the Ravens struggled late, all 60 minutes matter and his play early put the Ravens in a position to win.
“Calais … played a great game,” Harbaugh said.
4. First-and-35? Penalties underscored a rough day for the offensive line.
The Ravens’ offensive line struggled to get much push against a strong Eagles front, and that wasn’t the only thing sending them backward.
The offensive linemen were called for eight penalties, shared among four starters plus backup Patrick Mekari. Among the linemen, only center Matt Skura emerged without a call against him.
There were holding calls, false starts and three calls for illegal formations related to the alignment of the tackles.
“We jumped a couple times, we didn’t line up a couple times, we had wrong formations …” Harbaugh said. “Those are the things that really should never happen … and we’ll look at those things and keep working on them.”
Certainly those calls, and the subsequent long down-and-distance situations, played into the lack of offensive rhythm. At one point in the second quarter the Ravens faced first-and-35 after being backed up consecutive penalties by guard Tyre Phillips, tackle Orlando Brown and tackle Ronnie Stanley.
“We just got killed with penalties,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “We really just stopped ourselves.”
Overall, the Ravens were called for a season-high 12 penalties for 132 yards, and the defense had its issues too; a third-down roughing the passer penalty on Jihad Ward gave the Eagles first-and-goal at the 2, and Marcus Peters was later flagged for a 49-yard pass interference penalty, leading to the Eagles final touchdown.
5. The Ravens can enjoy the bye week, but a season-defining stretch awaits.
The Ravens go into the bye week at 5-1 with their only loss coming against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. It’s a strong record, but to be sure, the schedule has been somewhat forgiving. Their past three opponents now have a collective record of 3-13-2.
That is about to change. During the next five games, the Ravens will face the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers twice (Nov. 1, Nov. 26), travel to the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots and host the Tennessee Titans, who knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs the last time they saw them.
Last year’s 14-2 run was driven by a remarkable stretch of top-notch execution with five wins in seven weeks over teams that eventually made the playoffs.
The Ravens play throughout the next five games is going to have a lot to do with what their January looks like.
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