'No One is Playing Better Football Than Baltimore'
Ravens fans likely woke up feeling pretty confident knowing how Baltimore took care of business. Much like last year's matchup against the Houston Texans, Sunday's game was one-sided.
While it wasn'ta 41-7 rout, pundits believe the Ravens look evenbetter than last season.
"It was clear in Week 1 and unavoidable in Week 2," NFL.com's Nick Shook wrote. "Baltimore rushed for 230 yards, Lamar Jackson completed 75% of his passes, threw a touchdown pass, broke 200 yards through the air, spread the ball among nine targets - including the fullback - and Mark Ingram emerged from his Week 1 slumber to break five yards per carry and score a touchdown. Baltimore's defense forced two turnovers, returned a fumble for a touchdown and sacked Deshaun Watson four times. Justin Tucker was a perfect 4 for 4 on field goal attempts. When the Ravens took a 14-point lead in the fourth, it felt like it was a 30-point advantage. No one - rightfully - wants to play the Ravens right now. And no one is playing better football than Baltimore."
Here are pundits' top takeaways from Sunday's 33-16 win.
Ravens Show How Many Different Ways They Can Win
Texans Defensive Coordinator Anthony Weaver made it a point to slow down two of the Ravens' biggest offensive weapons. Jackson finished the game 18-of-24 for 204 passing yards and a touchdown, while tight end Mark Andrews was held to just one catch for 29 yards.
Yet, what makes the Ravens one of the NFL's most dangerous teams is their ability to win in so many ways.
"The Ravens' Week 2 victory reminded us that they don't always need Jackson to be otherworldly," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "They're just as capable of winning because All-Pro cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, come through with a punch-out and a diving interception, respectively. Or because offensive coordinator Greg Roman dials up a direct snap to Mark Ingram II on fourth down, leading to a back-breaking 30-yard touchdown run. Or because they grind away the clock behind steamrolling fullback Patrick Ricard. Or because kicker Justin Tucker does his job perfectly. Or because they don't give the ball away."
The Ravens' Week 1 dominating win over the Cleveland Browns was led by Jackson and the passing attack. One week later, the ground game rushed for 230 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.
Unless you're an offensive lineman, every other player on the field for the Ravens' offense has a legitimate chance to find the end zone. Even Ricard caught a 1-yard touchdown to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
"The Ravens are showing teams they can play a lot of different ways on offense, and that might be by design this early in the season - put it on tape for other teams to stress over it," Ebony Bird's Darin McCann wrote.
"Baltimore's win over the Texans was an illustration of how much the Ravens are evolving as an offense," NFL.com's Jeffri Chadhia wrote. "They gained 230 yards on the ground, with an assortment of runners making significant contributions. That attack wore down Houston's defense and gave the Ravens their second win of the season. It also told us Jackson won't have to do nearly as much heavy lifting as he did during his MVP campaign last year.
"These Ravens still want to slug it out. The difference now is that their defense is stronger, their quarterback is more mature and -- after going 14-2 in 2019 and losing in the Divisional Round of the playoffs -- they have a clear determination to finish what they start."
On the other side of the ball, the defense proved to be just as potent. It kept one of the league's top dual-threat quarterbacks in check and forced two key turnovers.
"The Ravens reminded everyone that their defense can be just as dangerous as Jackson," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "On a day when the reigning NFL MVP struggled to get the ball in the end zone as frequently as he usually does, the Ravens' defense proved to be the game-changer with two turnovers in a 33-16 win at the Texans, including a 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown by linebacker L.J. Fort."
Hensley pointed out that Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's unit has held teams to 21 or fewer points in 13 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. They also have scored seven defensive touchdowns in 12 games.
It's a dangerous combination when one of the league's top-scoring offenses is also getting points from its defense, and the Ravens' well-balanced attack is what's led them to 14 straight regular-season wins.
"It's not just the Ravens attack that makes them a Super Bowl contender, though," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "It's their special teams; kicker Justin Tucker was 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and kept the scoreboard ticking upward, even when the offense wasn't lighting it up. It's their coaching, which kept Watson (25-for-36 for 275 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception) on the move for a lot of the afternoon and was bold enough to convert two key fourth-down opportunities. It's their defense, which limited the Texans to 51 rushing yards, sacked Watson four times and scored a touchdown one season after finding the end zone six times."
Fort Is an Underrated Defensive Contributor
There was understandably a lot of excitement surrounding the Ravens' rookie linebacker duo of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, but Fort continues to prove how important he is to the defense.
"Sharing linebacker snaps with rookie Malik Harrison, Fort has been rock solid through two weeks," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "He always seems to be in the right place at the right time, which was once again the case in Week 2. ... Against the Browns in the season opener, Fort sniffed out Cleveland's fake punt attempt in the first quarter and made a fantastic open-field tackle. In addition to these specific moments, Fort consistently does little things that don't always show up in the box score but are valuable nonetheless."
Coming off a six-tackle performance against the Browns, Fort was on the tail end of Sunday's turning point when he scooped up a forced fumble from Humphrey and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Fort's versatility as a contributor on defense and special teams is huge for the defense. He's the perfect third inside linebacker in the rotation alongside Queen and Harrison and is proving to be worth every penny of the reported $5.5 million extension he signed last season.
Offensive Line Concerns Linger, But No Reason for Panic
If there's one concern among pundits after the first two weeks, it's the offensive line. J.J. Watt and the Texans' pass rush made Jackson uncomfortable in the pocket, racking up four sacks and five quarterback hits.
"The Ravens' offensive line, specifically the interior, was a big question mark, entering the 2020 season," NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis wrote. "After two weeks, that discussion isn't going away. Baltimore gave up four sacks on the day as it struggled against the Houston front, led by Watt. With rookie Tyre Phillips up front to replace franchise legend Marshal Yanda, and center Matt Skura still nearing 100 percent, the offensive line has room to grow over the next few weeks of the season."
"To his credit, Jackson often was able to elude a sack or extend a play by flushing out of the pocket, but the Ravens certainly don't want to see 300-pound defensive linemen plowing into, or pushing Ravens linemen into, the league's reigning Most Valuable Player," Press Box's Bo Smolka added.
Add in four quarterback hits from Week 1 and that's more than the Ravens would like to see this early in the regular season. We knew this was going to be one of the biggest storylines following the retirement of Yanda, but it's not time to panic.
As Gillis noted, the offensive line got better as the game went on. Without any preseason games to play together, the unit is still finding its footing. There's reason to believe they'll get better as the season progresses, and that's already showing with players like Phillips.
In his second start, Phillips logged 13 true pass sets and didn't lose a single rep, according to Pro Football Focus.
Secondary Depth Tested in Tavon Young's Absence
The Ravens were one of many teams who took a major blow on the injury front Sunday. Tavon Young suffered what appears to be a season-ending knee injury, and Baltimore will be without its top slot cornerback for the foreseeable future.
It's an unfortunate string of injuries that have kept Young off the field in recent seasons, and one of the league's deepest secondaries will be tested.
"With only five cornerbacks on the 53-man roster entering this game, it's clear Baltimore is going to have to add at least one player to the depth chart just to have enough cornerbacks for a game," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "But moving forward, it'll be interesting to see exactly how Martindale and the Ravens more permanently fill Young's spot this season."
Humphrey moved into the slot like he did for much of last season, while Averett played on the outside. The Ravens defense played well in Young's absence, but Stevens said it's time for Baltimore to see what they have in Averett in the slot.
"Though he's been underwhelming over the last two years, a trial-by-fire approach with some safety and linebacker help might just be the remedy to getting Averett valuable in-game experience," Stevens wrote. "More importantly, it allows Baltimore to see if Averett is capable of being a starter-quality cornerback for the future, something they'll have to seriously contemplate with Young likely heading to injured reserve for his third season out of five years in the league."
Next week's matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs will provide one of the biggest tests.
Ravens Overtake Chiefs as Betting Favorites to Win Super Bowl LV
When asked when the focus turns to the Week 3 matchup against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, Ingram said: "Immediately." He's not the only one with that mindset.
Less than 24 hours after their win, fans and pundits are already shifting their attention to one of the best games on the regular season slate.
"Reigning Super Bowl champions always have the biggest targets on their backs," NBC Sports' Kevin Brown wrote. "They'll get everyone's best shots each week as the rest of the NFL aims for signature victories. That holds true for the Ravens, who after defeating the Texans on Sunday, are already focused on the challenge the dynamic Chiefs will bring to Baltimore for a heavyweight Week 3 contest.
"While no fans are permitted to attend what promises to be one of the games of the 2020 NFL season in just the league's third week, many eyeballs will be taking it in on Monday night."
After the Chiefs escaped with a 23-20 overtime win against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday afternoon, the Ravens are the current betting favorites to win Super Bowl LV, according to FanDuel Sportsbook (+500).
The Ravens open as three-point favorites over the Chiefs. How dominant was the Ravens' run game in the second half? "According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Ravens' 153 rushing yards in the fourth quarter were the most by any team since the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The 14 consecutive runs from scrimmage started with Ingram's touchdown run on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 from the Texans' 30. It ended with rookie J.K. Dobbins, who didn't get his first touch until about midway through the third quarter, getting outside and earning a 44-yard gain." Ricard, Miles Boykin, Sam Koch, DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark made a long list of winners for the Ravens.