After a night of processing the game and considering it with a finer-toothed comb, here are my postgame thoughts.
Ravens Defense Is ‘Chasing History’
The standard of defense in Baltimore is high—too high at times, but it’s admirable. Seeing the current defense both as a unit and its individual players pursue respective standards of old is quite telling to the confidence of this squad. It also says a lot about their play of late. If not for a late-game blunder touchdown allowed in New Orleans, the Ravens would have allowed zero offensive touchdowns in the past two games.
Of course, the competition has been middling, what with their last two opponents trotting out veteran backups Andy Dalton and Baker Mayfield, but the Ravens defense handled business.
It’s a far cry from what we saw at the beginning of the season. Remember when games didn’t matter until the fourth quarter where the Ravens boasted a 10-point lead and it was a coin flip if they held on? Against the Panthers in the fourth quarter they forced three takeaways and a turnover on downs. It appears Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald has settled in and with the talent improving from healthy additions, signings and trades, along with development from their younger squadron, not-so-suddenly, there’s a defense pursuing franchise standards loftier than all others.
Not Just Coach-Speak
I remember the first day of training camp this season and getting the cliché—but true, opening statement from Harbaugh at the podium.
“So, I thought we had a good practice,” Harbaugh said back in July. “Guys were excited to be out here working hard. We have a long way to go, but we’ve got tomorrow to get a little bit better. I thought our guys… We had some good moments today. So, what questions do you have?”
Harbaugh said much of the same in 2021.
“We had a heck of a practice. It was really fun to watch,” Harbaugh said. “The energy was high. I thought guys were on point. It was a disciplined practice for the first day. We didn’t have too many mistakes, but we’re chasing perfection in everything we do. We have a lot of work to do in every area, but we’re off to a really good start.”
And in 2020…
“I thought it was sharp. I thought our guys had a lot of energy,” Harbaugh said. “I thought they were into it [and] enjoying it. They’ve been really chomping at the bit to get out there and do football. This is a beginning for us. We have a long way to go [and] a lot of work to do in a short period of time, but we’re looking forward to getting to it.”
It’s about each practice Harbaugh states they had a “good” practice and they have a lot to work on. He’s not wrong when saying it every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. But after the last game, I think it’s clear to see strides have been made, and I asked Harbaugh about that on Monday and if there’s gratification in seeing the progress they’ve made.
“Yes, it’s great. I think any coach – any teacher – would say the same thing; when you see your students or your players start to have success in ways that you kind of envisioned for them, it’s very rewarding.”
Harbaugh also knows how quickly it can fall to the wayside.
“Then again, it’s tempered in our league especially by the fact that you know you’re coming up against a great opponent the very next week that’s very capable of making everything go in the other direction at any time,” Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh may give his fair bit of cliche’s—being in the business long enough, how could one avoid them? But, he’s not misleading. The team has, each year, come in with an intensity and energy visible by coaches and media alike. They’ve also required heavy coaching to hone their skills and abilities. They’ve done so with a lot of good practices and the dividends are showing.
Singling Out Names
Marlon Humphrey: He’s one of the biggest factors in the Ravens’ win/loss column. When he’s off, there’s little the team can do to mitigate his struggles. Fortunately, they don’t happen too often, especially this season. After a porous 2021, Humphrey spent time getting back to his standard, and the franchise standard. This offseason, he made a joke at his expense that he’s paid far too well to not be among the elite. That was the case as he dog-walked Baker Mayfield into an interception and was an officiating failure away from a scoop-and-score touchdown.
Marlon Humphrey as the closest defender today, per @NextGenStats:
1 interception, 0 receptions allowed on 2 targets over 31 coverage snaps.
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 20, 2022
Patrick Queen: Remember the standard I mentioned being too high at times? This was a player victimized by those expectations. Queen took time to develop, which was not good enough for fans who saw the headline, “Ravens draft ‘undersized’ middle linebacker in Round 1” and ran with Ray Lewis comparisons. But Queen had struggled with consistency throughout the first two seasons and that was fair to note.
But in the past six weeks we’ve seen Queen elevate to outright dominance.
It hasn’t been just a game or two this season where Queen has ‘flashed.’ He’s been wrecking houses for six weeks now, and in that time he’s accumulated three sacks, three hurries, 36 tackles, and 22 stops. He’s flying all over the field and even Pro Football Focus is giving him elite grades and crediting him for his performance.
Kyle Hamilton: After the Dolphins game, Hamilton received scorching commentary from NFL fans, including Ravens fans. He was even called out by coaches.
But since he “was willing to listen to wise counsel” he’s been a tour de force. According to Pro Football Focus, Hamilton’s the No. 15 ranked defender in pro football.
While that may be a bit of a stretch, Hamilton is playing elite football, and he’s incredibly young. He turned 21-years-old a month before that NFL draft. If players don’t hit their peak until around 25, 26, Hamilton has four solid years of development before he hits what can only be imagined as a violent, unorthodox peak.
Ben Powers: He was looked at as a cap-saving cut during roster projections among…myself and others. Now, he’s the No. 1 pass blocking guard in the NFL (per PFF), and alongside Kevin Zeitler at No. 2. Just an unreal showing from Powers this season and I want to give those flowers to him now.
On Monday, Head Coach John Harbaugh made it sound like both Hamilton and Ronnie Stanley will be alright, although it wasn’t explicitly stated.
“Yes, Kyle [Hamilton] and Ronnie [Stanley], we don’t have the final word on those things yet, but I would say it’s definitely trending in the right direction based on what we know so far. Ronnie still has an MRI to get, so we’ll find out the final on that, but it was trending really well last night and this morning,” Harbaugh said. “And Kyle, the same thing. Kyle, the X-rays looked good, so it’s trending in the right way. His knee is stable and all those kinds of things.”
If both are to miss time, it’s alright. Certainly when the fear was Stanley being lost for the season.
Humanizing it for a moment, it must’ve felt terrifying for Stanley to feel rolled up on the same ankle he’s dealt with so much strife. To escape that without another surgery would be the greatest of victories for him.