Ravens Winners and Losers through the first quarter of the season

Ravens Winners and Losers through the first quarter of the season

Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

An update on who’s doing hot and who’s not

Now that a quarter of the season has been played, or at least as close as you can get with 17 games, let’s look back on preseason expectations for players and how they may have lived up to them…or haven’t lived up to them.

Winners

Lamar Jackson — There’s not much more you could ask from the former MVP quarterback. Besides a little hiccup in the second half of week four, Jackson is once again playing at an MVP level and was being considered as a front runner after only three weeks of the season. He’s operating at a higher level than ever before, even better than his 2019 MVP season. With 13 more games to go, he very well could insert himself back into the conversation, if he’s lost any ground after the loss to Buffalo. This team simply doesn’t win without Lamar playing well.

Devin Duvernay — The former third-round pick generated little buzz in the preseason and nobody was quite sure what to expect from him beyond his role as a returner, which did garner him a Pro-bowl and All-Pro nod last year, and his occasional use as gadget-play guy. Duvernay has exploded on the scene, tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns plus another one on a kick return. He’s been a consistent option and has multiple star-dazzling catches in contested situations with toe taps. His ceiling continues to be raised every week.

Mark Andrews — The best tight end in the league last year has continued his dominance. Amongst the tight ends, he’s currently third in yards and tied for first in touchdowns. On the Ravens, he leads the team in yards and catches and is tied for first in touchdowns. Simply put, Mark Andrews is the passing offense right now. While Bateman and Duvernay have been important pieces thus far, the air game relies on Andrews being productive and drawing attention.

Justice Hill — During the first three weeks of the season, the run game outside of Lamar Jackson was abysmal. The only saving grace? The honorable Justice Hill presiding. He’s been the most explosive back in the group, with six rushes of 10 yards or more and a 6.6 yard average per carry so far this season. His vision has massively improved, making impressive cuts and moves to extend runs, both at the line of scrimmage and in the second level. After being considered a bubble guy to make the roster in the preseason, he’s quickly gone to being the 1B option behind J.K. Dobbins. As J.K. continues to stay on a pitch count, the success of Justice Hill should help carry the running game until both J.K. and Gus Edwards are 100%. Let’s hope the team gets him back quickly from injury.

J.K. Dobbins — After missing all of 2021 and the first two weeks of 2022, J.K. Dobbins finally returned to the lineup in week three against New England. Before his return, the run game looked helpless and the solution to the problem didn’t seem clear with the offensive line not performing well on run blocks. An injection of Dobbins was all that was needed. His return squeezed life into a dying run game. Spin moves, broken tackles and attitude were returned to the backfield. More importantly, consistent positive yardage showed up. While his return hasn’t been the most explosive, only averaging 3.2 yards a carry, the improvement between weeks is noticeable. Dobbins will only continue to get better as he gets healthier, hopefully culminating into his 2020 form where he led the NFL running backs with 6.0 yards a carry.

Daniel Faalele — The fourth-round rookie was initially drafted as a developmental right tackle for the future, not likely to see game action early outside of the occasionally jumbo six offensive lineman package. Fast forward to week four, and Daniel Faalele is starting at left tackle, a position he’s never played in his career, and holding Von Miller and the Buffalo Bills to zero sacks. Injuries have forced Faalele to perform as the next man up and he is thriving. If Ronnie Stanley returns to this lineup soon, the upside of Faalele will be hard to ignore and questions about him replacing Morgan Moses at right tackle should be asked. Faalele will only continue to improve.

Ben Powers — The expectation for Ben Powers were low. Few expected him to win the starting left guard job out of camp and once he had it, many questioned his ability to keep the job against big man Ben Cleveland. Instead, he’s thrived and taken full command of the role. He has an over 80 pass block grade from PFF and has only allowed four pressures and zero sacks so far this year according to their database. While the run blocking could use some help, the ultimate goal this season was to improve protection to Lamar and Powers has contributed to that.

Marcus Williams — When the offseason began and talks of the Ravens going after a safety started up, Marcus Williams was discussed but was considered an unlikely option. Many deemed his pricetag out of the Ravens’ reach and out of their interest. Instead, the Ravens nabbed what might have been the best free safety on the market, and it looks like a discount right now. He currently leads the team in tackles (31) and interceptions (3) and is tied for the lead in pass breakups (4). He’s been everywhere. Considering the defense is currently 32nd in passing yards allowed, it’s a scary thought to wonder where they’d be without him. The back end of this defense is on lock for the next 5 years.

Marlon Humphrey — Marlon had a down year last year, there’s no arguing that. In his favor, the defense was wholly terrible, they had constant injuries and he was arguably the only consistent star player up until his injury. He has reemerged into his crowned nickname this year; All-Pro Marlo has returned. He simply isn’t allowing yards, doesn’t allow receptions, while still being targeted by quarterbacks who refuse to learn after consistent years of play. To add to those things which have been part of Humphrey’s game for a while, he’s improved his ball hawking. His current season high is three interceptions back in 2019. He currently has two through the first four weeks, tied for the lead amongst cornerbacks. He is, and has been, a top-tier cornerback in the NFL, and on his way to possibly being the best Ravens cornerback ever.

Marcus Peters — This team desperately missed Marcus Peters last year. He brings a fire that few players and even fewer current Ravens have. A dog mentality that was absent. He’s already shown it during the week four loss to Buffalo, screaming on the sideline and yelling at John Harbaugh, who was arguably to blame for the loss. Beyond that, his play on the field has also helped tremendously. Peters’ ball-hawking ways have quickly returned. In two full games and one game on a pitch count, Peters has already made six plays on the ball including an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and three passes defended according to Pro Football Reference. It is reasonable to assume that he’ll continue to get better as he ramps back up to speed.

Brandon Stephens — Brandon Stephens was a wildcard coming into this year. It’s easy to forget this is only his fourth year playing on defense between college and the NFL. In his rookie year, he was primarily a safety. With a crowded safety room, the Ravens moved Brandon Stephens to outside cornerback. Then Kyle Fuller went down and Stephens had to step up even more in what was basically another rookie year, learning a new position at the NFL level. So far, he’s let up less than a 50% catch rate on targets against him according to PFF and already has four pass breakups in three games according to Pro Football Reference. He’s stepped up in a big way and will be critical to the Ravens getting back on track defensively.

Justin Madubuike — The second-year breakout was delayed a bit last year as the whole defense was terrible. Madubuike showed flashes but the numbers never matched what he was hyped up to be. This year Madubuike is using a retooled defensive line to his advantage and has put the pieces together. Before even looking at the numbers, it’s hard not to notice the kid. He seems to be in the backfield or stuffing the run every play, and the numbers are backing it up this year as well. PFF has him at 11 total pressures with two sacks and grading at 83.6 for the season so far. With Michael Pierce going down for the season, Madubuike will be counted on even more and has a chance for a huge year.

Greg Roman — The Greg Roman criticism is always loud, and not unwarranted at times. But so far this season it’s hard to argue with results. After an offseason of fans begging for him to be let go, Roman has called an offense that has put up at least 20 points in every game, almost averaging 30 points a game so far this season (29.75). Outside of a scoreless second half against Buffalo, there’s not much to be angry about. Even without his normally prolific run game to help him, his passing offense has taken new heights, even with the exit of wideout Marquise Brown. This isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be better with Brown but the Ravens have become a passing team and have room to get better with more consistent play from their wide receivers. Now with J.K. Dobbins returning, the run game should improve and this offense has a chance to be unstoppable if Roman continues his hot streak.

Losers*

*= This title does not mean these players are losers. It just means they’ve performed under expectations. It is to be taken lightly

Odafe Oweh — This is slightly unfair, simply because the expectations were set fairly high for Oweh. All the talk the entire offseason was that the expectation was for Oweh to become an elite pass rusher, with many predicting double-digit sack numbers for him, which is still possible. He leads the NFL in quarterback hurries with 14 according to PFF while playing on a massively high snap percentage due to a lack of players in his position group, a shocking 86% total, even topping out at 95% against Buffalo. Even still, having only one sack through the first four weeks just won’t cut it. The Ravens need more impact plays from him. Hopefully, Week 4 was a stepping stone as he had a forced fumble and his first sack of the year. With the return of Tyus Bowser and Justin Houston, it should help keep a more consistent rotation of edge players, allowing Oweh to play fresher throughout the game.

Patrick Queen — Patrick Queen was supposed to take the biggest leap of his career so far, becoming a three-down player, on the field for every snap. While he has been on the field for the majority of snaps, 97%, the results haven’t been great. He still seems to struggle in coverage and has already missed a number of tackles so far this season, six from PFF’s database. We’ve seen and know that Queen can play at a high level in all aspects of the game, he made a ton of plays in Week 1 against quality skill position players like Michael Carter, Breece Hall, Braxton Berrios, Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson. It’s about him putting it together in all phases consistently, especially if the Ravens are going to make him play at an above 90% snap rate every game.

Kyle Hamilton — The biggest trait about Kyle Hamilton coming out of the draft was that he was supposed to be the most NFL-ready player in the draft, the safety prospect of dreams, one that was rarely seen in college, generational. That’s one of the biggest reasons it’s tough to see Hamilton struggle as he has so far and why he’s on this list. I want to be clear, Kyle Hamilton will, in all likelihood, be a very good safety, probably for years to come. He’s shown flashes and great resilience, bouncing back from a terrible Week 2 Miami game to making a game-sealing play in Week 3 against the Patriots. But the struggles have been there – miscommunications, tackling issues, losing focus. For a guy who was supposed to play anywhere from 60-80% of snaps and make impactful plays every week, the current performance is a disappointment.

The important part is Hamilton is a luxury piece. The Ravens can afford to have him struggle a bit and only play 40% of snaps like he’s doing right now. That’s the bonus of having both Marcus Williams and Chuck Clark ahead of him. He can make mistakes now and learn without being a vital starting piece.

Isaiah Likely — A fourth-round rookie’s expectation should never be high. Unfortunately, I don’t think a single person didn’t buy into the preseason hype of Isaiah Likely. To put it bluntly, he looked absolutely dominant. Contested catches, yards after the catch, diverse routes, he showed it all. So five catches for 51 yards is a disappointment, as silly as it is. The bigger concern is Isaiah Likely’s run-blocking ability, or rather, lack thereof. But Isaiah Likely was drafted for his special ability in the passing game. He’s already shown it but it would be a great help to the offense if opposing defenses had to cover Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay plus Likely who can also be dangerous after the catch which could create problems for defenses. All in all, it’s more realistic for us to bring our expectations down but hopefully Likely can get involved more down the line.

John Harbaugh — There have already been two articles written about John Harbaugh in reaction to each loss on this website, one for Miami and one for Buffalo. The issues with Harbaugh are explained in each. At the end of the day, when a team struggles as it has for the last year and some change, injuries put aside, you have to look at the top and the head coach is there. After some historic collapses from the team this year, it is on John Harbaugh to get his team focused and fix the issues.

Mike Macdonald — One of the most forgotten facts headed into this season would be the Ravens coming out with the youngest current defensive coordinator in the NFL who was only in his second year calling plays and his first at the NFL level. So looking back, some wonky college-esque coverages, miscommunications, and general confusion should have probably been buffered into expectations. After a masterful Week 1 performance, Macdonald has had some weird moments including not having a safety overtop Tyreek Hill, dropping a 300-pound Justin Madubuike 20 yards into coverage, and having zero guys rush the passer.

He’s also responsible for a defense that held Buffalo to 23 points and a defense that’s created 10 turnovers. As he gains NFL experience, situational awareness will increase, bugs in the system will be ironed out, players will feel more confident in their roles, and the defense will get better. Until then, we’ll have to take the good with the bad.

Special notice*

*These are notes on specific players I wanted to bring up but didn’t feel like they belong in any category.

Rashod Bateman — Rashod Bateman has been by no means a loser. He’s made impactful plays that have helped them put up points and win games. He’s averaging over 50 yards a game so far. On the other side, through four contests he’s averaging less than three catches a game, catching 11 passes on 22 attempts. That’s simply not good enough and it has to improve. Bateman has all the talent in the world and has shown the ability to make game-changing plays. But he, Lamar Jackson, and Greg Roman need to figure out how to get the ball into Bateman’s hands more than three times a game. They need more consistent play from their No. 1 wideout if they want to be in this playoff race come December. Bateman is currently nursing a day-to-day foot injury and his return is of the utmost importance.

James Proche — Another regular season equals more time spent clamoring for James Proche to see the field. Last year after a strong preseason, he was buried in the depth chart by Bateman, Marquise Brown, and Sammy Watkins but had strong performances with games of 76 and 74 yards. This year another strong training camp was interrupted by injury problems and he’s only played in two games with limited snaps. For a third-year sixth-round pick, the buzz Proche has garnered is fascinating but eventually, it will have to show up on the field in the regular season or it will fade away. With Bateman likely being held out with an injury and Proche finally getting multiple full practice days in a row, expect to see Proche in a healthy role come this Sunday night.

Ronnie Stanley — After not being put on the PUP list to start the year, there was a hope that Stanley would make his return at some point during the first four weeks of the season. Four weeks have gone by and we’ve only just gotten the first glimpse of Stanley being a full participant in practice multiple days in a row. It may be another week or two before we see Stanley, who’s only played one game since his 2020 ankle injury. Fans are getting less and less patient but need to remain so.

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