I don't suddenly believe the Ravens have a significantly better defense.
I'm well aware they almost completely shut out MVP favorite Russell Wilson and the Seahawks in the second half of their 30-16 win in Seattle Oct. 20. It's abundantly clear the two touchdowns they scored defensively provided the two-touchdown difference in the football game. And even a dope like me could see the impact recent additions Marcus Peters and L.J. Fort made in one of the franchise's best wins in recent memory.
But no, I still don't think the Ravens have a significantly better defense.
You're probably rolling your eyes. You're probably thinking something like "leave it to this guy to try to pour cold water all over one of the most fulfilling victories this fan base has experienced in recent memory." But stick with me for a second.
No, I don't think the defense is significantly better. I think Fort had a great game (and so did defensive tackle Brandon Williams, by the way). I think Peters made a great play ... but on perhaps the single worst throw Wilson has ever made. Peters is a playmaker. He's a risk taker. If you combine "awful cross-field lob" with "risk-taking corner," you can get great results. It might end up biting the Ravens in the future. But against the Seahawks, it was the perfect convergence of circumstances.
What I think happened Oct. 20 was fairly clear. I think a defense was able to key in during the second half because the Ravens were absolutely dominant on the ground (scratch that, Lamar Jackson was absolutely dominant on the ground and Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards pitched in a bit). I think when your offense holds the ball for 17:38 in the second half (and builds up a multi-possession advantage), your defense is going to get the chance to look even better than it might actually be, and it can send some extra pressure at a quarterback to try to make up for a rather anemic rush.
Every circumstance in the football game from the moment that Wilson laid out the ball that was such a duck the Steelers tried to sign it to play quarterback set the Ravens up to be able to do exactly what they did in the second half. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll's confounding decision to try a 53-yard field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-3 from the Baltimore 36 in the third quarter proved to be the spark the Ravens needed. From that point forward, the Ravens would complete only three passes ... and outscore the Seahawks 17-3.
I've spent the last couple of weeks on Glenn Clark Radio wondering out loud (and asking a number of guests) if despite both the Ravens' obvious interest in further developing Jackson as a passer this season and the clear strides he's made in terms of being a better thrower of the ball, the team might just be better suited to try to win these games against difficult opposition by simply reverting back to more of the type of team they were after inserting Jackson a year ago. That group, of course, was absolutely run-dominant, keeping its defense fresh and sprinkling in the occasional timely throw while forcing teams to try to play more of the Ravens' style of football.
There was some thought that perhaps the league had caught up to the style and proved it wasn't sustainable during the Ravens' playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. When Jackson threw for 324 yards and five touchdowns in the Week 1 win against the Miami Dolphins, it appeared to back up the idea that the Ravens needed to keep opening things up offensively this season as they further developed their second year quarterback.
But the win against the Seahawks was a reminder of two things:
1.) Jackson is such a dynamic runner that combined with the Ravens' offensive playmakers (especially with receiver Marquise Brown out and tight end Mark Andrews struggling in Seattle), there will rarely be a play where a throw is a definitely better option that him choosing to get out of the pocket and get downfield.
2.) The ability to grind out games not only keeps talented opposing quarterbacks off the field but has absolutely proven to help a defense that isn't overwhelmingly good.
The impact both this win and Pernell McPhee's injury might have on the team's willingness to boldly attempt to acquire a pass rusher will be fascinating. But even if they do, sticking with a run-dominant strategy might still prove to be the best option for the team.
Some of you are perhaps thinking "this isn't necessarily a fair example because a number of Jackson's second-half runs appeared to come on designed passing plays." So true! But Jackson hasn't exactly proven to be an incapable designed runner (see the fourth-and-2 play that broke the tie). Yes, there was great success on scrambles Oct. 20, but there was also success on designed runs. He's, you know, THAT GOOD on the ground. Combining that with both Ingram and Edwards averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season and I'm pretty sure it's clear how this team is best suited to try to keep beating good teams (so many of which remain on the schedule).
Would it hurt Jackson's development as a passer? Not necessarily. A run-dominant attack does not equal "no passing." While recent research suggests that passing quarterbacks and running quarterbacks are at equal risk of getting hurt, the better way to state is that quarterbacks getting contacted are at greater risk of getting hurt than those who aren't and the more a quarterback runs, the more likely he is to take contact. The team appears to be willing to let Jackson take that risk.
So I think we have the answer. What we saw in the second half of the win ... which was similar to what we saw in the second half of the 2018 season ... just might be the Ravens' ticket to beating the Patriots or the Texans or the Rams or the 49ers or the Bills. It might not be the only way, but unless true defensive upgrades are coming, it appears as though it's the best way.