The Donatell Diary: Lamar’s Ravens Grind Their Way to 23 Points and a Win

Nov 7, 2021; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws in over time against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Week 4 was horrendous for the Broncos offense. Teddy Bridgewater was forced out of the game due to a concussion; Drew Lock sputtered in relief. The end result was a considerably more challenging time slowing down Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. For the first time in the 2021 season, the Broncos lost.

Readers who haven’t been following along or who’d like a refresher can feel free to read the reports on the Broncos defensive performance in Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3. It’s now time to take on Week 4.

The Positives

Alexander Johnson – who is still a free agent – showed up at various points. He regularly crashed the line to stifle the Ravens’ run game, and he was active in other aspects of the game, as well. He gets brought on blitzes with consistency. He was in on 8 tackles in this one.

Justin Simmons vs. Mark Andrews was a heavyweight tilt. Simmons got his hands on a couple passes, demonstrating the abilities that led to him getting paid. At other times, Andrews broke free. The tight end’s ability to generate some positive momentum for the Ravens directly fed into Baltimore’s first TD of the game. He caught consecutive first down passes in the second quarter. Latavius Murray, not coincidentally, brought a 12-yard run in for a TD the very next play. It was one of the few times the Broncos’ run defense didn’t look sharp.

The first quarter involved three possessions for the Ravens. They punted three times. The Broncos weren’t as ferocious with their pass rush. Instead, they took their foot off the pedal, intentionally slowing things down to corral Lamar Jackson. The speedy QB finished the day with 28 yards on 7 carries. Any DC would gladly take those numbers.

In fact, the Broncos defense did a really nice job against the run. Murray only had 59 yards on 18 carries. Le’Veon Bell turned 4 carries into 11 yards. Given how crucial the run game is to the Ravens, the Broncos did well. Coming into the game, they committed to ensuring Baltimore couldn’t beat them by being dominant on the ground. They achieved that goal.

Keep in mind that the Denver offense only put up a single touchdown. Following the Bridgewater injury, Drew Lock was 12/21 for 113 yards and an INT. It was ugly out there, and the Ravens possessed the ball for a little more than 33 minutes. The Broncos forced a punt 7 times. Unfortunately, the Denver offense punted it 10 times after only punting the ball 9 times in the opening three weeks. Something was amiss on offense, meaning the defense had a lot more work than in past weeks.

After allowing 17 opening half points, the Broncos held Baltimore to a mere 6 points in the second half.

The Negatives

The Ravens got absolutely roasted by Marquise Brown on a long TD in the second quarter. As you’ll see in the tweet below, Brown gets the safety moving in the wrong direction before working back toward the middle. It was a great catch and throw. Watch #5 in the slot.

Part of the issue with devoting so much energy to corralling the run is that a defense finds itself vulnerable to the pass. Jackson finished with 316 yards passing. The game broadcast repeated a couple times that it was only the second time in Jackson’s career that he had gone for more than 300 yards passing.

The safeties, as I’ve pointed out every week, are very involved. They fly up to the line of scrimmage with regularity, offering great support in run defense. Being hyper focused on Jackson made it tougher for them to complete their passing game assignments. Mark Andrews got completely loose for a TD in the 4th quarter. The safeties missed him since they were so focused on what looked like a Lamar run. Thankfully, a face mask penalty brought the TD back.

Bunch formations can present issues, as I’ve suggested before. The Ravens were smart with their approach. At one point, they deployed a bunch formation to the right side, intentionally leaving Denver’s corner man-to-man on the opposite side. That allowed the Ravens receiver to easily turn a slant into a first down. The corner needs to get on the receiver’s inside shoulder in these situations.

Closing Statement

In the opening three weeks, the Broncos allowed a combined 26 points. By these standards, allowing 23 in a single game isn’t great. Remember the context, though: the Broncos offense was brutal and the Ravens have scary talent on offense.

Mark Andrews is no joke, Marquise Brown can fly, and Lamar’s running abilities present all kinds of unique challenges. All things considered, the Broncos played an alright game defensively. Allowing 23 points is far from elite, and yet it’s a winnable number. My concerns about a mobile QB running all over this unit were mostly unfounded. The front seven did a nice job of slow playing things, cutting off escape lines by ensuring they didn’t rush too aggressively up the field.

In future games, it’ll be good to see if the pass defense finds a way of better hanging with the receiving threats even when the QB can do serious damage with his legs. Their Week 5 game is against the Steelers.

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