In throttling Seahawks, Ravens make case as one of NFL’s most balanced teams

BALTIMORE — Keaton Mitchell and Odell Beckham Jr. danced in the end zone. Kyle Hamilton did pushups on the sideline as punishment for not getting an interception. Tyler Huntley’s flying celebratory chest bump left Lamar Jackson sprawled on the grass. Coach John Harbaugh spent much of the game exhorting the crowd.

For the second time in three weeks, the Baltimore Ravens were expected to be tested on their home field by an NFC divisional leader. And for the second time in three weeks, they ran said division leader right off the field, overwhelming the Seattle Seahawks with a physical and balanced offense and a quick and relentless defense.

The Ravens’ 37-3 destruction of the Seahawks Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium was every bit as thorough as the 38-6 beatdown of the Detroit Lions two weeks earlier. Baltimore led Seattle 17-3 at halftime and 30-3 by the end of the third quarter. Jackson spent the entire fourth quarter watching from the sideline, and the Ravens took a knee on Seattle’s 4-yard line with 75 seconds to go — or it would have been even worse.

As it was, the Ravens outgained the Seahawks 515-151 in total yardage. They rushed for 298 yards, the fourth-highest total in team history, and three touchdowns. They held the ball for just over 40 of the game’s 60 minutes. The Seahawks had just six first downs and were a combined 1-for-13 on third and fourth downs.

“If we’re playing like that, we don’t even need to hit a peak or stride, just keep staying locked in how we are and just playing every opponent the same way — physicality, being smart and defending what’s ours, our home turf,” said Jackson, who is 18-1 against NFC teams in his career as a starter.

The Ravens are now 7-2 and have won four straight. They are tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for the best record in the AFC. Baltimore’s plus-115 point differential is the biggest in football by a wide margin, and there’s still a sense that the Ravens can get even better once they start eliminating their weekly turnovers. Sunday’s tour de force was marred by two second-quarter fumbles: one by Beckham and a strip-sack of Jackson.

Otherwise, it was tough to find fault with anything else from the Ravens’ effort. After starting the game with two punts, their offense scored on seven of their next 10 drives and would have likely come away with points on their final possession, too, had Harbaugh not called for a kneeldown in a goal-to-go situation. Defensively, the Ravens forced punts on seven of Seattle’s 11 full possessions. Two other Seahawks drives ended with turnovers, and another with a fourth-down stop.

Of the Seahawks’ 151 yards, 85 came on two receptions: a 50-yard Geno Smith-to-DK Metcalf completion late in the second quarter that set up Seattle’s only points, and a 35-yard pass from Smith to Jaxon Smith-Njigba on the first play of the fourth quarter. Seattle’s other 45 plays grossed a total of 66 yards.

“We got that taste out of our mouth from last week,” said inside linebacker Patrick Queen, alluding to the Ravens’ 31-24 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, a performance that left the offensive players ticked off that they didn’t run the ball more and better, and the defensive ones miffed about allowing too many yards on the ground and not finishing stronger.

“We all know we didn’t play up to our standards on defense last week, and as soon as the game ended, not one person smiled — I think Kyle Van Noy was the only guy smiling,” Queen continued. “These games aren’t promised, the wins aren’t promised. But it’s just a standard that we uphold here, and we were really upset that we didn’t uphold that. So, we just knew, coming into our house this week that we had to put a statement out there.”

Sunday’s statement was complete and emphatic. There will be plenty of talking heads this week who declare Baltimore the best team in the league. That conversation started when the Ravens took apart the Lions two weeks earlier. It makes for a spirited conversation and debate, but it’s wholly irrelevant heading into Week 10 — and it’s only going to add more fuel to the fire of the Ravens’ next two opponents, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

What’s not irrelevant is the team-wide balance and depth that the Ravens have shown on their way to the top of the AFC standings. They entered Sunday’s game with the league’s 11th-ranked offense and second-ranked defense. They entered Sunday with the league’s seventh-best scoring offense and the best scoring defense. They’ve uncharacteristically struggled for part of the season on special teams, but those units are getting better, too.

On Sunday, the Ravens played complementary football as well as you could. When the offense turned the ball over twice in the second quarter, the defense responded by forcing a punt and a turnover of its own. When drives stalled in Seattle territory, kicker Justin Tucker made sure the Ravens still got points, converting all three of his field goal attempts.

The offense gave the defense plenty of time to rest by dominating the time of possession and extending drives.

“As a coach, it’s fulfilling because all the things you work on, and all the things that guys work on, you see it transferred onto the field in a game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what you’re excited about, because they have success. The guys have success doing the things that you want, but you also understand that it’s one win. You don’t get credit for more than one win, no matter what the score is. Our job is to stack wins, and our attention turns to the next game.”

Most of the Ravens stayed on brand and were already talking about next Sunday’s game against a quality Browns team, which is now 5-3. However, a few players did allow themselves to look at the big picture and liked what they saw.

In fact, a few of the veterans brought up the 2019 regular season, when the Ravens rattled off 12 consecutive wins to finish 14-2 and with the AFC’s top seed.

“I said this in camp: I think this is the most talented team I’ve been a part of, the team with the most potential since I’ve been here. I still believe that,” said left tackle Ronnie Stanley. “At every position group we have, we don’t really have any weaknesses, plus we have depth at all positions. Even in 2019, we were really good. But a lot of the guys who are still on the team now were a little bit younger.”

There was plenty of hand-wringing last week when general manager Eric DeCosta was unable to make a trade to bolster his roster. DeCosta was in a few discussions but ultimately decided to not make a move. That was partly because the Ravens currently have a healthy roster and no gaping holes. DeCosta and Harbaugh have a high opinion of this team and its potential.

That didn’t stop DeCosta from entering the running back market. The Ravens had talks with Tennessee about Derrick Henry, but the Titans decided they were holding on to the veteran. Henry would have been a big-time addition, but it’s not like the Ravens’ cupboard is bare at running back. Starter Gus Edwards had two more touchdowns Sunday, and has five over the past two games and seven for the season. Getting his first extensive opportunity, Mitchell showed what impact his speed can have as he rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries.

“It’s many more games like this to come, so it will be all right,” said Mitchell, who started the season on injured reserve and has recently dealt with a hamstring injury.

Sunday’s offensive contributors included Mitchell, who had played just two offensive snaps through the first eight weeks; Beckham, who caught his first touchdown as a Raven on his 31st birthday and finished with five catches for 56 yards; tight end Isaiah Likely, a forgotten man to this point who had four catches for 42 yards against the Seahawks; and right tackle Patrick Mekari, who filled in for an injured Morgan Moses and played well.

As Jackson said of the team’s performance, “Start with the offensive line.”

DeCosta also pursued Chase Young and edge rushers before deciding to stand pat. The Ravens entered Sunday leading the league with 31 sacks and added four more to that total. Van Noy, an accomplished veteran who, like Jadeveon Clowney, the Ravens signed off the street, had sacks of Smith on consecutive plays late in the second quarter. On his second one, he stripped Smith, leading to a Tucker field goal just before the half. Harbaugh called it the “turning point” of the game.

Geno Stone, the team’s No. 3 safety who has become a starter with Marcus Williams sidelined, snagged his league-leading sixth interception. Clowney continued to play well and made two early stops to force a Seahawks punt. Defensive lineman Justin Madubuike set a franchise record by being in on a sack in a sixth straight game.

On Sunday, it wasn’t just Jackson leading the way. It was everybody, and that’s what makes the Ravens so dangerous.

“If you look at our depth and you look at the plays that are being made, everyone is making plays,” fullback Patrick Ricard said. “We had injuries earlier in the year where guys had to step up, and they’re making plays. Look at Kyle Van Noy. We picked him up off the street and the guy had back-to-back sacks today. This team has more depth than even (the 2019 team). That’s very exciting. We just have to keep working, keep staying humble and just keep getting better, and take each win for what it is.”

(Photo of Keaton Mitchell celebrating after scoring a touchdown: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

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