It's difficult to find many balanced teams in the AFC. The Bills may be the most complete team, and the Browns went bonkers this offseason trying to construct a unit to compliment their offense. But if the Ravens can maintain anything close to the level of success they found against the high-flying Chargers on Sunday, then that is the best team in the best conference in football.
I'm not ready to crown them off of one standout performance, but my what an absolute tour de force it was. Justin Herbert looked like a rookie, hurried and out of sorts. Austin Ekeler was a non-factor, as were Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. It was a complete and utter dismantling of an offense that had appeared somewhat unstoppable, and if it in any way portends what is to come, then look out.
Before we go any further here, let me point out that, at various times this season, this unit has been carved up by less-than-elite offenses. Carson Wentz looked like an MVP against them last Monday, and Jared Goff sliced them up in a second half in Detroit that required a back judge error and a 66-yard field goal for Baltimore to overcome. Derek Carr shredded them Week 1, and Patrick Mahomes picked them apart in Week 2. The middle linebacker play had been suspect at best, the pass rush has been very hit or miss and, too often in the first six weeks of the season, when the Ravens brought the heat with all-out blitzes the results were poor.
But my, oh my, was Sunday a vintage outing. This game plan and effort and execution was worthy of any of the many esteemed Ravens defenses over time. It was thorough and hard-hitting and a complete suffocation of the opposing offense. Herbert never got into any sort of rhythm and never looked comfortable. His first drive ended with a punt when pressured by a safety blitz on third-and-10, and it was indicative of what was to come over the ensuing 60 minutes.
Herbert was just 22-for-39 for 195 yards with a touchdown and one pick (there could have been several more with Ravens defenders getting their hands on the ball all game). His MVP campaign was derailed in a decisive manner no one could have seen coming. The Chargers went just 4-for-16 on third and fourth down, and they had just 14 first downs. They mustered an incomprehensible 208 net yards (just 3.9 per play), amassing just 26 yards on the ground.
It will serve as a massive confidence booster for a defense that was struggling in many capacities. Outside of ageless defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who was playing more than anyone could have anticipated, and hybrid strong safety Chuck Clark playing at a Pro Bowl level and rookie end Odafe Oweh making plays, there wasn't much to love about the group. On paper, the secondary has the potential to be otherworldly, even with Marcus Peters out for the season, and on Sunday they were.
Free safety Deshaun Elliott looked like an emerging Pro Bowler in the preseason, and after dealing with several injuries, he was a destructive force against the Chargers, making an expert pick and getting a key pressure. Top corner Marlon Humphrey has gotten better every week after a slow start. Corner Anthony Averett bounced back after a rough night Monday. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale sent overloads and second-level blitzes that rattled the Chargers. They overpowered the line of scrimmage.
It was a very different look than anything we've seen from them this season. And if it is indicative of what they can do at their best, when coupled with an offense that evolved considerably from Lamar Jackson's 2019 MVP season, then the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC might go through Baltimore.
Don't expect these Bengals to fall apart any time soon
Are we buying the Bengals? Like as a legit playoff threat in the AFC?
The AFC West has come back to earth in a big way. The East has just one strong team (Buffalo), and the South is a mess, as it so often is. Why not the Bengals? Say what you want about the Lions, but Cincy dispelled with them in a calculated manner and didn't let them hang around the way they have been so many of these weeks. It was a businesslike discarding of an inferior foe; it, frankly, was something that franchise hasn't been capable of in quite some time.
They are getting a little swagger and confidence. Joe Burrow's injury feels like something from a different time. This defense has some bite and they are bought in to a degree not seen in those parts for a while. Zac Taylor has grown into the job, and I imagine they go to Baltimore next week and make a positive statement even if it is in defeat.
They don't beat themselves anymore. They are much more balanced on offense. They have proven to be a tough out every week through a third of this season, and I don't think they are falling apart any time soon.
Passing on post-London bye another Dolphins loss
Can't help but wonder if the Dolphins would like a mulligan on their decision to not take the bye after their trip to London. I figured they would lose to a bad Jacksonville team, and I was correct. Because right now the Dolphins are a worse team. Tua Tagovailoa was fine in his return from a rib injury, but there is nothing around him save for a tight end.
The decision to double-down on get-hurt receivers has strangled any chance of this being a big play offense (DeVante Parker and Will Fuller were both out), but then again the offensive line would preclude that, anyway. We got an assortment of procedural penalties and linemen getting beat and an overall malaise that is so bad, it took two offensive coordinators to oversee! Miami limps home from London on five straight losses, battered and beaten and with a roster in tatters. That December bye seems a long way off, and this team seems a long way from playing anything close to competitive football.
More insider notes from Week 6
- The Lions offense is a total mess. I don't know why DeAndre Swift isn't featured more. I don't understand what the plan is there from week to week. I know they play hard, but the offense gave that defense zero chance to win against the Bengals. Zilch. Jared Goff is not the answer there at quarterback, but then again I'm not sure who would thrive in this operation. And they get the Matthew Stafford reunion game next week. Good luck with that …
- Expressed my deep concerns in this space last Sunday about Sam Darnold not coming close to meeting Panthers owner David Tepper's expectations as their solution at QB. It got worse Sunday as the Panthers defense battled, but Darnold managed to go 5-for-18 for 60 yards with a pick at the half. This just might come to a head well before the end of the regular season. It's hard to stomach. Carolina lost in OT, but with any semblance of a passing game they win. The Panthers went 2-for-12 on third down and Darnold finished 17-for-41 for 207 yards (5 yards per attempt!) with a TD and INT and a rating of 55.6. Yikes …
- The Vikings find ways to win games, I'll give them that. Another weird game with weird coaching decisions and a crazy ending, but these wins over Detroit and Carolina have saved their season. ...
- Hats off to the Raiders for coming out strong after all they have been through this week with Jon Gruden's offensive emails leading to his ouster …
- The Colts are better than their record. Tough schedule and a lot of bad luck. Carson Wentz is starting to push the ball down the field. They are getting a little healthier. I wouldn't write off their chances of winning that division …
- The Giants' lack of talent on defense is staggering. I'll never understand how that unit was as good as it was a year ago, but expecting Patrick Graham to pull off a magic act as coordinator two years ago looks like wishful thinking. You gotta have some players in this league.