After back-to-back wins to start the season, the Ravens uncharacteristically dropped a winnable game to the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday. Granted, the weather and questionable officiating played a factor but Baltimore struggled with sloppiness on offense and they were down multiple starters on both offense and defense.
This team is talented but the problem is the team struggles with staying healthy.
Offensively, this is probably the best wide receiver trio that quarterback Lamar Jackson has had in his entire tenure with the Ravens. Wide receivers Rashod Bateman, Zay Flowers, and Odell Beckham Jr make up a solid receiving group.
The running game might have taken a hit with running back J.K. Dobbins was lost for the season with a torn Achilles but running back Gus Edwards and Jackson can cause damage on the ground.
Tight end Mark Andrews is also a threat as one of the best tight ends in the league
Defensively, the unit is stout. Linebacker Roquan Smith has been a star (and willing to make some interesting comments) since being acquired from the Chicago Bears last offseason and safety Kyle Hamilton is emerging as a star in Baltimore’s secondary.
Here are the three players to watch for in this pivotal AFC North matchup:
WR Zay Flowers
If there is one player that has changed the fortunes for their team, look no further than Flowers. The 5’9 speedster from Fort Lauderdale, Florida straight out of Boston College has been productive since arriving in the DMV. Flowers is a capable receiver in the slot that Baltimore has lacked for quite some time. His ability to stretch the defense alongside creating a big play out of nothing is something that can’t be understated.
Flowers leads the team in both receiving yards and targets. Flowers hasn’t put up huge numbers but he has made plays in crucial moments when called upon. With Beckham being out last week, Flowers saw his role increase. If Odell isn’t able to go this week he could see more opportunities come his way.
Watch how quick Zay Flowers gets open off his release, then turns on the jets. In the NFL, this is wiiide open.— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) September 19, 2023
One of Lamar's rare misses, but they connect on the long ball later in the game and I suspect there will be a bunch more with Lamar/Zay considering the rookie's… pic.twitter.com/FVh01WQKPk
Cleveland’s secondary has done a solid job in not allowing the receivers to get behind them and create explosive plays. If Beckham Jr and Bateman are unable to go, all the attention will be focused on Flowers. Look for Cleveland to throw different members at the secondary to guard Flowers.
LB Roquan Smith
When Baltimore traded with the Chicago Bears for linebacker Roquan Smith, it did wonders for their defense. Baltimore was 25th in Defensive EPA/per play before the trade and they ranked 5th after it. Smith is a two-time 2nd team All-Pro, 1st team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. Smith is a rangy linebacker known for his excellent ability in coverage and is versatile as well. His run defense has improved since arriving in Baltimore
Patrick Queen said the Ravens' defensive communication wasn't up to par Sunday, but this route pass-off with Roquan Smith is . pic.twitter.com/zwLFDrm45Q— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) September 25, 2023
Smith is in the top 10 for total tackles for this season and he looks to be comfortable in this Ravens defensive scheme. No one can understate how big of an addition Roquan has made and Baltimore is better because of it.
For Cleveland, it is imperative that they know where number 0 is at all times. He’s capable of being a problem in both the run game and passing game, but the passing game is where he does the most damage. If the Browns were to test the middle of the field, Smith is likely the one to pay attention to. He’s reactive and he can force quarterback Deshaun Watson to make a mistake.
S Kyle Hamilton
The AFC North is having a breakout party for safeties. Of course, Cleveland safety Grant Delpit is having a solid start to this season and Cincinnati Bengals safety Dax Hill looks to be comfortable. Add Hamilton to that list.
The 6’4 220 lbs 1st rounder out of Notre Dame was pretty much everywhere last week for Baltimore. His 3 sacks, all came in the first half pushed him up as the leader in sacks for both the Ravens and safeties in the NFL.
Kyle Hamilton has THREE sacks in the FIRST HALF— PFF (@PFF) September 24, 2023
9 Total Tackles— The Ravens Realm (@RealmRavens) September 25, 2023
1 Forced Fumble
6 QB Pressures
Kyle Hamilton’s huge performance yesterday shouldn’t be overlooked. pic.twitter.com/fGjR8IiEQE
He can line up essentially anywhere, you can send him on blitzes, put him at his traditional safety spot or line him up in the slot. His speed, versatility, and his ability to lay the lumber cannot be ignored.
Cleveland has to be prepared for Hamilton because he can be a game-changer in many ways. If Baltimore won against the Colts on Sunday, I’m pretty sure Hamilton would’ve come away with AFC Defensive Player of the Week. (Myles Garrett should’ve won but he didn’t) Look for defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald to use Hamilton for blitz packages and usage in the slot. He’s primed for another huge game and Cleveland needs to be prepared.
What Ravens players are you most interested in watching? Who do you worry about related to how they can impact the Browns?