New to 2019: I’ll be writing an article that drops each Tuesday detailing the ONE play I think affected the game the most. Whether the play turned the tides, sealed a loss, or iced a victory, I’ll be here at 12:30 to break down the most important play of every week.
After last week’s cakewalk against a local Miami JV team, the Ravens got their first chance to defend their home turf in Baltimore. In a game that wound up being a lot more competitive than some assumed, Lamar Jackson and the offense showed a more realistic example of what they’ll look like this season. Make no mistake, Jackson played at an unreal level and accounted for nearly 400 total yards, but not every throw is going to be perfect and not every run is going to be unstoppable. Sunday was our first view of that, and I was left personally feeling even more optimistic after seeing something remotely sustainable on the field.
Defensively the Ravens were shredded by Kyler Murray, who didn’t look like a rookie making his first road start at all. Ignoring his stature, Murray already looked like one of the most dangerous QBs in the league on Sunday as he carved the Ravens’ secondary up for 350 yards. While he didn’t find the endzone himself, he was able to bomb the ball down the field with ease and put his team in position to potentially steal the game away. After a badly missed pass interference on Hollywood, which somehow stood after a review, Murray would get one last chance to lead the Cardinals downfield to win the game. The defense looked tired, a feeling of discomfort was falling on the crowd, and this game had all the makings of a heartbreak. But suddenly, it didn’t.
The roar of the crowd at M&T bank stadium assisted a defense who rose up and stood their ground, not giving Kyler Murray an inch to work with. In the biggest moment of the game, the defense forced a 3-and-out. This was the BreakPoint of the game, right?
With time on the clock, the Ravens still needed to make a play to assure their defense’s efforts were paid off and they didn’t have to take the field again. A presnap penalty put the offense in a hole, and after 2 straight runs, we were looking at a 3rd and 11. In the past, we’d run the ball one more time, content to run an extra 40 seconds off the clock. The Cardinals were out of time outs, and we’d have a chance to pin them deep with just the 2-minute warning left needing a touchdown. In the past, the defense would have to make one more stop against a rookie QB in front of the home crowd. We’re not living in the past anymore, we’re officially in a new era.
This is the play that iced the game, and after 2 weeks this is the most important play of the young season. Barring a turnover or Justin Tucker’s worst kick of his career, the first down means we can run the clock down to 1:20 and extend the lead to 9 in a worst-case scenario. Of course, Mark Ingram would go on to run hard and pick up the last first down of the game, but the second this catch is ruled complete the game is over. This catch also put Hollywood to 233 yards on the season, the 2nd most of any player through their first 2 games in the league, and solidified him as our true WR1 going forward.
After the game, Lamar was asked about the play and mentioned that it wasn’t intended for Brown. Rewatching it, I’d assume the primary receiver was Mark Andrews on the seam, but there isn’t a way to know for sure. Regardless, that means the coaching staff is not only comfortable putting the ball in Lamar’s hands to win a game, it means they’re comfortable with him finding a way to make a play. With a young QB it’s almost expected that the team would give him one safe read in this situation, and tell him to get down to keep the clock running if it’s not there. Lamar Jackson already has full control of the offense in key moments in his 9th game as our starting QB.
While the throw itself is what stands out from this play, the quick read is just as important. The Ravens get to the line pretty late and still have Patrick Ricard in motion at the top of the screen with 5 seconds on the play clock. In the screenshot above you can see Lamar looking in his direction. You can also see number 59 heading towards Ricard, which is the read Lamar is making on the play. If number 59 hadn’t followed Ricard, that means Arizona is playing a zone defense which would likely mean one of two things: the throw is to Ricard and they’re hoping Hollywood can chip his man long enough to give Ricard a chance to run this for a first OR there’d be a check at the line and Hollywood would run the screen with Ricard blocking. Either way, it doesn’t matter because 59 DID follow Ricard, so Lamar can quickly read this as man coverage. He can also see that there’s only 1 safety deep and he’s on the left side of the field (nearest the front of the screenshot) so he knows he has Brown 1-on-1 with the corner with no help overtop.
If you read last week’s article, you know what that means. Lamar likes his odds.
“That’s the lowest percentage throw in football and he’s able to complete it.” The immediate reaction from the commentary team is right. Lamar is able to place the ball exactly where it needs to be: in front of Brown on his right side. Also, be sure to note how late Hollywood’s hands go up for the ball. He waits until the very last moment to extend, because he knows the defender can’t see the ball and is reacting to his hands. If he holds his arms out any earlier, the defender likely has a chance to get a hand between the ball and Brown, breaking the play up. This is generally a throw you make when your receiver has a height advantage over the defender, it gives him a chance to physically snatch the ball away. Hollywood isn’t that type of receiver, and is clearly the smaller man on the play, making the catch probability astronomically lower. The defender plays this about as well as you can, but the execution was completely perfect from both Jackson and Brown. The defender did everything right, this throw and catch was indefensible.
Throughout the 20+ year history of the franchise, the defense has been expected to make the most important plays in the biggest moments; and while this unit is still one of the best in football, today might have marked a shift. Lamar Jackson is a playmaker, and the Ravens trust him to be that when the stakes are the highest. His chemistry with Marquise Brown is already impressive, and that’s without Hollywood being able to practice most of the offseason. This connection is only going to get stronger and more impressive as time goes on. Expect more big-time plays in big-time moments from these 2 as their careers progress together.