In every sense, the first Thursday Night Football appearance of the season for Baltimore was as much of a bottoming out as you can get, in true South Beach fashion. Except the Ravens weren’t there for a three-day weekend to party with Pitbull. This was a business trip. And in a “gotta have it game” coming off a 90-snap offensive performance against the Vikings, the team came up empty.
But there were three players — rookies in fact — who showed up and impressed, for the most part, all night long.
Let’s start with Odafe Oweh.
Is it just me, or is it fitting that Oweh came back to life under the lights in Miami? Miami Sound Machine and Gloria Estefan made the chorus line “O eh, o eh” famous in the song “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” O eh, o eh sounds a lot like Oweh Oweh — I can’t take credit for this connection, my friends at the Deep Cover podcast had it first.
Anyway, Oweh Oweh was in full effect. On the first sack of the game, he lined up as the three-technique and ran a perfect stunt exchange with Calais Campbell. Tyus Bowser got the left tackle to initially widen out with a quick first step while Campbell caved in the left side of the line, clearing a massive path for Oweh to loop through and clean up on the sack.
That sack was an illustration of how Oweh would be deployed in this defense when he was drafted. While Oweh is an immense talent, he is still largely unrefined, and his pass rush technique is a work in progress. In Wink Martindale’s scheme, working alongside players like Campbell and Pernell McPhee — both veterans can teach a master class on getting ‘assists’ as stunters — he has some low-hanging fruit to make more plays as a free rusher.
It’s clear he keeps getting better and better with each snap both in the rush game and the run game. On a pitch play to tailback Myles Gaskin, Oweh took the perfect path working down the line and corralled Gaskin off the right side. It was a sight to see a man of his size move like a nimble linebacker. But that’s the versatility and freakish ability he brings to the table.
On another pass rush play (one of his three QB hits) Oweh created instant disruption on a three-step drop, using a juke to freeze fellow rookie left tackle Liam Eichenberg. Oweh didn’t get the sack. But it’s pretty hard to get a hit on a quarterback on a three-step drop, and he disrupted the play just enough to cause an errant throw from Jacoby Brissett.
Not to be outdone, fellow first-round pick Rashod Bateman continued his electric start to the season, finishing the night with six catches for 80 yards. The catches are the most in his very young career.
Bateman looks like a grizzled veteran both in his technique and his savvy on the field. He is so cerebral and adjusts his routes depending on the coverage and where defenders are lined up.
Last night, he flashed his ability after the catch on a 30-yard catch and run, setting up the Ravens’ only touchdown score. Bateman did a nice job of catching the ball and then turning up the field quickly to slip past the defensive back. He’s displayed the urgency to get vertical, without hesitation, and this is how he’s approached these plays all season.
When I watch Bateman, I get serious Reggie Wayne vibes. That slant he caught in which he had to adjust to the ball and pluck it with his hands (something we’ve seen a few times already) looked very Wayne-like.
Lastly, there was safety Brandon Stephens making his third start of the season in place of DeShon Elliott.
At times Stephens flashed the same physical explosiveness that Oweh flashed, just showcasing his pure physical traits.
He displayed incredible closing speed on an out pattern to *nearly* stop fellow rookie Jaylen Waddle from moving the chains on a first down catch. Stephens was all the way on the other side of the field but took a direct angle, on a play that seemed nearly impossible for him to even get to.
There were some struggles too. It looked like Stephens may have been the culprit on the back-breaking catch and run from Albert Wilson on the Dolphins’ game-sealing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Stephens came down from his deep post closer to the line of scrimmage, as it looked like he ran a switch with Chuck Clark, except it also looked like Clark was anticipating help on Wilson’s wheel route. It’s hard to say for sure, but someone obviously messed up or the communication wasn’t clear — and Clark pointed this out during the week when he said Stephens has to be more vocal.
All in all, given the stakes and some very difficult coverage assignments — at times matched up against talented tight end Mike Gesicki one on one — I thought Stephens battled all night. For a player with limited experience as a defensive back coming out of college, it’s even more impressive how quickly he’s picking things up. He could be a fixture as the center fielder this defense needs.
This was a night to forget for Ravens fans. But the future is bright with these three players. They all look like potential building blocks. They shined the brightest in the Miami heat last night.
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