Ravens’ defense reigns as kings in Week 18 and other winners

Ravens, Isaiah Likely. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Ravens, Isaiah Likely. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

Who is “Likely” to be a winner after Week 18? Not the Baltimore Ravens’ wide receivers.

The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Ravens in a not-so-thrilling season finale in which both teams reined in their offenses for good reason. Baltimore decided to rest many of its starters for the playoffs while Cincinnati didn’t want to reveal too much of their offensive playbook having taken an early two-score lead.

In many ways, this felt more like an exhibition match than an end-of-season showdown between two AFC North heavyweights, and it indeed could be seen as a practice session for the Wild Card rematch that matters much, much more.

Cincy nonetheless forged ahead for their back-to-back AFC North title and now holds as many divisional crowns (six) as Baltimore. The only coin being tossed in this matchup is that of Joe Mixon in his touchdown celebration, full of salt and rightful spite following the league’s perplexing rule change.

Joe Burrow and the rest of the Bengals team deserve their flowers, but a handful of Ravens players should also receive due recognition for holding their own against an offensive powerhouse.

Let’s take a look at the Ravens’ winners and losers from Week 18.

Ravens’ winners in Week 18

Isaiah Likely

Likely finished with a career-high eight catches for 103 yards on 13 targets and reminded people why the Ravens chose him, rather than a wide receiver, in the 2022 draft.

The fourth-rounder was Anthony Brown’s favorite and most reliable target, and he consistently got open looks and fought for contested catches, including a 29-yarder over Eli Apple in the first half to help extend the Ravens’ drive.

He may not have generated much production in the end zone, but he proved to be a rising star in the Ravens’ disappointing receiving corps. Even when Mark Andrews returns, Likely needs to be more involved in the passing attack.

A note should be said for fellow rookie tight end Charlie Kolar, who recorded four catches for 49 yards. Kolar had just two offensive snaps heading into Week 18, and this game could be a harbinger of more opportunities for Kolar as he continues to develop in the Ravens’ scheme.

Roquan Smith

Let’s be honest: Roquan Smith deserves a spot on the winner’s list in every Ravens game he’s played so far this season.

Smith was particularly effective against the Bengals with a whopping 16 tackles, and he played this game with reckless abandon and an untamable championship spirit: the Bengals had already won the division — so what? Cincy were up two touchdowns — so what?

Smith was ready to pounce on any Bengals player who dared to run in his direction and stood tall as the Ravens’ most intimidating defender all game. We just know Smith is rubbing his hands eagerly for the rematch.

Pass and run defense

Speaking of the defense, the Ravens’ pass and run defense came out on top even though the Bengals put up 27 points in the win. 21 of those points were the result of turnovers, and besides, there are better stats to measure this defense’s Week 18 performance.

The Ravens gave up 257 yards of offense to a team that has averaged 349 yards this season, not to mention that in two regular season games, the pass defense has held Burrow for just 217 and 215 yards respectively.

With Marcus Peters out, Daryl Worley took a majority of cornerback snaps and played a decent game considering he was targeted the most by Joe Burrow and he’s only had one defensive snap since Week 3. Against a top-five passing attack, Worley allowed Ja’Marr Chase to beat him once for a score; apart from that, Worley made a couple big plays including a first quarter potential touchdown pass break-up.

Baltimore also benefitted from the return of Calais Campbell, who fortified the run defense and helped limit the Bengals to 55 rushing yards.

Ravens’ losers in Week 18

Wide receiver unit

The Ravens’ wide receivers are starting to become a liability.

Of all the playoff contenders, Baltimore easily has the worst pass-catching corps in the league, and Sunday showed just how disappointing and frustrating that unit could be.

The Ravens were 0-for-9 on passes for wideouts until the end of the third quarter as tight end Isaiah Likely racked up most of the yardage. To rub salt in the wound, the Ravens’ wide receivers somehow managed to make a negative impact on the game, worse than no impact at all.

Demarcus Robinson, who finished with two catches for 24 yards, had a drop in the fourth quarter and some valid concerns have been raised about his poor ball security. Robinson was on the tail end of Anthony Brown’s second interception in which he misjudged the pass and tipped the ball to Bengals’ Mike Hilton.

Sammy Watkins was mostly silent on the field until the fourth quarter, when he found some open space on the sideline but ultimately had the ball punched out of his hands for a lost fumble.

James Proche had zero catches on three targets, and his most memorable play was when he accidentally stepped out of bounds to negate a chunk play in the third quarter.

The Ravens can’t go very far with a receiving room like that.

Greg Roman

The Ravens’ second-team offense stepped onto the field prepared to lose this game, so it’s tough to put any blame on offensive coordinator Greg Roman. However, there was one series which just made Roman look bad: at the end of the first half, the Ravens were pinned at their own goal line after a brilliant Bengals punt and had virtually no chance to drive down the field in the last 40 seconds.

For some reason, Brown was asked to pass twice, once on second down that went incomplete and once on third down that ended up in fumble recovered by Cincinnati for a defensive touchdown.

Why is Roman asking Brown to throw the ball when he’s basically trapped between the sticks? It seems like a better bet asking Tucker to punt in a crowded area than asking Brown, who already had two interceptions at that point, to try and pass his way out of the Ravens’ end zone.

If this were the Wild Card playoff game, that ill-fated situational play-calling decision may be unforgivable.

Gus Edwards

Edwards is only on this list because he suffered a head injury and was evaluated for a potential concussion. He was ruled out of the game early, ceding starting snaps to Kenyan Drake and Justice Hill. Losing Edwards would be a devastating blow to the Ravens’ running game, and hopefully he recovers in time for the first round of playoffs.

Next. Ravens wave the white flag in Week 18 loss to Bengals. dark

Onto the Wild Card round.