Ravens center Matt Skura was excited to be back in action for the first time since sustaining a serious knee injury less than 10 months ago, but he and the offensive line expected more from themselves in the aftermath of a 38-6 win over Cleveland.
The final score surprisingly wasn’t indicative of an uneven performance up front as Baltimore ran for a rather ordinary 111 yards on 30 carries, its lowest single-game total since the 2018 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. And though Lamar Jackson had an all-world, MVP-caliber day with three touchdown passes, an 80-percent completion percentage, and a 152.1 passer rating, Cleveland pressured him on 30 percentage of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference.
Maintaining he’s “really close” to being 100 percent and that his surgically-repaired left knee “feels great,” Skura and the rest of the offensive line know they need to be better moving forward. It also reflects high expectations after last season when the Ravens ran for an NFL single-season record 3,296 yards and averaged a league-leading and franchise-record 33.2 points per game.
“Even though we didn’t have our best game as an offensive line and just me personally, it’s definitely good to just know that there’s so many more things that we can improve on,” Skura said. “And if we — including myself — clean up the little things, I think the game would’ve gone even further and we could’ve scored more points. That’s definitely encouraging.
“Just knowing that we can improve on those little technique things here and there, it was a good start. We didn’t have any preseason games to get those kinds of things out of the way.”
The Ravens next travel to Houston to take on a defense that gave up 166 rushing yards and nearly 5.0 yards per carry against a Kansas City rushing attack led by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. The Texans are trying to fill the void left by the free-agent departure of standout defensive tackle D.J. Reader, making the interior an area the Ravens could try to exploit.
That’s also where the Ravens offensive line struggled the most in the opener with Skura and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips both having some difficulties.
“We have high standards, obviously,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I thought [the running game] was very effective in getting done what we wanted to get done in certain areas, and then there are things we have to clean up. The next day, everybody was getting back to work on cleaning those things up, and it’s just something that we are going to try to get better and better at every week.”
Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt has missed the last two meetings between the Ravens and Texans due to injury, but Roman described him as falling into the “nightmare category.”
In fact, the Baltimore coordinator even compares the 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end to Jackson with the way he manages to avoid high-impact contact.
“He just knows how to defeat blocks and he does it in a very unique way,” Roman said. “Some people that would try to do that would absolutely end disastrously, but he’s got the balance, the quickness to be able to set up the offensive lineman or the blocker and then show them one thing and give them something else, but still be productive on the play. He has really good instinct on when to take those chances and understands angles in real time.
“It’s hard to get a really, really crushing block on him because he’s a very slippery but powerful player — very unique combination.”
Of course, with the 31-year-old Watt having missed 32 games from 2016-19, it’s fair to wonder if that sterling reputation is more reality or nostalgia at this point.
Rookie wide receiver James Proche drew criticism for allowing the first punt sent his way to bounce at the 18 and roll all the way to his own 1 in the second quarter of the Browns win, but special teams coordinator Chris Horton had a different outlook.
“From the outside, we look at it as an error. From the inside, we look at it as we gave our offense the ball back,” Horton said. “Our offense got possession of the football. James understands also that we like to catch every ball we possibly can. But looking at that punt, him being the punt returner, it’s his first opportunity to catch one, [and] he didn’t like the way it was coming down. I thought he made a great decision.”
Speaking positively about a rookie is wise, but Horton may have been singing a different tune had the Ravens been stuffed for a safety or committed a turnover so deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive.
Proche returned two other punts for 26 yards in his first career game.
Thursday’s injury report
After missing Wednesday’s practice with respective hip ailments, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Jimmy Smith were limited participants.
Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger) and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) remained absent and appear very likely to miss their second straight game. Running back Justice Hill (thigh) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day after missing the season opener.
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justice Hill (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), ILB Peter Kalambayi (hamstring), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)