While Cory James looks like the answer at middle linebacker, Malcolm Smith continues to have his issues. He was just about invisible in this game. The first shot he had at making a play came on 3rd and 28 on the Ravens’ first drive. He missed the tackle and James had to stop it for a 15-yard gain. The rest of the first half, while James was racking up 8 tackles, Smith’s main contribution was being called for pass interference on third down. As luck would have it, the penalty came the play after James had a tackle for loss.
Down 14-6 in the third quarter and looking for their first touchdown of the day, the Ravens would find it with Smith’s assistance. He was blocked on a 14-yard run, and a few plays later gave up a 10-yard catch to the tight end. His final play saw the fullback block him back on a 5-yard run which injured Smith’s foot and he hobbled off the field, not to return.
At the risk of kicking a guy while he’s down, the official box score says he had 6 combined tackles. There were two instances where he was given credit for a tackle he absolutely did not make.
Jihad Ward, Dan Williams, Darius Latham, Stacy McGee
There wasn’t a whole lot of great play happening from the Raiders’ interior defensive line. Meanwhile, another opposing running back was churning out yards on the Raiders’ defense. Terrance West picked up 113 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
No, I’m not saying the run issues fall solely on the defensive line play. What I’m saying is they didn’t do much to stop it. There were only four tackles by this group at two yards or fewer. Stacy McGee had two (2, 2), Dan Williams had one (0), and Jihad Ward had one (2) though he wasn’t credited for it (Malcolm Smith was).
On the other hand, the Ravens had runs of 21, 18, 14, 12, 9, eight runs of 4-5 yards, a 3-yard touchdown run, and a 1-yard QB sneak TD. McGee helped give up the 21-yard run as well as the 3-yard TD, Dan Williams was blocked out of the way on both touchdown runs, as was Ward on the QB sneak. Latham didn’t record a single stat in this game on 23 snaps. He was on the field for the runs of 14, 12, and the 3-yard TD.
Gabe Jackson, Vadal Alexander
The left side of the line made the Ballers while the right side lands among the Busters. Their bad day began on the very first play with Jackson giving up a run stuff for a one-yard gain. It began a three-and-out to start the game.
In the second quarter, following Alexander being called for holding, Jackson gave up another run stuff for a one-yard gain. That series also ended in three plays. Just before halftime, Alexander was again called for holding (though it was pretty questionable). It called back a 7-yard first down scramble by Carr and ended another series in three plays.
First series of the third quarter saw Alexander called for a false start. And, yup, you guess it – three-and-out. Jackson would get into the penalty game early in the fourth quarter when he was called for unnecessary roughness. The penalty came on third and one and added 15 yards to what was a short field after a turnover. Thanks to a 15-yard pass and an offsides penalty, the Raiders were able to keep the drive going and eventually get a touchdown out of it.
A big pass play put the Ravens within two at 21-19. The Raiders attempt to respond was hurt by yet another Alexander holding penalty, followed by a fumble. The turnover gave the Ravens a short field and they took the lead. Luckily Alexander managed to not get flagged for holding on the Raiders’ final drive, or that could have killed their comeback effort.
Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington
Murray was completely ineffective in this one, rushing for 19 yards on 8 carries (2.4 yards per carry). Washington had a big 28-yard run, but then had a total of 2 yards on his other four carries and fumbled the ball away leading to the Ravens’ late go-ahead touchdown.
Pressed into service due to injuries to Malcolm Smith and Ben Heeney, Bates was lost out there. He played basically the entire fourth quarter, but the brunt of his mistakes came on the Ravens’ go-ahead touchdown drive late.
The drive began on the Oakland 17-yard line. Bates gave up a 5-yard run, a 7-yard catch on 3rd and 3 and then was out of position on the 3-yard touchdown run up the gut. The 2-point conversion was successful over the middle with him in coverage. Why he was matched up with a wide receiver is beyond me, but it was an easy decision by Flacco to exploit that mismatch.
*This category no longer exists
Editor’s note: When I first began writing Ballers & Busters nine years ago, Betweeners was not a category. At some point, due to so many people saying “You forgot about _____” I added the category as a means of explaining why a player who had a large presence in the game was neither a Baller nor a Buster. For years I put them at the bottom of the Ballers portion, but noticed people thought it was some kind of extension to Honorable Mention “_____ should at least be a Betweener”. So, this season I moved it to the very end, after the Busters. Then last week several people misinterpreted the placement of the category and subsequently lost their shit because they thought I was calling Derek Carr a Buster. Basically, what I’m seeing is just as much confusion as when I never had the category in the firsts place. And as it only adds more work to an article that is already a bear to write, I see no good reason to bother with it any longer. Cheers.