MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports

What was it Nuke LaLoosh said, “I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority?”

That is precisely what inside linebacker Roquan Smith did Monday night during his Baltimore Ravens debut, not only setting the tone for his new team’s 27-13 mauling of the New Orleans Saints, but carrying the day as the Ravens defense suddenly looks like the aggressive, yet tactical and stalwart unit that Baltimore has long been known for.

Smith, who was a trade-deadline acquisition last week from the Chicago Bears, gives Baltimore an inside-linebacker presence the team has not had since the days of you know who.

If that’s not promising enough, Smith’s fellow inside linebacker, veteran Justin Houston, became the first player in Ravens history with three straight multi-sack games with 2 1/2 against Saints quarterback Andy Dalton and also added an interception to be named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Houston has 8 1/2 sacks in just six games this season, tied for second most in the NFL, and since returning from a groin injury has 6 1/2 sacks over the past three games.

Smith made two crushing stops behind the line of scrimmage on running back Alvin Kamara on the Saints’ first possession and finished the game with five tackles. His presence immediately makes Houston even more effective, which, in turn, frees outside linebacker Patrick Queen to become more of a pass rusher and playmaker rather than an undersized run stopper. That job now belongs to Smith, who is also quite capable in pass coverage.

Smith, who is a free agent after this season, cost the Ravens second- and fifth-round draft picks, meaning G.M. Eric DeCosta did not make this trade to allow Smith to walk. After seeing what he has already brought to the table in just his first week with the team, the urgency becomes even higher to get him signed. Smith is a keeper. He is the difference-maker the Ravens have not had in many seasons.

Offensively, it seems the Ravens have finally figured it out – when they run the ball, their passing game opens up almost by accident, because Baltimore has the most punishing and deep running game in the league. Now if only quarterback Lamar Jackson can stop missing three wide-open receivers for touchdowns, they might be onto something.

Yet Jackson himself was again a difference-maker with his legs, running for a handful of crucial first downs and gaining over 80 years on the ground. Then when you consider running back Kenyan Drake, who rushed for over 100 yards, is faster than even Jackson is, the team’s run-pass-option sends opposing linebackers to the Crazy Train because it is nearly unstoppable.

The Ravens are now in first place at 6-3 with a bye week coming, which will be a great opportunity for them to get healthy and make a deep run. Records-wise, they have a favorable remaining schedule, but four of the seven games are in-house against the AFC North, the NFL’s new Black and Blue division.

Elsewhere in our 2-Hour Drive Conference (2HDC), #NFLTheTVShow version, the Washington Commanders (4-5) came this close to winning their fourth straight game, but screwed the pooch in falling short to the Minnesota Vikings, 20-17, in the near privacy of FedEx Field.

I really thought the Commanders had this one. They looked good, they looked crisp. But their momentum seemed to be stopped by their own head coach, Ron Rivera, who challenged a second-half third-and-one spot and, in turn, lost a valuable timeout in the process.

First of all, the Commanders received a terrible spot by the officials, but it was only third and one, which means with the momentum they had at that point, there are two downs to get the first. A team shouldn’t challenge at the risk of blowing a second-half timeout while in enemy territory, but that’s what Rivera did and it seemed to take the air out of the ball for the Commanders.

The Commanders go to Philadelphia Monday night as an 11-point underdog and it should be interesting to see how they bounce back against the undefeated Eagles.

In the meantime, newsworthy Commanders today at noon as D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine will hold a news conference “to make a major announcement related to the Washington Commanders.” No other details were provided.

Racine’s office has been investigating Dan Snyder and the team for months.

As my sainted mother used to say, “We shall see …”

Finally, the 2-6 Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a bye week and will host 3-6 New Orleans on Sunday as three-point underdogs.

Not only will the Steelers cover the points, they will win this game. Book it, Dano.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT