Let Lamar Air It Out
Halfway through the 2019 season, the Ravens offense is more than getting the job done. On a yards per game basis, Baltimore currently ranks 1st in rushing, 20th in passing and 2nd overall. For those who weren’t already in the know, the Ravens educated a national audience on the look and effectiveness of their new offense by running all over the NFL’s 2nd ranked defense on Sunday Night Football.
NFL defenses are finding it nearly impossible to stop the Ravens rushing attack. They know, for the most part, what is coming their way and yet they remain powerless to stop it. With each passing week, Greg Roman implements new wrinkles to what is already the most unique and innovative rushing attack in the league. John Harbaugh promised an offensive revolution in Baltimore and the Ravens have delivered.
Regardless of where you might fall on the argument about exactly how “sustainable” the current version of Ravens offense is, there is no doubt that there is room for improvement in the passing game. While Lamar Jackson has made enormous strides as a passer and far exceeded most expectations of his development curve, the production of the Ravens wide receivers leaves much to be desired.
This Sunday’s contest in Cincinnati feels like as good a time as any to open the offense up and let Lamar air it out. The Ravens shouldn’t stray away from their general offensive strategy, but they should call at least a handful of plays that allow Jackson to make some throws that he hasn’t made many of in games this season. Allowing him to take a few deep shots or make some higher risk throws to the sideline would provide him invaluable experience and help him to develop a better on-field chemistry with his wideouts.
Confidence in the run game is sky high, but working to develop a more advanced passing attack now could pay dividends come January.
Experiment in the Run Game
On Sunday night against the Patriots, the Ravens offense put on an absolute clinic with their ground attack. Hollywood Brown took a jet sweep around the left side of the line for an explosive play. Jackson ran the speed option with Mark Ingram. Gus Edwards got behind the line and took a counter into the end zone for a touchdown. After spending an entire offseason building an offense from the ground up around Jackson’s unique abilities, Roman is finally starting to unveil his work.
To prepare for the possibility that they may face the Ravens in the playoffs, there is no doubt that AFC teams with playoff aspirations will task their advance scouting departments with getting started on how they’d go about slowing down the Ravens rushing attack. Teams begin advance scouting because it’s not possible to effectively game plan for a talented opponent by beginning to watch film six days before kickoff. The Ravens, in particular, are a team that cannot possibly be prepared for in one week because of how unique their offense is.
While he should certainly keep a few aces up his sleeve, Roman should use Sunday’s contest to experiment with additional wrinkles in the Ravens rushing attack. Adding in a triple option look, a few unique plays designing for Justice Hill or a jet sweep to the newly signed De’Anthony Thomas should help the Ravens dominate the Bengals on the ground.
Beyond that, experimenting with new wrinkles should allow the Ravens to see play designs at full speed and give teams even more to prepare for down the road.
Don’t Beat Yourselves
“The Bengals are one of the worst teams in the NFL. They’re winless on the season… and are virtually guaranteed a top 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ravens go into Sunday’s game, according to most sports betting outlets, as at least 10-point favorites. The only way that the Ravens lose this game is if they beat themselves. It’s that simple.”
Does that paragraph sound familiar? It should. It sounds familiar because, as a loyal ‘Battle Plans’ reader, you recognize that it was pulled directly from the Week 6 edition of this very column. The Bengals are still one of, if not the, worst teams in the NFL. They’re starting a rookie QB in his first game and are still reportedly going to be without their star WR A.J. Green. They have the lead in the race for the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. This game should be simple for the Ravens. Compared to games like those against the Seahawks and the Patriots, game planning should be far less intense. If the Ravens can avoid losing fumbles, throwing interceptions and giving up big plays like the kickoff return that they gave up to the Bengals in their Week 6 matchup, they should dominate a far inferior team.
After eight and a half seasons as the starting QB of the Cincinnati Bengals, Andy Dalton is out. The situation in Cincinnati is clear. The winless Bengals are virtually guaranteed to have a top-five pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and will almost certainly use that pick to select their QB of the future. Ultimately, Cincinnati has decided that Dalton is not part of their future plans and they’re going to take a look at what else they have in their QB room.
After playing just seven games in three years at Boise State, Ryan Finley transferred to and became a three-year starter at North Carolina State University. Finley, a 4th round selection of the Bengals in the 2019 NFL Draft, was considered by many to be 5th best QB prospect in his class. Finley is an intelligent and accurate passer who wins more often with his brain than with his physical tools. As a player who spent a total of six years in college football, Finley is more mature and experienced than the average NFL rookie QB.
Regardless of Finley’s extensive college experience, Week 10 presents the Ravens defense with a chance to take advantage of a rookie QB starting his first NFL game. Wink Martindale should disguise coverages and bring blitzes from every direction in an effort to make Finley as uncomfortable as possible. If Finley is uncomfortable and confused, it’ll be impossible for the Bengals to have any success on offense or any chance to win the game.
Travel with Boyd
It was expected that A.J. Green would make his 2019 debut on Sunday against the Ravens. While he was still recovering from an injury that has kept him sidelined for the first half of the season, as of the time of writing this, Green himself stated that he does not expect to play. With Green out, the Ravens should expect the Tylers – Boyd and Eifert – along with Auden Tate to be the favorite targets of Finley.
Boyd has burned the Ravens in the past. Ravens fans are all too familiar with the sight of him eliminating the Ravens from the playoffs with a long 4th quarter TD reception from Dalton. On Sunday, Marlon Humphrey should travel with Boyd. With a half a season under his belt in 2019, Humphrey has shown that he more than has what it takes to limit an opponent’s number one target. His play has been so good that national media outlets have used “best CB in the NFL”, “All-Pro” and “Defensive Player of the Year candidate” alongside his name. In Week 6, Humphrey held Boyd to three receptions for 10 yards. If Humphrey can put on a similar show on Sunday, Finley is going to have to find somewhere else to go with the football.
Rotate the Pass Rush
After a very rough start to the season, the Ravens defense has seen its stock rise considerably over the last three weeks. In Week 7, the Ravens went into Seattle and held MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to their lowest point total of the season (16). In Week 9, they held Tom Brady and the Patriots offense to their 2nd lowest point total of the season (20). While Lamar Jackson and the offense have undoubtedly helped by limiting the opponent’s time of possession, it has been new additions and improved execution that have really made the difference for Martindale’s unit.
One thing that has not changed since the start of the season is the Ravens’ lack of pass rush production. While various statistics show that Ravens are doing a well above average job getting pressures and QB hits, they are still struggling to get sacks and currently rank 27th in the league with 14. With the potential of a playoff berth becoming more of a reality with every win, the Ravens need to continue experimenting with schemes and rotating personnel to find something that works. Against the Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens are presented with a perfect opportunity. Look for Wink to empty his bench and his play sheet as he experiments with different ways to get to the QB and makes Finley’s afternoon very uncomfortable.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Bengals WR Auden Tate versus Ravens CB Marcus Peters
On Sunday, I am expecting Humphrey to travel with Tyler Boyd. Against the Ravens in Week 6, Humphrey held Boyd to just three catches for 10 yards and forced Dalton to find other targets. Dalton decided to lean on Auden Tate and I expect Finley will try the same. Tate was targeted 11 times and ended the day with five catches totaling 91 yards. Perhaps more impressive than his 18.2 yards per catch was the highlight reel that he put together. Seemingly every single catch that Tate made was diving, leaping or otherwise impressive. The young WR out of Florida State reminded the league why his high ceiling was attractive in the time leading up to the NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, the Ravens now have Marcus Peters roaming the field opposite of Humphrey and that could mean that Cincinnati is in for a long afternoon. If Finley avoids Humphrey and starts targeting Peters, he’d be targeting a player known for taking risks, jumping routes and getting interceptions more than any other CB in the NFL. If Peters has a good day covering Tate, he’d force the Bengals to run the ball. The Bengals rushed for 33 yards against the Ravens in their contest earlier this season.
If Peters locks down Tate, he may lock down the entire Bengals offense.