Ride the Gus
In the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Ravens used one of their selections to add Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins. For a team that needed to add WRs and pass rush help, the Dobbins pick was a surprise. Many, including myself, explained the Dobbins selection as a classic case of the Ravens taking the “Best Player Available.” Others were frustrated by the front office’s decision to add another option to an already deep RB room. Some, who believed that Baltimore wouldn’t carry four RBs, suggested that the Ravens should trade away Justice Hill or Gus Edwards.
It’s amazing how quickly opinions can change. Going into Week 5 of the 2020 season, Ravens fans are calling for Edwards to be given a chance to be the number one back in Baltimore. Through four weeks, Edwards ranks third in the NFL in yards per carry (6.2). Edwards ranks highly despite getting a large portion of his touches in late game or short yardage situations in which the defense is expecting the run and stacks the box. His downhill, hard-nosed running style has been effective at gashing defenses right up the middle. He’s particularly adept in the role of Ravens’ “closer” when he’s called upon late in games to pick up first downs and run out the clock.
The statistics and the film both show that Edwards deserves more than his current role as the designated “closer.” In Week 5, Greg Roman should experiment with giving Edwards some opportunities early in the game. With the offensive line still struggling to come together as a cohesive unit, Edwards seems to be best-equipped to “make something out of nothing” with his north-south running style, while Dobbins and Mark Ingram sometimes get caught up dancing and trying to pick their holes.
There will be instances in the 2020 season in which it simply won’t be possible to call on Edwards to close out a game. Whether he rotates RBs every drive or more frequently than that, Roman needs to find a way to involve everyone early. Finding the right mix at RB now will be a major asset to the Ravens towards the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.
Set Up Shots to Hollywood
The line is set. The ball is snapped. Jackson drops back. Hollywood is going deep. Jackson is winding up. He’s going for it. Hollywood is open. And…he missed him.
If it seemed like Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown tried and failed multiple times to connect on deep shots against Washington in Week 4, it’s because that’s exactly what happened. Jackson and Brown failed to connect on attempts that traveled 27 and 37 yards through the air. They also failed to hook up on two deep shots of nearly 50 yards. Hollywood is the Ravens’ best deep threat and he has the potential to develop into one of the best in the NFL. If the Ravens’ offense is going to take the next step in 2020, Brown is going to have to put up numbers that reflect his potential.
Roman needs to dial up a handful of shots from Jackson to Brown against the Bengals on Sunday. Whether it’s from the slot or from the outside, Roman should be able to get Brown matched up against Darius Phillips and LeShaun Sims on at least a few occasions. In those matchups in particular, Brown has the clear advantage and opportunity to make a game-changing play. Connecting on a few deep shots against the Bengals will help the Ravens secure the win and instill confidence that they can make the big play in crucial games in December and January.
Throw to the Backs
With one quarter of the 2020 NFL season in the books, the Ravens are 3-1. In their three wins, the Ravens have scored at least 30 points and have won each game by at least two touchdowns. In their one loss of the season at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the Ravens were only able to muster 20 points. Justin Tucker converted two Field Goal attempts and Nick Boyle added a late touchdown reception. The loss to the Chiefs brought Ravens’ fans back to earth and provided the team with a list of things that they needed to work on.
One thing that was made clear over the first four games of the season is that the Ravens need to continue to develop a multi-faceted offensive attack. In the loss to the Chiefs, the Ravens abandoned the run early and couldn’t sustain drives through the air. Despite convincing wins in their other three games, the Ravens haven’t shown the ability to consistently connect of long pass attempts (see above). One way that the Ravens could diversify their attack to build a more dangerous, well-rounded offense is by targeting their RBs in the passing game. Dobbins was a dangerous pass-catching back in college and led the Ravens in receiving against the Chiefs. In the past, Ingram and Hill have both shown the ability to be useful receiving options. The Ravens RBs should have no problem taking advantage of the Bengals ILBs in pass coverage.
As the Ravens continue to develop their offense, Jackson should look to connect with his RBs through the air against the Bengals.
Use the Dime
When you watch the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals on film, one of the first things that stands out is the amount of plays that their offense runs from four- or five-WR sets. Joe Burrow regularly stands alone in the backfield behind a five-man offensive line as he takes the snap from the shotgun. Other times he is joined by starting RB Joe Mixon or backup RB Giovani Bernard. The bottom line is that the Cincinnati offense is built around Burrow getting the ball to his deep and talented receiver corps. With a wide receiver room that includes the likes of Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, Auden Tate, Tee Higgins and John Ross, nobody can blame them.
Wink Martindale needs to counter the Bengals’ tendency to play from an “empty” formation with a healthy dose of the dime defense. Using dime personnel means that the Ravens will have six defensive backs on the field at the same time. With their current roster, that would likely mean having Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Anthony Averett, Jimmy Smith, Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott on the field together.
Matching the Bengals’ four- or five-WR sets with dime personnel puts the Ravens in the best possible position to defend the aerial barrage that they can expect to see from Burrow on Sunday.
Make Burrow Uncomfortable
When the Bengals selected Burrow with the number one overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, they believed that they had added the future face of their franchise. From the second that he was drafted, there was never a question that Burrow would be given the keys to the franchise immediately. Beyond just simply naming Burrow the Bengals’ Week 1 starting QB, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor has showed a high level of confidence in his young QB. Taylor is giving Burrow a ton of responsibility and does not seem to be holding anything back. Burrow has taken everything in stride and proven that he was deserving of the selection. Through four weeks, Burrow ranks second in the NFL in pass attempts and tenth in passing yards.
The Bengals’ offense is very different than the Ravens’ offense. While the Ravens spend a ton of time in so called “heavy” formations running the ball behind the likes of Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard, the Bengals spend a ton of time in wide open sets throwing the ball all over the field (see above). The Ravens defense needs to disrupt the Bengals’ passing attack and keep Burrow uncomfortable by varying their blitz. The more Burrow is forced to think about the pressures and the coverage, the less he will be able to find a rhythm passing. The Ravens also need to prepare for and preemptively counter the Bengals’ quick pass game. A “hot route” is a quick route run by a WR when the defender covering them blitzes. In wide open formations, QBs like Burrow survey the field, see the blitz coming and throw to the wide open “hot.”
The Ravens can counter Burrow throwing behind the blitz by dropping defensive linemen, like Calais Campbell (who leads the team in passes defensed), into coverage in shallow zones.
Prevent the Big Play
It’s no secret. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Ravens are the overwhelming favorites in their contest against the Bengals on Sunday. In some publications, the Bengals are nearly two touchdown underdogs. The two AFC North foes are simply on different paths. The Ravens, led by their reigning MVP QB, are a top five team that has the goal of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February. The Bengals, on the other hand, are at the very beginning of a rebuild and don’t have any realistic playoff aspirations.
The only way that the Ravens can lose to the Bengals in M&T Bank Stadium is if they beat themselves. They’re only going to lose the game if they “shoot themselves in the foot.” On offense, that means that they need play their style of offense and limit careless turnovers. On defense, that means not giving up the big play. Despite an overall lack of confidence in the Bengals, it’s undeniable that they have dangerous weapons on offense. Burrow was the Heisman Trophy winner and 1st overall pick for a reason. Mixon is a top 10 RB and Bernard provides spark as a pass catcher. At WR, the Bengals have a deep group that includes Boyd, Green, Tate, Tee Higgins and Ross. This isn’t the game to take chances in coverage and get burned deep.
If the Ravens play sound defense and prevent the big play, they shouldn’t have a problem securing the win against the Bengals.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Bengals RB Joe Mixon versus Ravens ILB Patrick Queen
For the most part, Ravens’ rookie ILB Patrick Queen has been everything they hoped that he would be when they selected him with their 1st round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. As expected, Queen immediately won a starting job on Baltimore’s defense. Through four weeks, he is tied with Kenneth Murray for the most tackles among rookie LBs. He leads the Ravens in total tackles, solo tackles and tackles for loss. Queen looks the part and appears to fit in just fine on a better than average NFL defense. In Week 4 against the Jaguars, Mixon carried the ball 25 times for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He also hauled in six passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. Mixon, a powerful and well-rounded back, is a player who makes life very difficult for NFL defenses.
Against the Bengals and Joe Mixon on Sunday, Patrick Queen is going to have his hands full.