Find an Identity
If it’s not official yet, it might be soon: The Ravens offense has changed.
The 2019 Ravens lit the league on fire with their rushing attack. They led the league in rushing attempts, rushing yards and yards per attempt. Lamar Jackson was 6th in the NFL in rushing yards. Ravens’ starting RB Mark Ingram ranked 14th and his backup, Gus Edwards, ranked 28th. The Ravens’ offense, designed by Greg Roman, helped the team rewrite offensive record books. The Ravens led the NFL in points per game on their way to a 14-2 regular season record and the top seed in the AFC. For his troubles, Jackson joined Tom Brady as the only players to ever be unanimously awarded the NFL MVP.
For several reasons, the 2020 Ravens offense just isn’t the same as it was in 2019. The Ravens are throwing the ball more and running the ball less. Jackson’s rushing attempts have dropped from 11.7 per game in 2019 to 8.2 per game in 2020. Ravens RBs have gone from about 25 carries per game in 2019 to 19 carries per game through the first five weeks of 2020. One reason for the changes might be the retirement of future Hall of Fame RG Marshal Yanda (more on that below). Another possible reason for the changes is the continued development of weapons like Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews. Some have speculated that the Ravens may be trying to prevent injuries to Jackson by reducing his number of carries.
Regardless of the Ravens’ reasons for the tweaks to their offensive philosophies, they need to fully embrace their offensive identify against the Eagles. At different points over their first five games, the offense has looked lost and inefficient. The play calling has occasionally looked uncertain and lacking confidence. It’s hard to say whether the Ravens will get back to running the ball more or stay on their current path.
Either way, the team would really benefit from an efficient performance that helps the offense to establish an identity before their bye in Week 7.
Roman was quoted, earlier in the week, as saying that the team’s offense was a “work in progress.” After finishing 2nd in yards per game in 2019, the Ravens currently rank 24th in yards per game. Some of the lost yardage has come as a result of a change in run-pass balance. Some of the lost yardage has come from a decrease in efficiency when they do decide to run the ball. Ingram leads the team in carries and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Edwards has fewer carries than Ingram, but is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. As the third RB, J.K. Dobbins is averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 16 carries.
As the Ravens continue to find their identity on offense, they need to be willing to experiment with different play calls and personnel. Part of the Ravens’ plan against the Eagles should be to get Dobbins a few drives. In his first few games as a rookie, Dobbins has shown flashes of the reasons that the Ravens made him a second-round pick. He’s shown the ability to break tackles and make defenders miss in the open field. Dobbins also possesses the top line speed to be a home run hitter.
Getting Dobbins a few drives as the feature back could lead to some big plays and help the Ravens as they continue to search for their identity.
Figure Out Right Guard
As of the submission of this article, Tyre Phillips’ status for Sunday’s game is in question.
The Right Guard spot has been a position of uncertainty for the Ravens in 2020. That’s what happens when you lose a player like Marshal Yanda. The vast majority of Yanda’s 13 seasons in Baltimore were spent at Right Guard. Yanda was a team leader and his Hall of Fame-caliber play meant that the Ravens never had to worry about his performance.
After widespread speculation that free agent signing D.J. Fluker would start the season at RG, the Ravens surprised the media and the fan base with their decision to give the job to rookie OL Phillips. Phillips, a 3rd round pick out of Mississippi State, played as a tackle for the Bulldogs after transferring into the SEC from a Junior College. For a rookie learning a brand-new position and a brand-new offense, Phillips played admirably for the Ravens in their first four games. When Phillips missed the Ravens’ Week 5 game with an injury, second year players Patrick Mekari and Ben Powers split time at RG. If the Ravens establish a comfortable lead against the Eagles, they should rotate Mekari, Powers and Phillips (if healthy).
Figuring out which of their options work best at RG will be crucial for the Ravens and their Super Bowl hopes.
Stack the Box
At this point in the season, the Philadelphia Eagles are struggling mightily with injuries. Their offensive line isn’t what they wanted it to be when the season started. Tackles Andre Dillard and Jason Peters are both on the Injured Reserve. Three-time Pro Bowl Guard Brandon Brooks is on the Physically Unable to Perform list and All Pro LT Lane Johnson’s status for Sunday’s game is questionable.
Carson Wentz’s weapons aren’t in much better shape. Rookie 1st round pick Jalen Reagor is on Injured Reserve. He’s joined on that list by talented TE Dallas Goedert. Top WRs DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery have both been limited in practice and aren’t locks to be available against the Ravens. In the absence of his top targets, Wentz has had to throw to 2019 6th round pick Travis Fulgham and converted college QB Greg Ward, who was playing in the AAF in 2019. The Ravens’ All Pro CBs should be more than up to the task of locking down Fulgham and Ward on the outside.
Against a depleted Eagles offense, Wink Martindale should load the box and force the Eagles prove that their backup offensive line can run the ball. I would not bet on the Eagles to get the job done.
Smith on Ertz
Zach Ertz hasn’t been his usual self this season. Through five games, Ertz is averaging just four receptions and 29 yards per game. There are a few possible reasons for Ertz’s drop in production. First and foremost are the struggles of Wentz. He has been inaccurate and has made poor decisions with the football that have reduced the Eagles’ time of possession. Another reason for Ertz’s struggles might be the injury to Dallas Goedert that has kept the talented Eagles’ TE off the field. Typically, the Eagles are one of the few NFL teams who field a pair of dangerous pass catching TEs. With Goedert and WRs like Reagor, Jackson and Jeffery out of the lineup, defenses have been able to focus more of their attention on Ertz.
The Ravens should keep the trend going and give Ertz some extra attention in Philadelphia on Sunday. There may be a point sometime this season when dedicated readers of ‘Battle Plans’ start to get tired of this point, but it’s not going away yet. For as many snaps are reasonable, Wink Martindale should use Jimmy Smith in man coverage on Ertz. Smith is perfectly equipped to cover Ertz and take him away as an option for Wentz.
With Humphrey and Peters taking away the Eagles’ outmatched WRs and Smith taking Ertz out, Wentz won’t have many places to go with the football.
Unleash the Sack Daddy
Through five games in 2020, the Ravens pass rush has been impressive. Buoyed by a Joe Burrow sack party in Week 5, the Ravens rank 5th in the league with 16 sacks. ESPN’s new “Pass Rush Win Rate” (PRWR) analytic provides a different metric for pass rush performance. PRWR displays “how often a pass-rusher is able to beat his block within 2.5 seconds”. Baltimore ranks 6th in the NFL with a 49% Pass Rush Win Rate. The Ravens owe a lot of their success in the pass rush department to 2019 Pro Bowl OLB Matt Judon. As an individual, Judon ranks third among NFL DE/OLB with a 32% PRWR.
While Judon and the rest of the defense have had success rushing the passer, a decent portion of the Ravens’ success has come from smartly-called and well-executed blitzes. In Week 5, the Ravens became the first team in the history of the NFL to have five defensive backs record sacks in a single game. Judon and the Ravens would greatly benefit from an effective pass rusher off the opposite edge.
Second-year OLB Jaylon “Sack Daddy” Ferguson has a chance to be that player. Last week against the Bengals, Ferguson tallied season highs in solo tackles, tackle assists and tackles for loss. He also hit his season high for snap share with 36% of the defensive snaps.
Against backup Eagles’ offensive tackles, Ferguson could be in for a big day and gain some confidence that could be a boost to his game over the course of the season.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Philadelphia RB Miles Sanders versus Ravens S DeShon Elliott
The Eagles currently rank 28th in the NFL in offensive yards per game. They rank 26th in passing yards per game and 18th in rush yards per game. Injuries to their TEs and WRs have made it difficult for them to maintain any consistency in the passing game. With Humphrey, Peters and Smith limiting the Eagles’ top receiving options, Philadelphia may be forced to try to run the football. DeShon Elliott has performed well since being asked to fill in on short notice for Earl Thomas before Week 1. Elliott has gotten the job done and he’s been an absolute missile when coming downhill to make plays around the line of scrimmage. He’s 4th on the team in tackles, tied for 2nd in tackles for loss and he tallied his second sack of the season v. Cincinnati. Elliott’s ability in run support will be important against Miles Sanders and the Eagles.