Currently, the Ravens offense owns the NFL’s No. 1 rushing attack. Unfortunately, they also sport the league’s worst passing game. These statistics, while somewhat daunting, are also impressive. Let me explain…
When an opponent prepares for the Ravens, their aim is to scheme up their available resources to stop the run. There’s little in Baltimore’s passing game that strikes fear. The perimeter players are inconsistent at best. The route combinations fail to create any confusion on the part of the defense. They serve up little eye candy to distract and slow down a defense. Man-coverage doesn’t seem to be all that dangerous. Lamar holds the ball too long and the offensive line is very leaky in pass pro.
Stop the run and you stop the Ravens!
But apparently, that’s easier said than done because the Ravens, despite their one-dimensional offensive arsenal, as mentioned, they still lead the league in rushing. And you have to credit the offensive line, along with coaches Greg Roman and Joe D’Alessandris for the amazing accomplishment.
Making their rushing rank even more impressive, are the changes and injuries the team has sustained across the offensive front. All Pro Ronnie Stanley was lost for the season. Tyre Phillips was on IR. The position of center has been a revolving door as has right tackle. Marshal Yanda retired. Yet despite it all, the unit just keeps chopping wood.
It’s time to give credit where credit is due.
Lamar’s outing versus the Cowboys was hardly flawless. Some of his errant throws left scars upon the cerebral cortex of fans and observers. A few were high and wide — some were short-hopped like an infielder with the yips. Yet overall his performance proved promising for the balance of the season.
The buoyant enthusiasm that characterized his play last season, seems to be missing from Lamar’s game in 2020. The apparent psychological anguish has defused the positive energy that was so effervescent in 2019. The body language has soured. And indecisiveness creeped in. It appeared as if the reigning MVP was so determined to develop as a pocket passer, that he held on to the ball too long and became a more reluctant scrambler. Consequently, he became easier to defend.
Against the Cowboys on Tuesday night, Lamar was quick to attack Dallas with his legs, rushing for 94 yards. Some of those yards were by design as he adeptly handled the RPO reads with ball skills that might impress the best illusionists. However, a few of his runs were scrambles that helped to keep drives alive. In years to come the stats will show that Lamar wasn’t touched in this game. He wasn’t sacked nor was he hit and that isn’t due to great protection. It has everything to do with Lamar being MVP Lamar.
Opponents will take note and probably employ a spy for the Ravens signal caller moving forward. And with a defender frozen in space, that could open up opportunities in the passing game. Particularly with the return of reliable pass catchers in the forms of Mark Andrews and Willie Snead.
This is my favorite Ravens drive in months.
Not because it was perfect, but it showcases Lamar at his best when things aren’t.
Quick, decisive, showing an eye for the sticks, and makes the exact right throw in the exact right moment.
Build off of it. pic.twitter.com/gtyDMXFmW5
— J🎄ke Louque (@Jakelouque) December 9, 2020
Most NFL observers will conclude that the Ravens selection of Marquise Brown was a reach, particularly when you consider that he was the first receiver selected in the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s had some drops; struggles to fight through press coverage; suffers from alligator arms and at times gets a little lazy with his footwork. There’s also no denying that his frustration level has been a slight drag on the team’s enthusiasm. But that said, there’s reason for optimism.
During the team’s most recent two games against the Steelers and Cowboys, Brown has made a couple of big scoring plays. He’s not going to be that guy who makes a contested catch in traffic inside the numbers. Nor will he be the receiver who can snatch a ball along the sidelines when there’s tight coverage coupled with converging safety help. But if Greg Roman can keep Brown moving pre-snap and put him in position where his uncommon change-of-direction skills can be employed to full capacity, Brown can be a weapon that will command the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. And when that happens, it opens up things for the rest of the offense.
No, Hollywood isn’t D.K. Metcalf. Thirty-one other teams passed on the physically imposing Seahawk too — twice. That’s water under the bridge and perhaps a lesson to be learned. But meanwhile, don’t give up on Hollywood. Not yet anyway.
Since his arrival in 2019, Mark Ingram has been nothing but a positive influence on the Ravens. He’s been a leader in the locker room and a spokesperson for the organization. He was also an outstanding contributor last season with 1,265 yards from scrimmage. This season, Ingram doesn’t look like the same player. Of the three backs primarily used by Roman, he’s been the least productive and you have to wonder if his starting role is a sentimental tip of the cap from John Harbaugh for the intangibles he’s brought to the team.
The NFL isn’t a sentimental business.
It’s time to move on to J.K. Dobbins.
The former OSU Buckeye has shown explosiveness and power that Ingram can no longer provide. His speed places more pressure on defenses and an increased workload will undoubtedly lead to bigger plays from an offense that needs them.
Staying with the topic of Ravens running backs, Gus Edwards is without question one of the league’s most unheralded ball carriers. The Bus is a north and south runner who has averaged 5.2 YPC during his 39 games with the Ravens. And he seems to be getting better.
Against the Cowboys, Edwards demonstrated great balance after contact and his body lean is such that he adds another yard or more even while falling to the ground. Prior to the beginning of the season I viewed Gus as just-a-guy, a JAG, a product of a system. I suspected that he might even be dealt away given the abundance of talent in the offensive backfield. I was wrong. Edwards isn’t just a fit for Roman’s system. He’s the perfect fit and an economical one to boot, occupying just $750,000 of cap space.
Edwards will be a restricted free agent in 2021 and there’s little doubt that the Ravens will use a second-round tender on Gus. In 2020 that price tag was $3.3M. With the projected $25M drop in cap space next season, Edwards might even be a greater bargain. But unfortunately, it will almost certainly signal the end of Ingram’s tenure as a Raven. His departure saves the team $5M in cap space.
Wink Tips His Hand
Wink Martindale has been known to use multiple substitution packages given certain down-and-distance situations. That’s a common practice throughout the league but the eyeball test suggests Wink’s sub packages are more frequent and more expansive than most. And the personnel used in thes defensive shuffling crew dictate what the Ravens expect from opposing offenses. And that’s a pattern that veteran quarterbacks welcome.
Such moves aren’t unique to the Ravens yet the personnel at Wink’s disposal lacks a bit of versatility. He isn’t equipped with that pass rusher who can also set the edge like Terrell Suggs did for so many years. And in part, it’s the reason opponents have had success against the Ravens when operating out of a no-huddle. It stymies the necessary sub-package rotations.
The Ravens are generally recognized as one of the most well-run franchises in all of sports. And when they tackled the topic of COVID-19 at the outset of spring, it seemed like they went over and beyond to protect their players and really, all of the organization’s employee. But the strength of protection is only as stout as its weakest link and apparently, as Dick Cass revealed, the Ravens had a few.
During our Ravens Rap Zoom Podcasts over the past two weeks, beat writer Jeff Zrebiec from The Athletic and analyst Keith Mills from the Ravens flagship network, WBAL/98 Rock, expressed their beliefs that the NFL will dish out harsh penalties for the team’s failures. From the outside looking in, the compliance blunders represent an organizational black eye and an embarrassment to the franchise’s leaders. And it’s likely to cost the Ravens a very healthy fine and possibly the loss of a draft pick.
Most seem to believe that the Ravens need to win out in order to punch their ticket to the postseason dance. I don’t think that’s true. While it certainly assures John Harbaugh & Co. of a berth, running the table isn’t necessary to make it happen.
First things first. I don’t expect the Ravens to beat the Browns in Cleveland on Monday night. I found the Ravens lack of pass rush to be disturbing and that was against a weak Cowboys’ offensive line. The Browns offensive front is among the league’s best and Baker Mayfield thrives when given ample time to set and throw. More on that to come in the days ahead but for now, suffice it to say that I see a close game, but a disappointing one along the shores of Lake Erie.
But don’t worry. The Ravens will make the playoffs.
To set the table, here are the five teams that I see as locks for the postseason along with their projected records.
Projected Division Winners:
• AFC East: Buffalo (12-4)
• AFC North: Pittsburgh (14-2)
• AFC South: Tennessee (11-5)
• AFC West: Kansas City (15-1)
• Wild Card: Cleveland (12-4)
That leaves two wild card spots and the contenders are (current records):
• Colts (8-4)
• Dolphins (8-4)
• Raiders (7-5)
• Ravens (7-5)
• Patriots (6-6)
After considering the schedules of these five teams vying to punch their playoff tickets, I project the following records:
• Colts (11-5)
• Ravens (10-6)
• Dolphins (9-7)
• Raiders (9-7)
• Patriots (8-8)
This all sets up round 3 between the Ravens and the Steelers!
Wouldn’t that be a great time for Lamar’s first playoff win?