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Hollywood Earns it Back

Marquise Brown diving catch Denver
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is Tale of the Tape: Offense. For Tale of the Tape: Defense, click here.

The Ravens walked into Mile High Stadium on Sunday knowing that in order for their offense to be successful, they’d have to establish, and play through, the passing game. A stark contrast to their usual model of running it down the opponent’s throat early and often, but Denver’s stout run defense warranted the change in approach. Lamar Jackson and company responded by putting together one of the most complete performances we’ve seen through the air since he took over from Joe Flacco in 2018.

Jackson was making all kinds of throws in this game: deep passes, pushing the ball outside the numbers (his biggest area of weakness according to some), and the tough strikes over the middle we’ve come to expect throughout his career so far. The cherry on top? The Ravens also kept the consecutive 100 yard rushing games streak alive (and tied the 1970’s Steelers for the record), much to the chagrin of a certain head coach that some might just call hypocritical.

All of that and more ahead as we break down this week’s five most important offensive plays.

Murray 11-yard TD

Heading into the second quarter, the Ravens offense wasn’t looking very productive. They were stifled on their first three drives of the game, and at the end of the first quarter Denver marched down field and put up the first score of the day on a Noah Fant touchdown. In need of a response, Jackson marched the offense into the red zone by executing pretty completions to James Proche and Mark Andrews, getting into a serious rhythm throwing the football in the process.

On 1st-and-10 from the Denver 11, Jackson took the snap and surveyed the incoming defenders as he decided whether to pull the ball and rush it himself, or continue with the handoff left to Latavius Murray. The threat of #8 making another highlight reel play at their expense is enough to catch any defender flat footed, and that’s exactly what happened on this play.

Linebacker Jonathon Cooper saw Jackson delay the handoff for a half second, and had to make a choice on whether to keep contain on the right or to bend left and pursue him should he keep the ball. That brief moment of hesitation allowed Murray to gain a step on Cooper as he took the handoff and sprinted through as clear a path to the end zone as you can ask for in the NFL.

The biggest block on the play comes from Pat Ricard, who sprints out of the backfield on the snap and makes easy work of safety Kareem Jackson. Jackson is one of the more talented safeties in football, but that 300+ pound freight train of a fullback is enough to make even the best players look like benchwarmers.

Overall, this was a perfectly executed option play, one that’s become as natural as breathing for the Ravens in the Lamar Jackson era. They probably should’ve busted out a play similar to this later in the half, but we’ll get there shortly.

Brown 49-yard TD

Well, it appears that Marquise Brown has officially been given his “Hollywood” nickname back by the Ravens Flock. After a three-drop performance in Detroit where Twitter was ripe with “*insert whichever town in Maryland they find undesirable* Brown” jokes, a bounce back was just what the doctor ordered for the third-year pro.

With 7:18 left in the first half, the offense lined up in an empty formation (zero running backs) with four receivers wide. Brown, lined up in the slot to the right of Jackson, fires off the line at the snap on what originally looked like a straight go route, before cutting left and splitting through both deep safeties. Jackson, who had all day to throw, allowed the play to develop before launching an absolute rocket all the way to the end zone. The ball was overthrown by a razor thin margin, but Brown laid out for it and put his body on the line to come down with the much-needed touchdown grab.

The most impressive part of this play was that it didn’t come off play action. There was no fake, no immediate threat of the run, it was simply Jackson being more comfortable in the pocket now than ever and realizing that his arm can be just as big a threat as his legs. The old knock against the Ravens is “you have to throw the ball to win in January”.

Well, more plays like this throughout the rest of the year will certainly have folks scrambling for a new narrative come playoff time.

Murray Stopped on 3rd Down

Coming out of the two-minute warning before the half, the Ravens had the ball with 3rd-and-2 from just over midfield. The offense came out in a heavy run formation, with every intention of plowing this ball up the gut and continuing what would’ve been a back breaker drive at the end of the half. The only problem was, Denver was ready for it the entire way and stonewalled the Ravens front, causing a one-yard loss by Murray on the play and forcing a punt.

There was no threat of the option on the play, or any real creativity, but instead it felt like a bit of an autopilot call. Now, of course that’s easy to say in hindsight, and the call wouldn’t have been questioned had they picked it up, but the same can be said on any questionable call in sports. For example, if Aaron Judge scores against the Red Sox in the Wild Card game on Tuesday night, the Yankees third base coach looks like a genius for sending him home. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, nor was it for John Harbaugh and Greg Roman.

Murray has clearly been serviceable thus far for the Ravens, but it’s felt like any time they design runs solely for him on short yardage situations it’s been quickly bottled up (see: end of the first half in Las Vegas).

This surely won’t be taken out of context, but Murray is similar to Derrick Henry in that he needs a few yards to accelerate before we see those bruising runs he’s come to be known for. He’s powerful, but his tall frame makes him a massive target at the point of attack, and he’s not going to run over a defender pushing forward in his face right at the line of scrimmage.

This could easily be perceived as a nitpick though, and we’ll likely see more of that creativity in short yardage play calling as the games get more meaningful. If nothing else, the threat of Jackson’s legs in the form of the read option should always be on display in these situations where inches mean everything.

Proche 3rd-Down Catch

Up 10 points late in the third quarter, the Ravens lined up for 3rd-and-7 from their own 27-yard line. Jackson takes the snap and fires a ball outside the numbers to James Proche about three yards short of the first down marker. Proche, who ran a short out route on the play, lowered his shoulder and barreled forward into cornerback Kyle Fuller to make sure he picked up the necessary yardage on the play.

Why is this one first down in what was already a 10-point ball game so important? Well, for a few reasons actually. First and foremost, this play kept the Ravens’ momentum going and allowed them to drain another five minutes off the clock before kicking another field goal, essentially diminishing any hope of a late Broncos comeback (not that there was much prior of course).

In addition to icing the game, this was just one of numerous inspiring plays Proche made on the day that could lead to a more consistent role for him in the offense. We all heard the reports from training camp about how awesome he was on a daily basis, so seeing his limited action in the regular season thus far has been a bit of a head-scratcher. He may have opened a lot of eyes with this performance though, and even with Rashod Bateman returning to action this week, he may have carved out a niche in the wide receiver room, at least situationally.

Jackson 4-Yard Run to End the Game

On the scoreboard, and the individual stat sheet, this was the least important play of the day. In the record books and in the public eye however, this play will now live on in infamy for a few different reasons.

First of all, what an accomplishment for this Ravens team to tie a record like this. It may not be as sexy a stat as career passing touchdowns or total receiving yards, but it absolutely speaks to the dominance the Ravens have shown in running all over opponents for the last three years. John Harbaugh and company deserve to be proud of the standard of excellence they’ve set on the ground during that span, even if some may be salty about it.

Which brings us to the other reason this play will likely be talked about for years to come, even if just as a funny footnote. Vic Fangio, who in consecutive sentences said he “hadn’t seen anything like it in thirty plus years” and then “I expected it from them”, had a big problem with the Ravens picking up the final four yards to seal the record instead of kneeling to end the game. The flock has certainly had their fun with Fangio on social media this week, and deservedly so as this whole situation just screams “you kids get off my lawn.”

If you don’t want a team to run the ball against you, stop them. Plain and simple. Had Fangio been in this situation is there any doubt he would’ve done the same thing? If he hadn’t, he would probably have a lot of players who work hard for their accomplishments upset with him for costing them that feather in their cap (in the name of perceived “sportsmanship”). Surely a coach as respectful as Fangio wouldn’t do something like this though, or allow his quarterback to throw a 61-yard completion on the last play of a game they had in firm control, right (see video at the top of this article)?

Wrap Up

The Ravens offense is really beginning to hit their groove through the air, and with the toughest part of the schedule slowly but surely approaching, it’s a great thing to see. There’s no reason to believe things won’t continue to improve and progress at a similar rate from here, and teams will begin to realize they can no longer just stack the box against Jackson and the troops as a result.

This week the Ravens will finally be getting back first round draft choice Rashod Bateman as well, which will add yet another explosive dimension to a group that’s already approaching the point of firing on all cylinders. There’s plenty to be excited about right now in Baltimore, and we’ll see if they can continue this success on Monday night with the lights on bright against Indianapolis.

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