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RBs Offer Little on the Ground, Even Less Through the Air

Kenyan Drake tackled
Joey Pulone/Baltimore Ravens
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Ravens Pass-Catchers Through 2 Weeks

This is a hard one to write.

The loss to Miami is among the most disappointing regular-season losses in Ravens history. It’s probably the biggest 4th-quarter defensive collapse in Ravens history. The tone I feel like hitting in a column for that game is a glum, dour, everything-sucks tone.

But. This is a column focused on the passing game performance and receiving statistics.  And the fact is, the passing game had a great day on Sunday. The Ravens collapse happened on defense, and in the running game. Those are two areas this column explicitly doesn’t focus on. Lamar Jackson was the #1 quarterback for the day in Football Outsiders DYAR (their counting stat). Unfortunately, Tua Tugavialoa was #2. Lamar had more touchdown passes than incompletions! Really he had a ridiculous day.

What the hell do I do with that?? Pretend it was a great game and everything was fabulous? Or drag the passing game when they had a legitimately great day?

Let’s try to walk a middle ground. We’ll congratulate the passer and catchers for the things they did well, but also highlight a few moments where one more made play on an otherwise near-perfect afternoon, could have pulled the game out for the team.

Here are the stats from the Dolphins game:

What do you notice about the above list of receivers? It’s sort of a trick question, because the key pieces of data aren’t actually shown. If we had a column for “position”, and included some players who didn’t get targeted, you’d see it immediately.

Here’s the same information grouped differently:

Zero pass attempts to Running Backs! One of the Ravens’ most productive & explosive days in the pass offense, and they didn’t use the RBs at all in that phase. Didn’t get much from them on the ground either. Rushers not named Lamar ran 16 times for a total of 36 yards on the day, an avg of 2.25 per-carry. Awful.

So that’s the hole on this offense right now: productivity from Running Backs. Anyone ready to see JK Dobbins back on the field?

Last week the Ravens targeted nine different players, with five getting 4+ targets. Not so this week. This was a focused passing game. Just six players used, only three getting 5+ targets. But they were explosive as hell. The explosiveness actually worked against them being able to involve a lot of players. When you score on a 79-yd run, a 75-yd pass, a 103-yd kick return, paradoxically, that takes away a lot of snaps for other players to get targets on those quick-strike drives. Nothing to complain about, just a funny side-effect.

No James Proche again. Feels like a mistake to me, but you just can’t argue with the Ravens productivity in the pass game so far this season (more on that below).

The Ravens scored on five of their nine offensive possessions (not counting the kick return) up to the 2-minute warning.  Obviously that’s enough to win most ballgames, but it fell just a little short on Sunday. Here are four places where just one more made play could have changed the outcome of he game. Working backwards from late in the 4th:

#4 –  With about seven minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Ravens face 3rd-&-12 from their own 28. Lamar is flushed out of the pocket and rolls right, in an unhurried way.  He has room to run, maybe enough to get the first down, but spots Isaiah Likely down the numbers just past midfield, in a hole between defenders. Likely has no one within five yards of him.  Lamar’s ball sails a little: it’s high and a bit behind. Likely gets his fingertips on it, but can’t haul it in. Ravens punt.

This should have been a completed pass for about a 25-yd gain. Lamar has the pass rushers gaining on him, but only because he slowed down to scan the field. It’s not a well-thrown ball. Mark Andrews might have come up with it, because Andrews is magic with Lamar’s passes, but it’s not a good ball. I also think if Lamar had scrambled decisively he had a good chance at the first down; but the pass for a 25-yd gain was there. A disappointing play all around.

A fresh set of downs burns more clock, and the big gain would have put them close to Tucker Zone, in a game that turned out to be a one-score loss.

#3 –  With 9:18 left in the 4th, the Ravens face 4th-&-1 from just inside the Miami 40. Lamar runs off the left end and loses a yard. I hate the play call. Lamar had just run to the right on the previous play, gaining two yards on 3rd-&-3. The Miami front seven was looking QB run the whole way. This would have been a nice time to fake a run and loft something short to a Tight End. If Lamar has to run, then bounce it outside and race them to the edge.

That’s the play call. But what about the decision?

Was it Justin Tucker time?  Well, a field goal attempt from the 40 is about a 57-yarder. We fans tend to think of Tucker as automatic from anywhere, but 57 yards is not a gimme for anybody. Not even the greatest opera-singing placekicker of all time.

Usually Tucker tells Harbaugh what yard-line he can make it from on the day, given the wind conditions etc. We don’t know what he said. If Tucker felt that was a makeable distance that day, then I want to give him a shot. A field goal there would have had the Ravens down only one, rather than four, when they got the ball back with 14 seconds on the clock. Needing only a FG to win is a very different situation from what they actually faced in the final seconds. But if Tucker did not like that distance going in that direction in those particular conditions, then that’s enough for me. It’s punt or go for it.

I don’t like a punt from the opposing 40. It just doesn’t net enough yards; only 20 if there’s a touchback. Lamar doesn’t seem to like it either; I think on TV we can see him give a “go for it” signal to the sideline. We loved it when Harbaugh let Lamar tell him to go for it in Seattle three years ago: maybe we have to accept a little live by the sword/die by the sword karma.

I think I’m okay with the decision to go, assuming Tucker wasn’t confident from that spot; but not okay with the playcall.  The offensive line had been defeated all day: there was no reason to trust them there. Attack the perimeter, either with a play-action pass or a sprint out.

#2  – At about the 7:50 mark of the 3rd quarter, the Ravens get the ball after a kickoff and they go 3-&-out.

  1. On 1st down Lamar is short on a little out to Bateman, incomplete.
  2. On 2nd down they throw a little bubble screen to Likely, with Andrews & Devin Duvernay out in front of him. Likely gains three.
  3. On 3rd down Ravens go empty, Likely stays inline to block. Dolphins bring pressure, Lamar tosses a crosser to Andrews and he is brought down a yard short.

Ravens punt.

It’s a blah possession; they got nothing going. No obviously significant moment to point to here. But in a game of inches, a better pass on 1st down would have given them a shorter yards-to-go on 3rd down. And that 3rd down play didn’t look great: the receivers on the left side of the field just standing at the sticks, not doing anything to help their QB who is climbing the pocket. Maybe if more receivers were actively threatening the D, Andrews would have been able to wriggle for one more yard and extend this drive.

The Dolphins needed almost every bit of clock to complete their comeback, not taking the lead until only 14 seconds were left in the game. Maybe extending this drive by one fresh set of downs, running another minute off the clock, would have been the difference between winning and losing. It’s something to think about.

#1  – You know what this is. On the Raven offense’s first “real” possession of the game (so not the kick return), they possess the ball for over 11 minutes of clock time, run 18 offensive plays, work it down to 1st-&-goal from the 2 yard line – and get nothing. Zero points.

We had a game thread going on the RSR forum, and most everyone was angry about the play calling on the goal line. Slam it into the interior four straight times, and come away with nothing?  Infuriating.

I tried to be philosophical about it at the time. It’s the very first drive of the very first quarter of the very first home game of the season. Sometimes coaching involves challenging your guys; and early in the season, you have to find out who you have.  Certainly you would not just assume, as an Offensive Coordinator, that your guys couldn’t slam it in with four tries from the two? You have to find out. After Greg Roman did find out, the very next time they were at the goal line he drew the defense in and then had Lamar toss a short one to Andrews. Easy-peasey, no drama. So that meant the process was working, right?  That’s what I thought on Sunday.

But now that we know how the rest of the game unfolded, it’s clear that NOT getting a touchdown from this situation eventually cost the Ravens the game. Maybe that’s a lesson for me. Yes, there’s a need for coaches to challenge their guys early in the season, and find out what they have. But maybe it’s critically important that you not squander drives like that, and scoring opportunities like that. Some slightly more creative play-calling in that situation – a little play-action, or maybe fake the run inside and race them to the perimeter – and the Dolphins take the field to start the second quarter down 14-nothing. That’s a whole different game.

It’s tough to blame the Offensive Coordinator in a game where the team scored 31 points. Ultimately I don’t think it’s fair.  The bottom line is that after Marlon Humphrey left the game for the last two series, the Dolphins scored two TDs in nine plays over 3½ minutes of game time. I think Miami scored four of their TDs in the 15 total snaps Marlon was off the field.  That’s striking.

But it’s a team game. The offense could have done one more thing to help the beleaguered defense bring this game home, and they didn’t quite manage it.

______________

Housekeeping notes:

1. I made a big deal last week about how the Ravens changed gears mid-game, going from small-ball to the Long Ball. I left out one important thing (because I didn’t discover it until after we went to press): Lamar actually led the league in Average Depth Of Target last week vs Jets.  That means that he (on average) threw the longest, deepest passes of any QB in the league last week.  That’s a huge change-of-gears.

Now, statistical flukes happen all the time. But I think it’s a mistake to regard this as random variation. Last year, through the first four or eight games or so, Lamar was also leading the league in aDOT. Things happened late in the year, as we all well know, and Lamar’s stats went down. But two years in a row is not coincidence. It’s philosophy. Roman is dialing up the Long Ball.

Classic strategy. Teams want to crowd the line of scrimmage to discourage your run game? Punish them deep. Roman has made this offensive shift, and that hasn’t received the attention it deserves.

2. If you still have any appetite for Week 1 content about the game versus the Jets, JT O’Sullivan had a wonderful breakdown of some of Lamar’s passes in that game, on his YouTube channel the QB School:

13 mins of tape breakdown: worth a watch!

I will never criticize a receiver who catches everything thrown to him, like Duvernay has so far.  Probably he should be getting more targets than Likely, who has had one bad game and one good game.

Rashod Bateman is off to a fantastic start. He’s 12th in the league in receiving yards, on pace for about 1330 yards.

(In a 16 game season: I am an old fuddy-duddy who has not yet adjusted to this newfangled 17 game stuff the kids are doing these days.)

Andrews is on pace for about 1250 yards. Seems tame, for him, no? He’s been overshadowed so far by multi-touchdown performances from other Ravens receivers, but Andrews makes “great” look routine.

You know who’s been really great to open the season? QB1.

Here are some statistical top-5 lists:

Third in the league in passer rating; 2nd in DYAR (Football Outsiders counting stat); 1st in DVOA (their efficiency stat); 4th in ESPN’s QBR.

I couldn’t even fit Lamar’s statistical profile on one single table.  The components of Passer Rating include yards-per-attempt and TD%.  Lamar is 2nd in the league in yards-per, with 9.0.  He is 1st  in TD%  with 10.2. Lamar is stating his case.

Pay the man.

Next Up: the Ravens’ AFC East tour continues with Mac Jones, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots!

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