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Searching for Something Consistent on Offense

Demarcus Robinson vs. Panthers
Joey Pulone/Baltimore Ravens
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Ravens Pass-Catchers Through 10 Games

Is there such a thing as a disappointing win?

When the team you root for is a contender, no game is just a win or just a loss. Every game is a referendum on how well the team is likely to do in the playoffs.

Stomp on Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in Tampa by running up 24 points in the second half? Going to the conference championship, baby!

Score six points through three quarters against one of the worst teams in the league? We suck, gonna get bounced in the first round! It’s a roller coaster.

Even as a win, this game feels like a plummet downhill on the ‘coaster. It did nothing to assure fans that the Ravens offense can score against playoff teams.

Just a confusing day. Here’s Lamar:

What the hell was going on? I have no idea. He looked great going to Mark Andrews & Demarcus Robinson, but no one else could get untracked and the OL seemed to be surrendering pressures.

The Ravens are on a four-game winning streak. But it doesn’t feel like a team that’s playing well on offense. They don’t seem to be able to build on anything week to week. Here’s the winning streak:

Week 7 vs. CLE: Rashod Bateman four catches on five targets with 8+ yards per target, but injured next game and out for the season. Win by a FG.

Week 8 @ TB: Isaiah Likely 77 yards with a TD and 10+ yards per target; Gus Edwards 65 yards on almost 6 yards-per, but Gus injured. Only three points in first half. Win by 5.

Week 9 @ NO: Kenyan Drake 90 yards and 2 TDs, but no receiver with even 25 yards, and Lamar Jackson‘s frustration boils over on the field after a delay-of-game penalty.

Week 11 vs. CAR: Robinson 120 yards while catching every damn thing. Only a 10-point margin at home against one of the worst teams in the league, despite getting four turnovers.

Some close games that honestly could have gone the other way, and a bunch of individual performances by offensive players, that don’t seem to stack up to consistent production. Bateman ties his season high for catches against the Browns, then is lost for the year. Likely breaks out with a big game against the Bucs, and then over his next two he catches only 25% of his targets for 3 yards-per-target.  Drake looks unstoppable against the Saints, then is successful on only 30% of his runs against the Panthers. Robinson looks like a Pro Bowler on Sunday, but is that going to translate next week or is it just another one-off that the Ravens can’t build on?

Those performances can mean two different things, right? Either the Ravens have a variety of playmakers – Likely, Drake, Robinson – who each have stepped up in different games, a testament to the breadth of the roster and the offense’s versatility. Or they don’t have any reliable playmakers after Andrews, just a few hit-or-miss guys who will be slapped down when the Ravens face a playoff-caliber defense.

Which interpretation is correct? Hell if I know.

One thing I found encouraging during the Carolina game was that Greg Roman seemed to find an adjustment in the 4th quarter that made a difference. The Ravens went to delayed hand-offs, and draw plays, and whatever that play is called where the QB immediately fakes a throw to the outside then spins and hands it off to a back. Drake’s big 29-yd run came off a delay.

Trying to look on the bright side:

Illness: Lamar missed some practices with illness in the week leading up to the game. Maybe he wasn’t 100%, and the numbers reflect that. He was under 3.0 yards-per-carry on the game, one of the lowest figures of his career. If Lamar was playing through illness, then this was a gutty performance and we should be celebrating it, not criticizing it.

The throws: It’s hard to fully buy into an “illness” narrative when you see some of the throws. This is a friggin DOT from Lamar:

This is another:

Lamar finds Robinson in traffic:

Same play; watch how Lamar jumps to deliver this throw while being pinballed between bodies:

Lamar didn’t have a bad game. Not at all. Some of his teammates did – runners, catchers, O-line – but Lamar played well. As long as QB1 is on point, the offense remains a threat to detonate at any time.

Rust: Maybe the team was rusty coming off the bye? That happens to other teams. We haven’t tended to see it here: over his career, John Harbaugh’s teams have usually been fresh & sharp coming off a bye. But a lot of teams show some rust with a week off. I could believe that rust was a factor. One of the key guys is a rookie (Likely), who is bound to be uneven.

The Ravens had five drops on the day.  Drake had two; Andrews, James Proche & Likely each had one; Likely’s was another case where he tipped the ball into the air, like he did last week, which could have been a disaster. Dude, if you’re gonna drop it, just knock it down. Don’t give a defender a shot at it in the middle of the field.

Here’s another drop on a big play from a normally sure-handed player (another fine throw from Lamar):

That one didn’t count in the stats, as it got called back for Morgan Moses being ineligible downfield. Again. You can see him at the 40-yard line with the ball in the air.

Add five drops onto Lamar’s 24 of 33 day passing, and you see that he put the ball onto his man on 88% of his throws.  That’s very sharp; and reason for fans to have confidence.

Around the league: Other teams played below their ability last weekend. The Eagles got a scare in Indy, and needed a two-minute drill TD to escape 17-16. The Chiefs needed a last-minute TD to beat the Chargers 30-27. The Giants were a game off the division lead, and lost to a Detroit team that came in 3-6. The Jets were 6-3 and in the thick of the playoff race, got held to a FG and lost 10-3 in New England. The Vikings entered the weekend 8-1 and got absolutely blasted, crushed, 40-3.

The ability to scratch out a win when you’re not playing your best, is not to be despised. ‘Tis better to win ugly than lose pretty. What matters is what they add up to at the end of the season, not how it looked along the way.

That defenseYou want to see a unit that is rounding into championship form, look at that defense. Holy cow. It’s kind of a shame that this column focuses on the passing offense, because that defense is absolutely worth writing about. Hell: singing about. And Marcus Williams just got cleared to practice, coming off his wrist injury! David Ojabo might start playing soon.  That’s a unit that can lead a team on a deep playoff run.

So maybe the right thing to do is take it and move on. Survive and advance.

According to Football Outsiders, the Ravens have faced the 6th-toughest slate of opposing pass defenses so far this season; from here on out they will face the 25th-toughest (8th-easiest) pass defenses. FO also has the Ravens as the 5th-best offense in the league: the best rushing offense (as we might expect), and the 8th-best passing offense. The Ravens are 8th in points-per-drive on offense. Probably we should believe the preponderance of evidence from over the full course of the season, rather than over-weight one bad game.

We should try to adopt the attitude that Lamar and Justin Tucker showed when they spoke to each other on the field Sunday:

One all-time great to another, two professionals talking about another day at the office.  In that wind! In that wind!


I said above that Drake was “successful” on only 30% of his runs Sunday. Since the whole secret agenda behind this column is to push an analytics idea – that you have to include targets when you measure how receivers do – maybe this is a good place to look at another analytics idea, Success Rate.

Success Rate comes to us from Football Outsiders (at least, that’s where I first saw it). From their glossary:

A measure of running back consistency based on the percentage of carries where the player gains 40% of needed yards on first down, 60% of needed yards on second down, or 100% of needed yards on third or fourth down. A running back above 50% is very consistent; below 40% is very inconsistent.

You can find the same definition at Sharp Football, and a similar one at Action Network but a little stricter on second down.

How consistently are you moving the ball?  Are you staying ahead of the chains?

— On first down: gain 40% of what you need for a first down. So a 4-yard gain on 1st-&-10 is a “success”.

— On second down, gain 60% of what you need for a first. So a 6-yard gain on 2nd-&-10, or a 3-yard gain on 2nd-&-5, would be “successful”.

— On third down (or on fourth down), gain enough to pick up the first and that’s a “success”. Anything else, isn’t.

It’s a simple idea. And it turns out to be super helpful when you look at a player’s production. Continuing to pick on poor Kenyan Drake (honestly I’m delighted he’s on the team; seems to be an excellent dude from what he puts on Twitter): Drake gained 46 yards on 10 rush attempts, which is a nice 4.6 yards-per-carry average. Looks like a solid day, right? But now look at the play-by-play:

 

Looks very different when you lay it out like that. We ignore the one that was ruled “no play” due to penalty, but Drake still got stuffed five times (2 yards or less), including two tackles-for-loss. Only three of his runs were “successful.”  Yeah, the big 29-yard gain was a huge play. There’s no taking that away from him. That play led to the only touchdown of the day. Drake’s ability to hit the occasional big one is a huge part of what he brings to the table. But you also gotta keep the chains moving.  And on all his other runs, Drake was under 2 yards-per-carry.

That’s a big change from the Saints game, where Drake was “successful” on two-thirds of his runs, 67%.

So, there you go: “Success Rate.” It was originally meant only for rushing plays, but I often extend it to passing plays too.  Useful idea for looking at players. (I often forget the precise definition and use 50% on second down, but it’s still informative.)

Hello Demarcus Robinson! A break-out, the second-best game of Robinson’s career (he had one ridiculous game against the Raiders in 2019 when he was with Kansas City, 6 of 6 for 172 yards and 2 TDs). Bateman was lost for the season in the game in Tampa. Robinson’s season can be divided between before that game and from that game on:

He had a bad game against New Orleans, but was good in the other two.  Is that “stepping up”?  The Ravens need it.  Versatile player. Here he is on a bubble screen:

Mark Andrews: welcome back, sir.  Back to making greatness look routine.

Everyone else: I dunno. Devin Duvernay & Justice Hill & Josh Oliver caught everything thrown to them, but weren’t able to gain anything. Bad play design? Bad blocking? Great tackling by the defense? Duvernay’s lone target was on a little play where he was in motion and ran along the line of scrimmage, catching a short little flare to the right and then turning upfield. The defense was right on him. A lot of short targets.

Robinson’s emergence means we’re looking at the WR group being spearheaded by the Three Ds: Duvernay, DeSean & Demarcus. It could work very well, if Jackson is able to contribute on about 15-20 snaps per game from the Z or slot. The Ravens play a lot of 2-TE sets with Andrews & Likely – Likely functions as their real “WR3” – so they don’t need a high snap count from a 3-WR group. Just some plays.

Lamar has started to fall down the league leaderboards with all the recent low-volume games. He’s still tied for 7th in the league in TD passes (with Justin Herbert) and 8th in TD% (between Jimmy Garoppolo & Geno Smith), and tied for 8th in QBR (with Dak Prescott). He’s 13th in DVOA (efficiency) and DYAR (production).

Next Up: Happy Thanksgiving!

The Ravens travel to Jacksonville to face Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and the Jags.

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