Bye-Week Checklist: 3 Things Going Well, 3 Things to Fix

WR Marquise Brown

The Ravens played their worst game of the season Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. As Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday, it was their worst game in a long time. Baltimore had never been blown out like that since Lamar Jackson became the starter.

It's no surprise that clouds have hung over the Baltimore area the past two days, as the Ravens' bye week has taken on a more melancholy feel.

But at 5-2 and tied for the best record in the conference, there's also a lot going right for Baltimore.

While players will be off starting Thursday, the Ravens' coaches will stay a couple more days doing an in-depth self-scout. It's a time to take stock of what has gone well and what needs to improve.

Here are three items, in both ledgers, that may be on their list:

Perimeter passing game

The Ravens stressed the importance of opening up more areas of the field this season with the passing game. They wanted to more consistently hit passes outside the numbers and deep. That primarily required improvement in two phases. The Ravens' wide receivers needed to win more battles and get open more consistently and Lamar Jackson had to be more consistent hitting those passes. Both have come to fruition.

Marquise "Hollywood" Brown's route-running has been terrific, as well as the play of rookie Rashod Bateman, Sammy Watkins (before his injury), Devin Duvernay and James Proche II. Brown ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards.

Jackson's completion percentage overall is about the same as last season, but his average depth of target is the highest of any starting quarterback in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus, and is fourth among quarterbacks who have played seven games in yards gained per passing attempt.

Considering this was supposedly the key to the Ravens unlocking a deeper playoff run, the elevated passing game of Jackson and his weapons is a huge development moving forward.

Special teams is dominating

The Ravens have long been known for special teams under Harbaugh, but this year is off to a good start even by their own high standards. The Ravens rank No.1 in the league in Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).

Justin Tucker boomed a record-setting 66-yard game-winner in Detroit. With Duvernay leading the way, the Ravens have the top punt return average in the NFL and are sixth in kickoff returns.

Rookies are off to promising starts

The Ravens are getting immediate contributions from their rookie class, which bodes well for how much they should be able to help as the season continues. First-round outside linebacker Odafe Oweh has been the most impactful defensive player on the team, with his two forced fumbles and team-leading three sacks. In just two games since returning from groin surgery, fellow first-round pick Bateman has flashed his potential and appears ready for more.

Even third-round defensive back Brandon Stephens is fifth on the team in tackles, helping to step in for DeShon Elliott when he missed some time. Third-round pick Ben Cleveland was getting worked into the mix at left guard before a knee injury, but he'll return from injured reserve sooner than later.

Tackling, tackling, tackling

The Ravens defense showed its potential against the Chargers defense, but it's been hurt too much by poor tackling. It's not just from one player either. It's been up front, at linebacker, and in the secondary.

"That's been on and off a problem all year," Harbaugh said. "Until we get that fixed, we'll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking. Our guys understand that."

The difficulty is that tackling isn't really something that can be practiced during the season, when coaches (and rules) are looking to preserve players' bodies. The Ravens must settle for working on the fundamentals of tackling and stressing the mentality required to correct the issue.

Rushing game pop, besides Lamar

For the Ravens' play-action passing game to really succeed, opponents have to respect the threat of Baltimore's running game when Jackson goes to hand off. The Ravens ran over some of the lowest-ranked run defenses in the league so far (Chargers, Chiefs, Raiders) but ran into a wall versus Cincinnati's stronger front.  

Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, Ty'Son Williams and Le'Veon Bell have combined to average 76.4 rushing yards per game. The Ravens still rank fourth in the league in rushing yards per game (149.4) thanks to Jackson, but there's no doubt that Baltimore would like more sizzle from the tailbacks.

"We just have to block better, scheme better, run better," Harbaugh said.

Pass protection

When Jackson has had time to throw this season, he's been lights out. It's been the games when opponents have been able to pressure him – Raiders and Bengals – when the Ravens have lost. There are many factors that go into pressure allowed, and it's not all just on the offensive line, but Baltimore needs to be more consistent with giving Jackson time and space to throw, especially if the Ravens continue to trend more toward passing than running as they have so far this season.

According to PFF's pass blocking efficiency stat, the Ravens rank 24th in the league. Ronnie Stanley's decision to undergo season-ending ankle surgery won't make this any easier moving forward, nor will the latest ankle injury to right tackle Patrick Mekari. Perhaps tight end Nick Boyle's return can help, but Baltimore needs to work out a solution to keep Jackson feeling comfortable and confident in the pocket.

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