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Late for Work 10/25: Cooled Ravens Offense Has Issues to Figure Out

QB Lamar Jackson
QB Lamar Jackson

Ravens Defense Has Improved, But Offense Is Faltering

While there's still significant room for improvement — especially in the fourth quarter — the Ravens defense has steadied after a collapse in Week 2 against the Miami Dolphins.

Now it's the offense that is struggling.

After averaging a league-high 33 points per game over their first three games of the season, the Ravens have averaged 20.5 points over their past four games. In escaping with a 23-20 win on Sunday, Baltimore generated a season-low 254 yards of offense against a Cleveland Browns defense that is ranked 28th in points allowed.

A week after New England Patriots rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe dismantled the Browns defense, Lamar Jackson was limited to nine completions on 16 attempts and 120 yards passing. All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews didn't have a catch. The Ravens rushed for 160 yards but averaged just 3.6 yards per carry.

Baltimore also continued to have problems in the red zone, as it settled for Justin Tucker field goals on its first two trips into scoring range.

"Since going 8-for-10 scoring touchdowns inside the red zone over their first three games of the season, the Ravens have gone just 6-for-14 over the last four contests," Baltimore Positive’s Luke Jones wrote. "Stalled drives are becoming a real source of frustration for this offense — and the fan base."

After a blistering start to the season throwing the ball, Jackson has cooled off. He threw 10 touchdown passes to two interceptions and averaged 249.7 yards passing over the first three games. In the four games since, Jackson has three touchdown passes and four interceptions and averaged just 139.5 yards passing.

Jackson did a fantastic job against the blitz earlier this season, but not as well recently. Jackson said yesterday that defenses are changing how they're blitzing him, as he saw a lot of Cover-0 early, but now teams are bringing fire-zone blitzes (five-man rushes with defensive linemen dropping into coverage).

The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the Ravens have to figure out how to get the passing game going.

"That's on Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, who needs to show a better touch with his situational play calling," Zrebiec wrote. "There are still too many head-scratching calls in the red zone and on third downs. Then, there are the pass-game schemes that we've been talking about for years. Where's the answer when a defense is all-in on shutting down Andrews? Where's the effort to get Devin Duvernay more touches or secondary targets such as Isaiah Likely and James Proche more involved?

"That's on Jackson, who has already overthrown too many receivers this year on deep shots while too often ignoring or not seeing open targets. Jackson needs to get back to making quick decisions and taking the underneath stuff when it's there. … There's nothing wrong with a 4- or 5-yard gain on first down in this offense, which is built to thrive when ahead of the sticks. That's on the offensive line to protect better and the receivers to get open and stop dropping routine catches. And that's on General Manager Eric DeCosta to add to the receiver mix if there's an opportunity to upgrade beyond the elevation of DeSean Jackson from the practice squad."

It won't get any easier for the Ravens when they visit the Tampa Buccaneers on Thursday night. The Buccaneers, who have the No. 6-[add]overall defense, love to blitz and are tied for third with 22 sacks.

Could Ben Cleveland Be on the Trade Block?

With the Nov. 1 trade deadline approaching, ESPN chose one player from each team that could be on the trade block. For the Ravens, it was guard Ben Cleveland.

"A third-round pick from 2021, Cleveland started the last four games of his rookie season but has struggled to get on the field this year," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "He has yet to play an offensive snap in seven games this season after being one of John Harbaugh's favorite prospects in last year's draft. The Ravens, though, might not want to part this quickly with Cleveland. Starting left guard Ben Powers is a free agent at the end of the season, and Cleveland could fill that void if Powers isn't re-signed."

On a side note, one player on the list who might be of interest to the Ravens if he's available is Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

"Teams could be interested in the nine-year veteran — who has been traded three times since entering the league as a first-round draft pick by the Saints in 2014 — in large part because he has registered more than 1,000 yards in a season six times in his career," ESPN's DJ Bien-Aime wrote. "He's having a down year, averaging 46 yards per game, the second lowest of his career. But maybe another change of scenery could bolster his production."

Praise for Patrick Queen and Kyle Hamilton

Inside linebacker Patrick Queen has shown flashes of why the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 2020, but consistency has eluded him. Queen has been trending upward in recent weeks, and he was one of the standouts in Sunday's win.

"When inside linebacker Patrick Queen just goes and doesn't have to think or diagnose, it's fun to watch," Zrebiec wrote. "Case in point, those back-to-back tackles for loss on Kareem Hunt in the second quarter. In the last three games, Queen has 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. We've seen good stretches from the 2020 first-round pick before. He just needs to maintain this level. He's plenty capable."

Jones also noted that Queen has played some of his best football over the past three weeks.

"Week-to-week consistency remains key — just like with any young player — but he deserves praise," Jones wrote.

Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi said Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald also deserves praise for how he is using Queen.

"Credit Mike Macdonald for employing Queen in a manner that gets the most from his 23-year-old talents," Lombardi wrote. "[Sunday] Queen chalked up 11 tackles, completely took over one series of downs with the Ravens trailing 10-3, and he added a sack, three tackles for loss and a QB hurry during which he adeptly side-stepped [Jacoby] Brissett to eliminate the possibility of a roughing the passer call."

Meanwhile, first-round safety Kyle Hamilton has also been playing well over the past several weeks. He recorded the first sack of his young career on Sunday.

"That was a pretty nifty inside pass-rush move by rookie safety Kyle Hamilton in the first quarter," Zrebiec wrote. "He left Browns guard Hjalte Froholdt grasping for air and forced a field goal attempt in the process."

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